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RSA and post-pandemic “new normal” for conferences (Part 2)

Event News
Event News RSA Blog

Part 2

 In the first part of this blog, we outlined the Regional Studies Association’s immediate post-pandemic conference response for 2020 and 2021. In this one, we unveil the strategy for 2022 and beyond.


Pandemic shock and early responses 2020/2021

At the time of writing, April 2021, there remain scientifically evidenced concerns about COVID and further outbreaks in the Autumn and Winter of 2021/2022 are expected.

Although the process was painful, the actions for 2020 and 2021 were clear. Events, large and small, in most parts of the world, halted and everyone pivoted their networking and meetings to digital. There was a boom in the development of meeting software and conference platforms and apps. The RSA had committed in 2020 to a membership app called the RSA Hub (available free and may be downloaded from app stores). This included digital conference capability and will aid the Association in hosting the Regions in Recovery Global E-Festival (June 2021).


The Route out of Pandemic is not Clear

It seems that it may be harder for associations to plot their route out of the pandemic than it was to deal with the crisis phase. As we move to the “chronic” phase, we face many uncertainties such as the risk of hosting a super-spreader event or facing disruption due to closures, quarantines, non-reinstatement of air routes, travel hesitancy, conference budget cuts in universities, greater commitment to sustainable travel with presumptions of virtual etc. A further concern is that running events too soon and opening to a limited number of people could be seen as reinforcing existing privilege of people from developed economies with access to the resources to travel and with good travel and health insurances.

Instead of facing the binary challenge of hosting an in-person or virtual annual conference in 2022 …, the Association has chosen a different path.

The RSA will replace a single, large, international conference with a series of many smaller events. This post concentrates on the series that will replace the annual conference.

Working closely with the editorial teams of our five international journals we will host a series of special issue hubs or emerging research accelerators (ERA). And these events will be by design capacity building.  Through this innovative initiative we seek to open access to our journals to a wider range of researchers and to offer mentoring as part of the process.


The concept 

  • Five events to be hosted by the 5 RSA journals (Regional Studies; Spatial Economic Analysis; Territory, Politics, Governance; Regional Studies, Regional Science and Area Development and Policy)
  • Collective calls for papers
  • Gender, geography and other diversities will be considered when making selections, but paper quality must be consistent with papers having a reasonable possibility of making it through refereeing after allowing for editorial writing support
  • Established researchers strongly encouraged to write with early career co-authors with mentoring
  • Places ringfenced for PhD students and Early Career Researchers
  • Decisions on accepted papers made collectively and papers to be assigned to journals after this point
  • RSA seeks to fund the costs of article processing charges for papers assigned to the open access journal Regional Studies, Regional Science when necessary
  • Papers to be presented to the meeting for discussion and development
  • All papers subject to refereeing in the normal way
  • Papers to be published on acceptance in each of the journals and collective virtual special issues (VSI) to be published when all papers are ready. Each VSI to have an introduction and to have the potential of further republication as a Special Issue Book within the RSA’s Regions and Cities book series.
  • Article level and special issue marketing to be in place carried out by the journal digital media editors, the Association and Publisher


The mechanics 

As we emerge from a pandemic whose effects have not been evenly felt across our community it feels right to concentrate on those whose careers will have been impacted by work disruption. These meetings seek to be capacity building and supportive.

  • Participation will be at cost price or lower, the events will be underwritten by the RSA and bursaries will be available so that any charge is not a barrier to participation (participants will need to meet their own travel and accommodation costs).
  • Participation can be virtual to accommodate those who cannot travel for personal, work or covid related reasons and in this case no fee will apply
  • Five small residential two-day events
  • Venue in or around London for multiplicity of travel options
  • Attendance numbers strictly capped to allow for social distancing if necessary. This may mean that only one author per paper can attend.


What of the future?

The RSA accepts that COVID-19 has marked a point of change and does not seek a return to the old normal. Rather we wish to continue to innovate and adapt, taking the best of what we have learned in the past months to positively influence our membership offer and our benefit to the community. Expect more new format meetings and more capacity building events to be announced.

Through our webinars and our global e-festival we are opening the regional studies and science communities to many people in parts of the globe that were previously unaware of the RSA. The feedback we’ve received from researchers has been heartening – they have been so pleased to have had access to researchers and conversations that had previously been unavailable to them.

We simply cannot go back to closed doors, ways to make hybrid (face-to-face and virtual) events work well must be found.



Sally Hardy (Chief Executive, Regional Studies Association) began her career at the Economic and Social Research Council where she worked as a Scientific Officer in the Industry and Employment Committee dispensing funding to UK based social science academics. Sally moved to the Regional Studies Association where she has been CEO for just over 30 years. She has developed the organisation from a small, UK focused organisation into a global Association with an international footprint. Sally has become an advocate on publishing issues for the learned society sector speaking regularly at national conferences and events.


Are you currently involved with regional research, policy, and development? The Regional Studies Association is accepting articles for their online blog. For more information, contact the Blog Editor at

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