Decisions, Decisions: The Consequences of Making a Choice

SXSW canceled two panels after receiving threats of onsite violence, leading to lots of criticism and an uproar on social media. What the fallout can teach associations about meeting-related decision-making.

We all know that every personal decision we make has consequences—both good and bad. And, even as meeting planners, choices you make have an impact. Those affected by these decisions could run the gamut from attendees to speakers to sponsors and so on.

We will work to find an alternative forum for this conversation and invite others who feel the same to join us.

A decision—and related fallout—this week by those behind one of the country’s largest technology conferences, SXSW Interactive, serves as a good reminder for every meeting planner and conference organizer.

I’m sure that many of you are familiar with the SXSW news, but just in case you’re not, here’s an overview:

On Monday, SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest put out a statement saying that two panels at the April 2016 conference had been canceled: “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games.” He said the change was “due to numerous threats of onsite violence.”

The “SavePoint” panel was to discuss “the social/political landscape in the gaming community,” while “Level Up” was set to look at how design and interface choices could and have decreased harassment in games. Each panel would have raised the issue of harassment in the gaming world—and likely the Gamergate movement—but from differing viewpoints.

Immediately after Forrest announced the cancellations, criticism started coming in. Since one of the panels would have specifically addressed overcoming harassment in games, many felt SXSW was giving in to exactly what the panel was fighting against. Then, on Tuesday, media outlets like Buzzfeed and Vox said they planned to withdraw from the event.

“Vox Media will not be participating in this year’s festival unless its organizers take this issue seriously and take appropriate steps to correct. We will work to find an alternative forum for this conversation and invite others who feel the same to join us,” the company said in a statement.

Since then, according to Re/code, SXSW has offered to reinstate “Level Up,” though the panelists haven’t confirmed whether they’re going to participate. The site also says SXSW’s organizers are reconsidering their decision and are planning an all-day event focused on combating online harassment. Organizers also have said they are still debating safety issues.

[Update: On Friday, SXSW announced that it will hold a daylong Online Harassment Summit on March 12, which will include presenters from both of the original sessions. “By cancelling two sessions we sent an unintended message that SXSW not only tolerates online harassment but condones it, and for that we are truly sorry,” SXSW said in a statement. “The resulting feedback from the individuals involved and the community-at-large resonated loud and clear. While we made the decision in the interest of safety for all of our attendees, cancelling sessions was not an appropriate response.”]

Considerations for Associations

Whatever the final outcome for SXSW or whether you agree or disagree with the decisions made by conference organizers, it’s likely one they did not take lightly. But it does provide a good reminder that the decisions you make related to your association’s conferences have consequences—both expected and unexpected.

Associations are lucky in that it’s highly unlikely their decisions will be covered in huge media outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times or generate tens of thousands of related tweets. But decisions related to meetings can lead to unhappy members, canceled conference registrations, pulled sponsorship dollars, and other headaches.

I’m of the mindset that it’s just as important to acknowledge and discuss with colleagues the potential negative impacts of a change or decision as it to discuss the positive ones.

Of course, there will never be a time where a decision makes every single person happy, but by outlining the potential negative consequences as part of the decision-making process, you’ll likely come to a more informed conclusion and then be better prepared to respond to criticism when it comes in.

But, unfortunately, there are those times where you know the decision you made will have a negative impact, but you had to do it anyway. Then it may become a matter of softening the blow to those who will be most greatly affected.  Perhaps by proactively reaching out to them ahead of time and letting them know the decision is coming, or by allowing them to be part of those discussions so they can see where you are coming from. And by having them involved, you may even come to a different decision that leaves everyone more satisfied.

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever had to make a meetings-related decision that you knew would draw negative criticism? Or what’s your decision-making process when it comes to something that could have significant consequences? Please share in the comments.

(Handout photo)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!