Monday 9 December 2013

Call for Proposals

It seems to be conference proposal season. I decided to submit for three conferences last week; Agile 2014, CAST 2014 and Let's Test Oz. Each had a very different process for submission.

Agile 2014

Agile 2014 is a large conference and the call for proposals is designed to support a large response. There are clear guidelines as to what a submission should include, with an explanatory paragraph against each of:
  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Audience
  • Presentation format
  • History of the presentation
  • Experience of the speaker
  • Learning outcomes
In addition, there is a full review system in place. The earlier you submit, the more feedback cycles you hit to evolve your proposal into the best possible candidate for selection to the programme.

Surprisingly, access within the submissions system is open so that anyone who logs in can view all proposals. Thankfully I had submitted my attempt prior to reading a review comment that included these scathing words "The abstract, on the other hand, made my ears bleed. I strongly recommend rewriting it from scratch with clearer, simpler phrases. I felt trapped in a Dilbert cartoon as I read it."

Let's Test Oz

Let's Test Oz include a comparatively sparse level of detail. Proposals should have a:
  • Title
  • Summary of your presentation’s key points, including a brief explanation of the context
  • Key learning outcomes that you hope your audience will walk away with
The submission is sent via email, its receipt is not acknowledged and there is no review loop. You are notified when you are accepted or otherwise.

CAST 2014

CAST 2014 requests abstracts to align to a theme of "The Art and Science of Software Testing". There are no guidelines on what an abstract should contain; the submissions form requests the abstract as a file upload but doesn't specify what file format. Submissions are acknowledged via an automated mail receipt. There is no formal review process, though Paul Holland seems very friendly.


It seems to me that each call for proposals became less specific. I understand that some of these differences will be driven by the size of the audience, the size of the conference organising committee and cost, but I'm wondering why the context driven community can't steal a few leaves from the agile book.

Without direction there must be huge variation in the content of proposals received. Without review there is no opportunity to refine the quirky idea into a solid submission. Where rejection is uniform across all who are unsuccessful, where is the opportunity to learn and refine?

As someone with little experience in submitting to conferences it would be nice to feel that the system supported my venture in to the unknown. Twitter has been awash with pleas to submit, yet on reading the details for the proposal calls I had no idea where to begin. Without guidance on what a proposal should contain, or feedback on what to change, those attempting to enter the arena are blindfolded.

Though there is help around if you ask for it, perhaps we could improve the process too? What do you think?


  1. "Scathing"? Loving. What a shame it would be for a strong submission not to survive because of a terrible abstract written in haste.

    1. Agreed. But what a shame it would be for the faint-hearted with brilliant ideas to not submit at all?

  2. I thought the same thing about the Let's Test Oz CFP. I had no idea where to start or how to improve my chances of success, so I contacted one of the special guests with my vague idea and got some excellent tips on how to improve it prior to submission.

    I didn't submit in the end, because I'm not sure that I can afford it on the back of other trips to Sydney this year, but that was entirely on me. Or maybe I chickened out on presenting to a large group for the first time in years. Either way, the result is the same.