Conference archiving reveals hidden research

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Archiving presentations from meetings can open up access to cutting-edge research and educational resources, writes Joshua Illig

Archiving the oral presentations from conferences is growing in popularity among associations. It gives them an opportunity to increase the return on investment from their meetings, deliver innovative educational programmes to members, and maximise the exposure and impact of their event-based science.

What makes archiving so interesting and effective is that it gives the science presented at a meeting a longer shelf-life. Without archiving, the oral presentations delivered at a meeting are only exposed to a live audience.  However, with archiving, this content can be preserved, aggregated, and disseminated to a larger audience beyond the physical confines of a given meeting.

Archiving conference content creates new educational opportunities for associations. It is well-known that association meetings are forums for the best and brightest education and research in a given field. Archived conference content can also be repurposed into new educational programmes. For instance, the American Diabetes Association, working in conjunction with Conference Archives among others, developed and delivered several online programmes derived from its annual Scientific Sessions meetings. 

What happened to the other half of the science?

And there are benefits of conference archiving beyond education. In 2003 an article published in BMC Medical Research Methodology[1] outlined the publishing rate–and subsequent time frame to publication of 19,123 abstracts from 234 biomedical meetings held between 1957 and 1999. The authors concluded that ‘of the accepted abstracts, 44 per cent… were subsequently published as full reports within six years.’ When considering that less than half of the abstracts accepted for presentation eventually go to publication, a question arises: ‘What happened to the other half of the science?’ Although the science in these presentations does not make it to publication, it would be foolhardy to suggest that the science contained in them is irrelevant or unimportant. After all, it was accepted, chosen to be presented, and ultimately vetted by a given association’s committee members in charge of choosing the best and brightest cutting-edge science for their meetings.

According to another study, published in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery[2], there are many potential barriers keeping an orally presented abstract from making it to publication, and they do not include the validity or importance of the content. Instead, the authors found that the most prominent reasons for ‘failure to publish’ were:

1) authors did not have enough time to prepare a manuscript for publication (the reason most frequently given); (2) almost one-third of the studies that had not been submitted for publication were ongoing; and (3) relationships with co-authors sometimes presented a barrier to final publication.

Although capturing and creating a conference archive has many benefits, it also presents many technological challenges.  The technological hurdles that must be overcome by an association – or more likely, a vendor – to deliver a conference archive include: capture, data storage, aggregation, compilation, delivery medium and device, access, and discoverability.

The first hurdle to overcome is how to digitally capture the event-based science.  There is no standard means of doing this, as each association or vendor has their own preferred method. However, the desired end result, regardless of means, is to gain as highquality a digital recording (audio, video, etc) as possible. Additionally, the storage of the captures, both during and after an event, poses an equally daunting task if not proactively planned for.

Figure 1: Data elements must be syncronised before delivery.

For example, the American Heart Association, a Conference Archives client, digitally archives its annual Scientific Sessions meeting, which consists of over 3,000 presentations presented over a four-day span. Following their digital capture, the data elements of each presentation must then be synchronised (Figure 1) to replicate the live delivery of the presentation; this is done for all Scientific Sessions presentations within 60 days of the event’s conclusion.

Compilation and delivery

Following the capture of oral presentations, an association must then decide how best to aggregate, compile, and deliver the eventbased science. The captured data can be stored for an infinite amount of time if the proper technologies and formats are used. It is of immense importance to plan ahead as to how the data will be formatted and stored for later use.

The next challenge is deciding the best way to disseminate the event-based science.  The more people that are exposed to the science, the higher the educational and monetary gains for an association. Eventbased science, depending on an association or vendor’s capabilities, can be disseminated in multiple formats. These include: audio cassette tape, CD, DVD-ROM, online, as well as other formats. And within online delivery there is also a myriad of formats.  However, in most cases, the application will deliver either select presentation elements or all of the presentation elements synchronised together. Associations must decide the best means of dissemination based on the needs of their members.


Currently, rich-media archives are rarely found through a search engine query or through specialist database searching.  Thus, the only way an end-user would find an archive would be either through their membership with an association that digitally captures and archives its meeting presentations, or by stumbling upon it (most likely by searching for a specific conference to see if the conference proceedings are offered for sale). This poses a serious distribution and discoverability problem for associations looking to expand the exposure of their event-based science. However, there are a number of solutions.

By attaching the relevant abstract to the other presentation data elements, the presentation can then be ‘crawled’ by search engine spiders. This helps to ensure that the archive and individual presentations come up in search results. Search engines represent the bulk of medical information searches on the internet[3]. Therefore exposing eventbased science information to such search tools would yield the greatest discoverability, while also driving usage and demand through new distribution channels.

Another means of exposure is to sell sitelicence access of the archive to institutions, both academic and otherwise. This avenue of exposure is a relatively new one. Digitally captured archives were previously only made available to an association’s members. By disseminating an event’s science through institutions, an association can present its science to a larger pool of potential members, and gain a positive brand image by disseminating its cutting-edge, event-based science to students and experts in the field.  A third means of exposure is to repurpose the captured event-based science into continuing education (CE) programmes.  Since many meetings offer attendees educational credits for attendance at specific sessions, the repurposing of such sessions into continuing education courses is a natural and linear progression. It stands to reason that a session presented live, which provides CE credit hours to attendees, would be a prime vehicle for the creation and distribution of CE courses based on the verbatim delivery of that respective session. Since there is no difference in the content of the session, only the medium by which it is received, the further distribution of the event-based science to CE courses is of great educational benefit to an organisation and the discipline in which it serves.

Are archives considered prior publication?

Moving beyond exposure, a question that is being increasingly asked of digitally-captured event-based science is whether or not the capture, production, and distribution of such science is considered prior publication. The New England Journal of Medicine has good news on that score for potential journalarticle authors: ‘Posting an audio recording of an oral presentation at a medical meeting on the internet, with selected slides from the presentation, will not be considered prior publication. This will allow students and physicians who are unable to attend the meeting to hear the presentation and view the slides,’ says the journal[4].  With this concern cleared up, such conference archiving is continuing to grow in popularity. And this could help associations to get more from their meetings, as well as opening up more science to students and researchers.

Joshua B. Illig is sales and marketing manager – institutions for Conference Archives

Further information

1. More insight into the fate of biomedical meeting abstracts: a systematic review. BMC Medical Research Methodology, (2003), 3, 12.

2. Barriers to Full-Text Publication Following Presentation of Abstracts at Annual Meeting. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (American), (2003), 85, 158.

3. Fox, Susannah. ‘Pew Internet: Online Health Search 2006.’ Pew Internet & American Life Project. 29 Oct 2006. 25 Jun 2007,

4. Kassirer, Jerome P. ‘NEJM – Posting Presentations at Medical Meetings on the Internet.’ The New England Journal of Medicine: Research & Review Articles on Diseases. 11 Mar 1999. 11 Jun 2007.