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How It’s Made: ASHRAE Conferences’ Technical Programs Give Voice to Members

By Mary Kate McGowan, Associate Editor, News
From eSociety, April 2018


No matter the location and no matter what season, there is a constant at every ASHRAE conference: an in-depth technical program that touches a variety of industry topics.

The 2018 ASHRAE Annual Conference is no different with a technical program that will address resiliency, district energy and cogeneration plants, controls, analytics, among other topics.

While the technical program will run throughout the four-day conference in Houston, it takes much more time to create the program, said Cindy Moreno, Member ASHRAE, chair of the 2018 ASHRAE Annual Conference.

The timeline for creating an ASHRAE conference technical program begins about a year-and-a-half before a conference when a conference chair is chosen, she said. From there, months of work are devoted to selecting, editing and preparing the technical program, which is released a few months ahead of the conference.

While sticking to that schedule is important, finding the best presentations and information is just as important, she said.

“Through the technical program, we’re giving our members a voice. We’re giving them a platform to be able to share the research, the information they have to pose questions to us as a Society,” Moreno said. “I think that’s one of the most important aspects of having this technical conference. It’s the information exchange.”

Track Favorites

To ensure a technical program addresses the needs and interests of ASHRAE membership, Moreno said ASHRAE’s Conferences and Expositions Committee keeps a running log of the technical program tracks from previous ASHRAE conferences.

While the conference chair and CEC can choose some tracks that are offered, some tracks are regularly featured, she said. At every ASHRAE conference, there will be “HVAC&R Systems and Equipment” and “Fundamentals and Applications” tracks, according to Moreno. Typically, there is a refrigeration track at winter conferences, and a research track at annual conferences.

The upcoming conference marks the third annual conference that will include a professional skills development track, she said. CEC has found that track is well–attended and offers diversity to conference attendees who wish to learn more about soft skills, she said.

Usually a controls–focused track is offered at the annual conference. This year, the “HVAC&R Control Freaks” track is a “catch all” for anything related to controls that is not analytics or Internet of Things, she said.

The track will focus on topics rankings from design innovations spreading through the industry, the latest in building integration and observation, and troubleshooting the most common issues occurring in building management systems.

Getting on the Right Tracks

The remaining tracks are determined based on: input for technical committees, if the tracks had been offered recently, the popularity of the tracks in the past, and if membership seems interested in the topic, she said.

“We look at historical data, what’s been represented and what hasn’t been represented, where we need to diversify,” she said.

Before the Houston conference’s tracks were finalized, Moreno said she asked the Technical Activities Committee for suggestions. Based on feedback, the “HVAC&R Analytics” track will be offered in Houston.

Moreno said the “HVAC & Resiliency: Safeguarding Our World” track that will be offered in Houston is connected to the “Earth, Wind & Fire” track at the 2018 ASHRAE Winter Conference in Chicago.

“There were a lot of programs that were submitted for Chicago that kind–of–maybe–sort–of fit that ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ track, but they didn’t fit it completely. We knew there was an interest in how we build our systems to face some of the natural (threats),” Moreno said.

Thus, the “HVAC & Resiliency: Safeguarding Our World” track was created for the Houston meeting.

The Selection Process

The technical program includes conference paper sessions, debates, forums, panels, seminars, technical paper sessions and workshops. All in all, there were 108 slots in total to be filled for Houston.

More than 200 programs were submitted in hopes of making the 2018 ASHRAE Annual Conference program. Twenty sessions are reserved conference paper sessions, leaving 80–85 slots for the rest, Moreno said.

It takes months to sort through those entries to determine what best fits into the overall program. For the past few conferences, submissions have gone through a double–blind review process from both CEC and TAC volunteers, Moreno said. Reviewers score the papers, and the mean scores’ rank determines what makes the technical program.

Moreno said complete and organized submissions on the industry’s hot topics tend to receive higher scores.

“I noticed the ones getting the higher numbers and that spotlight have a lot to do with standards writing and application. It seems the reviewers found that would be very helpful and well attended,” she said.

Forums and debates also receive favorable review comments, Moreno said. She said those typically draw in larger crowds and have more opportunities for audience engagement.

Moreno said “the breadth and depth of work that goes into coordinating all of these details” has surprised her and has taught her more about ASHRAE, especially its technical committees. Moreno’s background is in the grassroots side of the Society.

“It’s given me a full exposure to how much work is done on that side. It’s allowed me to see the full scope of ASHRAE and the work that we do and how diverse the work is,” she said.