Eurocrim Conference’s Evolution: Challenges and Solutions

Marcelo Aebi

Marcelo Aebi

Executive Secretary of the ESC


Csaba Győry

Csaba Győry

Conference Coordinator


The upcoming 23rd annual meeting of the ESC in Florence will introduce several developments and innovations. These include:

  1. starting the conference on Wednesday afternoon with two slots of panels —respectively at 4PM and 5.30PM— before the opening ceremony;
  2. panels with 5 individual papers; and
  3. enforcement of the “only one presentation as first author” rule.

This kind of improvement is inevitable as, over the years, conference planning has grown from a relatively complex task to a massive endeavour, owing to an increase in the number of participants and the evolving nature of our presentations. This short article aims to explain the rationale behind these changes, shed light on the challenges and dilemmas the ESC confronts, and, most importantly, it seeks your valuable feedback and comments.


A Shift in Dynamics: The ESC and the Local Organizers

One of the significant changes made recently concerns the dynamic between the ESC and local organizers. Traditionally, the ESC, through its executive secretariat, (a) was in charge of conference registration and (b) maintained a supervisory role regarding the scientific programme or the conference, leaving the abstract submission, panel assembly, and scheduling to the local organisers. The latter are university professors with a varying number of members in their research and administrative teams whose usual tasks are usually far away from organising conferences; they are sometimes supported by companies specialised in that task, but whose efficiency varies. Certainly, each annual meeting taught us a lot about conference organisation but, immediately after each meeting, the local organisers experienced team were replaced by a new one, which would be in charge of the upcoming conference. This organisation also had an impact on the software used for abstract submission, panel assembly and programme building, which also renewed every year with varying quality and functionality results. During the first twelve ESC conferences—from 2001 to 2012—the maximum number of participants was around 800 (see the Annual Report of the Executive Secretariat, in this issue) and this system worked relatively fine. After that — and except for the two e-conferences during the COVID-19 pandemic — the minimum number was always over 1,000 and this organisational structure showed its limitations.

In response to these concerns, the ESC Executive Board decided in 2021 that the ESC should assume control of abstract management, panel assembly, and scheduling. Since then, these processes have been organises by Csaba Györy as Conference Coordinator and Dorel Herinean as Conference Implementer, under the supervision of the executive secretariat. After two conferences in which we tested and evaluated different types of software and collected feedback and comments from the participants, in 2023 we opted for the industry-leading software, Allacademic. This collaboration should provide a reliable and long-term professional solution.


Unravelling the Organizational Process

One of the most misunderstood aspects of our conferences is the extensive preparatory work involved behind the scenes before each organisational step.

The real work begins after the final deadline for abstract submission, usually fixed on 15 April, although this year we were obliged to postpone it until 30 April. First, some housekeeping needs to be done: there are at least 10% erroneous or faulty submissions, which need to be corrected from the backend. For the upcoming Florence Eurocrim conference, this represented more than 200 authors that had to be contacted individually by email. This task alone consumes at least a whole week, and some cases may require more time, for example, when the authors do not systematically consult their email.

After that, by mid-May roughly, the reviewing process can really start. Originally this was done by a committee set up by the local organizers. Nevertheless, the multiplication of the areas of expertise covered during our conferences led us to move, in 2020, to a system based on the chairs of the Working Groups as reviewers of their thematic areas, supplemented by members of the Executive Board and, whenever needed, ESC members that are experts on other areas. This contribution is highly appreciated, especially as some reviewers must deal with more than one hundred papers. Once the more than 40 reviewers have finished their work, we can inform the authors of the abstracts about the decision taken and ask those whose abstract has been accepted to register.

Authors whose abstracts have been accepted must register before the early bird registration deadline, which was fixed on 15 June this year. If the paper has several authors, at least one must be registered by that deadline. This is a characteristic element of Eurocrim conferences. Nobody likes arriving at a panel and finding that half of the presenters are absent, and we have learned that the best means to guarantee that is to require registration.

