Regional vs divisional congresses vs summer schools of Applied Psychology for the 21st century

John Adair, Michael Freese, Susan Pick, Jose M. Prieto

a)     Regional congresses in the 1990s

During the 1990s a new series of Regional Congresses of Psychology was launched after an agreement between the International Union of Psychological Science and the IAAP. Local organizers obtained funding and support from both organizations to assist them in the start-up phase. In the American continent the Interamerican Psychological Society has over many decades organized the earliest regional congress. During the 1980s this was an autonomous initiative. In 1995 the IAAP and the IUPsyS decided to organize the first regional congress in that region; this took place in Mexico in 1997 just three weeks after the end of the Interamerican Congress of Psychology held in Rio de Janeiro. This initiative generated some trouble, political tension and misunderstanding among organizations and leaders that lasted for 1-3 years. It was agreed by officers of both associations in a joint meeting held in Caracas in 1999 that they would avoid organizing parallel and competing conferences in the region. It means no follow-up of this series of congresses in such a region.

In Europe, in 1989, under the initiative and leadership of Peter Drenth (and the Netherlands Psychological Society), the 1st European Congress of Psychology was held in Amsterdam. The 2nd ECP was held in Budapest in 1991. The European Federation of Professional Psychologists Associations (EFPPA) chaired by its President Ype Poortinga, decided to arrange these congresses under its auspices.

Both Pieter Drenth and Ype Poortinga are members of our EC. Six European Congresses of Psychology have been organized during the 1990s, since 1995 co-sponsored by the IAAP and the IUPsyS; the most recent congress was held in Rome July 1999 and the next will take place in London in 2001. Turkey is a member of the EFPPA and after some discussions held this fall 1999 by EC members as well as officers from both organizations, Charles Spielberger (as president of the IAAP) and Tuomo Tikannen (as President of EFPPA) also agreed to avoid parallel and competing conferences in the region.

The first Asia Pacific Regional Conference of Psychology was held in Guangzhou, China, in 1995. This congress, co-sponsored by the IUPsyS and the IAAP has had no follow-up or lasting impact. The first Regional Congress of Psychology in Africa was held in Durban, South Africa last summer. This congress, co-sponsored by the IUPsyS and the IAAP, was in fact a national rather than a regional congress because of the very low attendance of participants from nearby countries and the region. Africa is the only continent where there is still no strong regional association of psychologists regularly organizing a regional conference. In Asia there is a strong regional association of social psychologists which maintains regional meetings every two years, 2001 in Melbourne.

b)     Divisional congresses in the 1990s

During the 1980s and 1990s the series of European Congresses of Work and Organizational Psychology were launched, among others, by leading figures of the IAAP, officers and EC members, as well as Division 1 leaders and members. The IAAP launched the European Journal of Work and Organzational Psychology (Charles de Wolff was the founder director, 1991) and the European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology (EAWOP, 1995).

The Division of Traffic and Transportation Psychology has organized at least one International Congress in 1995 and another is scheduled for this year 2000 in Berne. The Division of Economic Psychology organizes every two years an International congress with the International Association of Researchers in Economic Psychology. In 1999 they organized both a congress and a summer school in Italy.

The IAAP has strong and weak divisions. It may possibly be more appropriate that the IAAP starts to consider becoming more involved during the first decade of the twenty-first century in promoting and sponsoring divisional congresses, conventions, and summer schools.

That is, every two years somehow subsidizing and sponsoring the organization of an activity backed by a weak division to increase the visibility of such a field of expertise in a region or in the international arena. It has an actual advantage: the IAAP division already exists to back the initiative before and after the specific event which was sponsored takes place. It means that it may have continuity. Divisional congresses may take place in a region as a satellite activity or coinciding with a regional congress enhancing the visibility of the specialty and the division in such a region.

This might be a good example: in the year 2001 there is a congress in Australia sponsored by the Asian Society of Social Psychology. The IAAP (and the IUPsyS) could co-sponsor this activity, which is actually backed by a real and solid regional association and it will thus have continuity.

c)     Regional training conferences

Susan Pick, current president of the Interamerican Psychological Society and President of the Regional Congress held in Mexico in 1997 has suggested the idea of regional training conferences. This is a summary of her main comments

An analysis of the responses to an evaluation of the congress shows that this interest is derived from

* its truly international representation (people from over 60 countries attended the regional congress held in Mexico) rather than a mainly local one (which tends to happen with regional congresses),

* its emphasis on training in obtaining specific skills (over 70 skill building workshops were provided by specialists who did not charge),

* extensive subsidies (in terms both of inexpensive and free accommodation and reduced fees),

* the fact that several organizations sponsored it (IAAP; IUPSyS, SIP and IACCP),

* the truly applied nature of the work presented and

* the quality of the presentations (not only the curricula of the presenters).

These responses point to:

* the importance of combining the efforts of several organizations to provide the best possible service to the individuals and groups that we as associations represent and therefore have the obligation to serve,

* the importance of strengthening international participation as well as local psychology and

* the importance of providing specific skills to participants and high quality presentations.

How can we as international and as regional organizations provide that support? First and foremost is the principle that as many colleagues as possible should have access to these meetings. This implies that there has to be special attention for psychologists in the neediest countries who face the greatest difficulties. We can follow in the steps of IAAP by assigning a certain percentage of our budgets to the support colleagues in the developing world. We can also be central in the dissemination of information about the event, providing ideas regarding individuals that can provide high quality skills training workshops without charging, assuring the quality and relevance of the presentations, and last but not least assuring that our different organizations really work together.

d)     Criteria for further regional congresses in Psychology

Michael Frese, President elect of the IAAP, has suggested the following criteria for a regional congress:

(i)                         it must be in an area which is not yet well developed from a scientific psychology point of view

(ii)                       it must be in a country which is easy to reach from other "developing" countries or countries in which psychology does not have a strong position

(iii)                      it must be a congress that is cheap to go to (both in terms of reaching the country and in terms of the fees for the congress and the expenses for hotels, etc.)

(iv)                      A regional congress should and does not imply that there will be follow-up congresses. As a matter of fact, I am perfectly happy with having regional congresses that have no follow-ups but that are important events for the graduate students and the scientists who attend.

(v)                        For any congress we should work together with the relevant national and international associations. However, we should not allow our decisions to be completely run by the decisions of these associations. In our case, this means that we should accommodate potential problems of overlap with regional associations but we should not give regional associations a veto power. IAAP is and should be a bit more independent because of our individual membership than other organizations that have to be much more diplomatic vis-a-vis membership organizations

(vi)                      We should involve EC members to the largest possible extent. This does not mean that we should not involve people we know and whose quality we know. In any case, we should not think of Regional Congresses just as an extension of our association, but should think of our organization to provide a SERVICE to the region.

(vii)                     Obviously, the regional congress should be regional, that is it should go beyond any one country.

(viii)                   It should be organized as a minimalistic congress, that is outside hotels (preferably in a university) so to make attendance really inexpensive and it should provide a heavy reduction for (graduate) students to attract them.

(ix)                      The program of a regional congress should not be the same as the one for a "normal" regular congress. We should give the regional congresses a stronger educational function. This implies for example, that invited speakers give much more of an overview of their area than just presenting their specific research activity.

Thus, a regional congress would be differentiated from a typical other congress also in terms of content.

The floor is open for discussion in the association and we would welcome your feedback and comments.