Many customers come to us after using Google forms and spreadsheets and it's easy to see why. Initially, it may be tempting to simply rustle up a form to collect the data, and send out the resulting database to reviewers. It can’t be that difficult, eh?
But what happens after that? How do you figure out which reviewer should see which bit of which abstract? What about tracking who reviewed what? And how do you compile the reviews to work out scores? What starts as a perceived simple, money-saving process ends up as a total mess, consuming hours of admin time, and a huge amount of stress.
The next stage is to start looking for abstract management software and wish that you had started there in the first place.
Abstract management is essentially a process of collect, review, decide, and yes you can do that in a very basic way with spreadsheets, but in practice it's a lot more complicated than that. First off, there is the nature of the data that you are trying to collect. Abstracts have multiple authors and those authors in turn can have multiple affiliations and this information needs to be correctly structured so that it can be used and displayed later in the process - for instance, in abstract books. You may want to hide the author information from your reviewers, and you will want to compile the information into a specific format for printing in your abstract book, and have it appear correctly in the program.
Manually formatting authors and affiliations with the required superscript numbers is going to be very difficult and time consuming. Why bother, when an abstract management system will produce this at the click of a button? We’ve had customers almost cry when they see this feature demonstrated, through relief, and the sheer frustration at the wasted hours they have spent doing this manually in the past.
The spreadsheet-regret really sets in when you attempt to get the abstracts reviewed and you realise that you are heading into a data security minefield. Authors will have submitted information that may or may not be appropriate for the reviewers to see. Sending personal information about the authors to the reviewers when there is no operational necessity is a GDPR breach that could land you in a lot of trouble.
A good abstract management system will let you determine which of the submission form question responses should be seen by specific reviewers, and allow you to track who has (and hasn't) graded their allocated abstracts, and follow up where necessary. And it’s an absolute necessity that all data collected - whether submissions, or reviews - should be compiled and accessible in such a way that you can search, filter and report on any of the finer details, including overall averages, or conflicts of interest.
Next comes the decisions stage. Not only does the basic accept/reject decision need to be recorded, you might want to assess if an abstract has won a prize, add a program code or create different acceptance types.
Your committee members may want to be able to see decisions, and perhaps record decisions themselves. You will also want to have a simple system for emailing authors to let them know the outcome of their submission. All of this is difficult and time consuming if your data is sitting on a spreadsheet, and tracking where you are in the process is, according to one client, “absolute hell”. Purpose-built abstract management software will do all this for you, and good abstract management software will provide the tools to make the process - dare we say it - a pleasure.
The killer blow for spreadsheets is when it comes to producing a program or schedule and our clients realise that if they had used a software system like Oxford Abstracts from the beginning, they could simply add sessions to the program, and then automatically add abstracts to the sessions. Delegates can access the program, along with all the information and abstracts in the sessions, and any last minute changes are instantly reflected in the program.