So we got a lot of great submissions for the UXPA conference in DC this year. A lot. 316 to be exact.
These submissions have all gone through blind peer review. We aimed to have every submission reviewed by 5 reviewers, but settled for 3.
We’ve made the first draft of the conference schedule and sent out acceptance/rejection letters to all those great people who submitted proposals. The overall acceptance rate was approximately 26%, and some categories were even lower (presentations were closer to 15%).
This is the hard part of the job – turning away some great proposals that would have been amazing in our program. So why do we do it? And how do we make those decisions?
Here’s a little peek behind the curtain…
We believe in blind peer review. So we rely on the recommendations of the reviewers, the scores they give, and their comments about a proposal. This is hard to do after the fact when we see the names and say, “Oh! That’s so-and-so! They are AWESOME! I don’t want to reject them.” But for blind peer review to work, we can’t let names/reputations cloud our judgment. We have to trust. And we have to remember that UXPA has never been just about a name – we’ve always tried to be about good, practical talks that will help people with their career/work/job. So how do reviews work? Reviewers receive “sanitized” submissions (meaning all trace of identity removed) and they rate the submissions across several categories on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being the most positive rating. The overall numeric average of ALL submissions was 3.73. (highest 4.92, lowest 1.72) For accepted submissions, the average was 4.09 (highest 4.92, lowest 2.98). For rejected submissions, the average was 3.60 (highest 4.83, lowest 1.72). 108 submissions were rated 4.0 or higher, and we only accepted 85 submissions. Tough choices.
We believe in a balanced program. This is where the conference committee has to make some hard choices. If the top five best reviewed talks are all about agile, should we offer a skewed program that has a lot of agile talks and perhaps lacks in another area? Sometimes we have to reject perfectly good proposals because we have “too much of a good thing”. For example, this year we had a lot of submissions on usability studies, agile, and accessibility that were recommended for acceptance. So many, that these three topics could have easily taken up the entire program. We had virtually no submissions recommended for acceptance on information architecture, content strategy, or UX strategy. So we used the scores to pick out the best of the usability, agile, and accessibility submissions and left some room to accept other great submissions on a wider variety of topics.
We don’t believe in creating idols, icons, or heroes. So if one person submitted 4 great talks, all of them recommended for acceptance, we might not put them all in the program. First, we don’t want to do that to someone – giving presentations is hard work and very draining. I don’t care what anyone says: no one wants to present four talks in three days. And we find that the quality of the later talks can generally suffer as the energy-level of the presenter wanes. But we also don’t want to be seen as putting any individual out there as “the face of UXPA” or “the poster child” for a specific topic. So you may see some names twice in the program: they earned it. They submitted multiple great proposals. But you won’t see them three times. We’ve got to draw the line somewhere!
We only have so much space. We don’t want to run a ten-track conference that costs thousands of dollars to attend. We don’t want to create a monstrous event where you are unlikely to run into half the people at the conference or where you miss 95% of the talks because you can’t physically attend everything. We do want to make choices difficult for our attendees: choosing a session should be hard because they should all be good. So that means we simply had to reject some submissions that had been recommended to be accepted. There wasn’t enough room.
We support both advanced practitioners and those just starting out in the field. Because of this, we need to make tough choices regarding program offering. We need to ensure we have a well-balanced fundamentals program and we need to have a diverse and interesting offering for the “veterans” of our field. Sometimes we can ask a submitter to alter their topic to meet the needs of a specific audience, but sometimes a topic just doesn’t fit into the need for either audience.
So that’s how you ended up with your program. It’ll be up on the website shortly and registration will be open. Our early bird rates are fantastic, but they’re limited to the first 200 people. When you peruse our schedule, know that it was put together with love, sweat, and the hopes and dreams of the entire conference committee. We’ll be adding our keynotes and a few other featured speakers over the next month or two, so keep checking for new and exciting additions to the program.
Registration opens this month, stay tuned for details.
We look forward to seeing you in DC!
Christina and Danielle