Conferences and COVID-19: Decision Framework

By on May 1, 2020

The Online News Association, like many organizations, faces critical decisions regarding hosting in-person events as the COVID-19 crisis evolves. We’ve created a set of decision frameworks that we will monitor to determine the best course of action for continuing planning for large in-person events.

A member of the leadership team is assigned a section(s) to track for us to review during our regular meetings. For each section, we discuss what percentage to weigh the possible assumptions in our decision-making process.

We’re sharing our framework with the hope that it will be helpful to the broader community.


Health Organization’s Projections

  • Create a list of 3-5 resources you trust for COVID-19 curve projections. No one can fully predict what will happen, but we must begin creating a knowledge base around certain assumptions.
  • Create assumptions. Will a public health response effectively and rapidly identify or control the virus spread? How soon will we have a vaccine, or at least infection and antibody testing? How long do we predict physical distancing to last?

Government Actions: International, National, Regional, State and Local

  • Create a list of regions:
    • The top ten regions our attendees come from.
    • The location of our event and the surrounding regions.
    • The region(s) our staff is located.
  • Are there any stay at home or travel orders in those regions? How long do we predict physical distancing to last in those regions?

 Travel Advisories

  • Monitor global air travel advisories, especially as they relate to the location of our event.
  • Are there travel advisories that impact our attendees?
  • What services will airlines be equipped to offer after potential furloughs or layoffs during the dates of the event, and at what price?

Community and Member Feedback

  • What’s the percentage of speaker commitments, wait, and see responses and cancellations?
  • Monitor social media to understand our community’s comfort level for attending in-person events.
  • Through formal and informal channels, gauge how safe our participants feel about attending a large conference by fall 2020?

Peer Organizations

  • How are our peer organizations handling hosting in-person events? What decisions have they made? What perceptions will those decisions have for our attendees?

Social Responsibility

  • What is our perception of social responsibility that we’d be putting people at risk, regardless of government guidance?
  • How prepared might we be to host an in-person event exceeding safety guidelines? (Not just meeting the minimum)
  • How prepared do we feel the region hosting the conference could meet these criteria:
    • Hospitals can safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care.
    • The region can at least test everyone who has symptoms.
    • The region can monitor confirmed cases and contacts.
    • The region has seen a sustained reduction in cases.

Revenue Projections / Financials

  • Are registration targets being met? Is YOY revenue significantly down?
  • Are hotel booking rates meeting projections? Are YOY hotel bookings down?
  • If registration is open, what’s our rate of cancellations?
  • Is the overall sponsor engagement meeting projections? Are YOY sponsorships significantly down?
  • Are sponsoring organizations allowing employees who are potential attendees to travel? What percentage of top funders have travel/in-person event restrictions?
  • What challenges, including penalty fees, do we face from canceling? What opportunities or new ideas could we create from in-person cancellations?
Irving Washington

Irving Washington

Irving Washington is the Executive Director/CEO for the Online News Association (ONA), the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists. As a media diversity advocate, Irving has led programming and fundraising initiatives for journalists, media professionals, and students worldwide.