After the deadline is passed, the ESC secretary in Lausanne confronts the list of registrations with the list of authors of the abstracts accepted. This is easier said than done, as registration is not always as straightforward as it may seem. A lot of involuntary mistakes are discovered at this point. For example, some participants register as ESC members or as students while they are not; some send a bank transfer for a slightly different amount than the right one; some are registered by their universities — a process that can occasionally be particularly lengthy —which sometimes originates a single payment for several persons without indicating their names; similarly, some participants use their credit card to pay the registration fee of colleague or partner without indicating their name; or sometimes, in countries that have two or more family names, the latter may not match in both lists. Apart from that, some authors of the abstracts accepted may forget to register or decide — without communicating their decision to us — not to come and, consequently, not to register. The secretary needs to contact all these people individually — that may represent roughly 15 of all authors — a process that is labour-intensive, time-consuming, and requires considerable tact and diplomatic skills from Grace Kronicz.

It is only after this process is finished — and usually with several pending cases of participants whose universities are particularly bureaucratic when it comes to financial issues — can the process of penal assembly start. This is performed by the reviewers mentioned above, usually during the first weeks of July. Following the completion of panel assembly, scheduling can commence, another time-intensive task given the number of panels. This means that the conference program will only be ready in August and implies that the traditional timeline of ESC conferences needs revisiting.

From this perspective, our experience shows that around 10% of the registered participants will cancel their registration before the conference or cannot attend due to an unexpected last-minute problem. If panels are composed of four participants or less, a cancellation means that the panel must be dissolved and the papers distributed in other panels, something that participants really dislike. This is one of the reasons why panels composed of individual papers will now have 5 papers in them —hence, if there is only one cancellation, the panel does not need to be dissolved — and pre-arranged panels must have at least four participants. Another reason for this change is that, with the current number of papers, we would be obliged to start our conferences one day earlier to keep the previous structure. These reasons also explain why we have modified and enforced the “only one paper as first author” rule — previously, it was possible to have more than one presentation as first author if the paper was placed in a pre-arranged panel — admitting only a few justified exceptions.

In sum, the current volume and complexity of work involved in ESC conferences led us to introduce several changes that, hopefully, will help improve their functioning. In addition, there is a need for a revised timeline — from abstract submission onwards — that will be introduced in 2024.

Managing Venue Size

Another growing challenge in conference organisation is the venue. The ESC began as a small familial conference held in university buildings, maintaining much of its intimacy despite considerable growth in the past decade. However, with participant numbers exceeding 2300, we now need venues with capacities that many universities do not have.

Problems arise not only from a lack of suitable rooms but also from financial constraints. Universities are becoming more commercially minded in utilising their facilities during summer months, sometimes charging us — albeit at discounted rates — for the buildings. Also, the politics within and between faculties at the same university often complicate the use of additional faculty buildings.

As mentioned above, in Florence we tried to mitigate this problem by implementing the “only one paper as first author” and increasing the number of papers per panel but, despite that, we are obliged to add two regular sessions on Wednesday afternoon, at 4PM and 5.30PM. These strategies have enabled us to fit the conference within the available space, albeit barely.

This is not a short-term predicament. We expect that future ESC conferences will typically draw more than 1500 participants. Meeting the room requirements without the changes introduced this year could potentially deter small or medium-sized universities from applying to host a Eurocrim conference. This would contradict the ESC's mission to promote criminology all across Europe, and to support ambitious faculties by integrating them into the European criminology mainstream.

Finding a balance between these competing factors is indeed challenging. Fortunately, we anticipate ample space at our Bucharest conference, providing the Executive Board more time to explore other options and possible solutions to these dilemmas. We remain committed to working with our members to continue improving our conference organisation process, making it more efficient and less strenuous for everyone involved. Your understanding, patience, and constructive feedback are essential in this journey. Thank you for your continuous support!