Factors to make it into a conference programme

I got invited by the organizers of the Agile Testing Days (#agileTD), to join the CFP Review Committee for the 2022 edition of the conference.
Since #agileTD is my favourite conference, I of course said yes.
The whole process and the collaboration with the organizers as well as the other committee members went pretty smooth, nothing special to report here.

The programme of the 2022 edition was published on May 17th and triggered quite an amount of reactions on Twitter.
Of course, a lot of joy among the people who made it into the programme.
On the other hand -as per my perception- a lot of disappointment and frustration among those, who did not make it into the programme this time. Especially among those who got positive feedback about their submitted abstract.

Let me explain how my participation as a member of the review committee looked like: Via a tool, we got the abstracts and could review them.
The abstracts were anonymized, and whenever we recognized the author anyhow, we could let the organizers know, and they assigned the abstract to another reviewer.
We then rated the abstract in different categories and also provided written feedback. The #agileTD team even had given some „Bad (Don’t do this)“ and „Good (Please do this)“ examples for this.
Here I can of course only speak for myself; I explicitly mentioned the good and not so good things in each abstract, and tried to give explicit reasons for both. What I did not do is, to provide ideas improvements, as I don’t see that as responsibility of my job as reviewer for a conference programme.
Exception: Unfortunately, I had some really really poor abstracts, consisting of only 3 lines of text or the like. Here I suggested that the author seeks for help in the community, and gets his abstract reviewed before submitting again.
For abstracts where I thought they deserved to be in the programme, I mentioned something that the abstract is good, but needs to be compared with other proposals in order to make it into the conference.

This is, were my contribution as a reviewer ended.
How the organizers of #agileTD went on from there to build the programme, is not known to me.
However, back in January 2020, when I myself was making some serious effort on getting accepted at a conference, I had asked on Twitter, „what other factors than the submitted paper go into the decision of accepting/ declining a talk?“. And I got quite some replies. Especially Richard Bradshaw from Ministry Of Testing listed a lot of factors that go into the decision. Uwe Gelfert, from the organizers of #agileTD confirmed that it is similar for their conference.

Conferences want to have a certain balance of speakers. Balance on different levels.

This means location of speakers: Local vs. international. Especially speakers from abroad can be quite a cost factor in terms of travelling costs (in case the conference is covering those).
It also means gender and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) representation: Luckily, lots of conferences nowadays really do a lot to have a diverse lineup. Although that means a higher rejection rate for the most overrepresented group in tech: Middle aged white men (yes, I am part of that group as well).
Also, conferences might want to have a certain balance between new and experienced speakers. Also knowledge about a person’s on-stage-performance might matter; so if you have, provide links to recordings of your previous talks.

Of course the topic of the abstract matters as well, but mabye it doesn’t fit the conference’s this year’s motto well. Or your abstract might be good, but there’s a (slightly) better one with the same or a similar topic.

Some conference organizers also look, how active the person is in the conference’s community (Slack, Twitter, Forum, etc.).

I hope this helps to understand better why your submission might have been rejected, and that there’s way more factors to it than only the quality of the handed in paper itself.

Other’s have blogged about the same topic before, please find their articles below:
What’s You’re Missing in Your Conference Abstract: Spoilers by Elizabeth Zagroba
Reviewing Submissions for the Agile Testing Days by Stephan Kämper
Why did my favorite conference reject my talk? by Samuel “Pesse” Nitsche

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