Vercossa's professionally designed website, custom developed abstract management solution and their support throughout the project has been invaluable to our conference. I recommend their conference solution to any academic conference struggling with collecting and managing abstracts. The level of detail they went to with the planning, feedback surveys and user testing was fantastic.
Our conference will get more abstracts and will be a higher quality conference as a result of the work Vercossa has done.
Operations Manager, Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC)
Conference websites are often useful sources of information but they can be so much more. The European Early Childhood Education Research Association (EECERA), an independent, international association, recognised that their website was the main point of interaction with their membership in the build up to the conference and through intelligent design could enhance their members’ experience whilst at the same time increasing the efficiency of the administration processes involved in hosting a successful conference for over 800 delegates.
As a distinguished non-profit organisation enabling the dissemination of early childhood research through an annually organised conference, EECERA approached Vercossa for a new conference website.
Earlier EECERA conference websites were designed by a different franchisee on a different platform each year. This lead to inconsistencies in terms of process and terminology which causedauthors to have to navigate new systems each year whilst each year the nuances of the abstract gathering and sorting process created reoccurring challenges for Conference hosts. .
Over recent years several different issues have been experienced:
This lead to researchers not managing to find how to submit papers successfully or not being able to begin submission of papers as they could not find how to do so. Certain web browsers meant authors could not access the abstract submission system.
Also, the EECERA conference website changed significantly from one year to the next, which meant that some returning delegates and researchers had found using the website frustrating. The process of submitting papers was so different each year.
A professional design helped draw the eye to the right places by clearly displaying critical information such as deadlines or how to submit abstracts.
The cross-browser compatible, responsive design meant an increase in the number of people who could find important information faster, and without problems.
A more consistent design results in stability for future conferences, and this should lower the frustration of learning a completely new website. Does this mean the design cannot evolve in the future? Surely not. But it means those attempting to for example find key information about the conference programme, the speakers or travel advice will find it easier as there is that familiarity and continuity from 2013. More crucially, those who will have used the 2013 abstract submission system will, again, find a more familiar environment.
Making sure authors could easily submit their work was a key focus for Vercossa. We took a user-centric approach to building the abstract management system for the 2013 website. This began with specific process diagrams:
Detailed process diagrams of the entire abstract submission system were drawn.
Then valuable user feedback surveys were conducted with scientific committees and other distinguished members closely involved in the EECERA conference.
Mock-ups of the abstract submission system were shared and further feedback obtained. A usability test was conducted to make sure the website was as easy to use as possible.
The completed system looked like an extension of the rest of the EECERA website, thereby making the experience more seamless.
The abstract submission system included very specific workflows and functionality to ensure that authors submitting papers from various browsers, operating systems and devices could all do so.
Moreover, authors had clearer instructions on what to do next:
Calls to action provided clear instructions for authors.
Authors were shown noticeable error messages:
Error messages were clearly shown in red, helping authors understand where they were going wrong.
Authors were given clear word count limits and their work was automatically saved:
Crucially, imposing word limits on specific parts of the abstract meant it was impossible for authors to get it wrong. Additionally, work was automatically saved, greatly benefiting authors.
Warning messages were clearly shown to avoid mistakes or unwanted submissions:
Helpful instructions and warning messages guided authors through the submission process. In the above example, an author is attempting to invite a colleague to submit work, but this colleague has already submitted the maximum number of abstracts.
Navigation was clear:
Clear navigation provided an easy way for authors to get to what they wanted to do next in the system. Whether that was submitting another abstract, logging out or editing their personal details.
All of this contributed to a superior abstract submission experience for authors.
Professor Smith, an abstract submitter, begins submitting an abstract at home on a Mac. He realises he needs some additional information that is at work in the hospital. The next day during lunch break Smith logs in on a PC at his hospital and continues working on the same abstract. Then in the rush of things, Smith accidentally closes the browser window. At home he logs back in and continues submitting his abstract. Now there’s a power cut in his area. Using his tablet, he logs back in and realises throughout all this he has never lost any of his work. He can submit the abstract without any problems.
With the website we built for EECERA, the above scenario has been accounted for. The aim of the abstract management system was to ensure a highly usable experience for authors, making sure they could easily submit abstracts without having to contact the conference organiser for any problems.
Accepting abstracts strictly via email is painfully old fashioned. Imagine an email gets lost. Imagine an attachment is not properly included in an email. Imagine someone accidentally deletes an email or places it in the wrong folder in an email program. These and many other reasons are why a more robust web abstract management solution is needed. Even though EECERA had moved away from this system to one of accepting proposals through the website, there continued to be issues with how best to process them once received.
The need for a dashboard which provided an overview of all the EECERA abstracts submitted was critical in reducing manual acceptance of research papers.
The abstract management component provided the ability to view any and all submitted abstracts online:
Abstracts were all conveniently listed for EECERA organisers and reviewers to view
The abstract management system allowed for the easy editing of user accounts in case this was necessary:
User accounts were editable - in case someone's email address needed changing for example
Conference marketers could easily create an email address list of specific abstract submitters, for example a list of everyone who submitted a poster presentation whose abstracts were accepted):
A mailing list based on a specific criteria was easily created
EECERA conference chairs could filter the submitted abstracts and export any and all abstracts as a CSV or PDF file, allowing for easy sharing of information for committees, reviewers or abstract book publishers:
Filtering abstracts and exporting them to common formats such as CSV and PDF was made possible
Ability for reviewers to mark abstracts online and add comments for authors to make amendments for a second review:
Reviewers could mark abstracts by accepting, rejecting or conditionally accepting them with comments, whereby the author was notified of the reviewer's comments
All in all this abstract management system aimed to reduce the amount of errors and manual work. The efficiency of the abstract submission, management and review process was greatly enhance by having an online solution which was cross-browser compatible and focus group reviewed.
The goals achieved in the abstract management part of the website included:
Through a professional conference website, with a comprehensive abstract submission and management solution, EECERA received more abstracts, reviewed them more effectively, communicated better, dealt less with frustrated authors or reviewers, created an abstract book more easily and projected a positive image to delegates, sponsors and the media.
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