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By Jonathan Justice, 2020 Virtual Symposium Chair

ABFM conducted our first ever Virtual Symposium over September 24-26, 2020. While most or all of us were disappointed not to be meeting in person in Miami, the Symposium provided a good setting for the presentation of annual awards, three panels showcasing the work of new scholars in the field, and several panels addressing issues of pressing contemporary interest to scholars and practitioners of public budgeting and finance.

We had over 150 registrants and 73 unique panelists across 13 sessions, including the awards ceremony. Non-Panelist participation numbers in the panels seemed fairly high: I observed about 35-40 for the awards ceremony, and about 25-30 for the very last session late on Saturday morning. According to our newsletter editor and technical wizard Ken Hunter, there were about 70 non-panelist attendees for at least one of the early-scholars panels.

The size of that early scholars’ audience indicates one strength of the virtual format. Two others were our ability to have live engagement with panelists and audience members from around the globe, and the ability to record sessions. Most sessions were recorded, and will be available for on-demand viewing through our coming soon, new and improved ABFM.org website.

The relative success of the symposium also highlighted an enduring strength of ABFM as an organization, namely its members. ABFM has been my home professional association for nearly three decades now, because of what we do and who we are collectively, and this symposium validated my loyalty in every way. Faced with the disruptions and uncertainties of a global pandemic, ABFMers worked collegially to plan for contingencies, and dozens of volunteers stepped up to overcome a variety of challenges and put together a very satisfying process and product.

Please check out the conference program book to see both a list of what the sessions were, and to see (especially on the first and last pages) the names of the many ABFMers who contributed time, energy, and creativity to make it all happen. In this short space, I can single out only Elizabeth Searing (UT Dallas), who designed and executed a superb program of developmental activities and research presentations to showcase our early scholars (with the help of many other volunteers, whom you will see listed in the program book); Ken Hunter (City of Rocky Mount, NC), who organized the technology and people (check the program book!) who made the virtual sessions work so well; and David Guo, Agatha Caraballo, and their colleagues at Florida International University, who put together a great proposal to host the originally planned conference, pivoted adroitly and cheerfully to deal with the pandemic, and then worked beautifully with the hotel to reschedule the Miami conference to 2022 with no financial penalty.

At this writing, we are looking forward to resuming in-person conferences, public-health conditions permitting, in 2021 on September 30 – October 2 at the Georgetown Marriott in Washington, DC, and in 2022 on September 22-24 at the Hyatt Regency Miami. Mark your calendars now. Our 2021 Chair-Elect and Conference Chair, Bob Bland (UNT) is leading the effort to put it together, with a variety of complementary virtual components to expand its reach. Bob and I will both welcome your thoughts and suggestions for the conference and its online adjuncts. We plan to field a simple survey, but you should also feel free to send me your thoughts – about what liked or disliked about this year’s symposium, about what you would like to see happen next year, or anything else – at abfmconference2020@gmail.com

And did I mention that you ought to check out the program book, to remind you of the sessions you might have participated in and want to revisit via the on-demand recordings, or to see what you missed and want to watch for the first time, but most of all to see the lengthy lists of ABFM committee members and other volunteers who made it all possible? Everyone whose name you see in the program book answered the call, and gave generously of their time, attention, and creative energy in a collective effort that emphatically confirmed my bias in favor of ABFM as my favorite professional association. Thank you all!