Easychair is a web conference management system (CMS) that allows researchers to organize a variety of paper submission and review processes. Originally developed for conferences only, Easychair has been used for journal special issues, workshops, grant proposal review, competitions, meetings and for teaching academic peer review techniques to students.
Together with OpenConf, EasyChair is one of the most popular choices for organizers of academic conferences, and the only hosted option with a freemium model. I personally have used the CMS several times over the years as an author and reviewer, and am currently supporting the conference setup for the PMRC 2019 conference through EasyChair.
The look and feel betray its origins in computer science, but regardless of the discipline, with a reasonable amount of poking around it is possible to figure out how to implement the specific submission and review model one has in mind. One of the biggest advantages of EasyChair is the tool’s affordability – the basic version is free, and the executive license is currently less than $1,500 for 500 submissions.
The executive license is advisable for larger events that have different proposal types such as papers, posters, panels and workshops that require specific submission and review forms, email templates and additional information for authors in form of instructions and templates.
Here are a few lessons learned:
- Customizing the submission process: While the submission is customizable, don’t expect advanced features such as skip logic, that you may be familiar with from survey systems. If you need to customize submission form and review processes for different types of proposals, using tracks is your best option. This comes with the advantage that you can adjust the review workflow for each submission separately. However, you will have to add your program committee (reviewers) for each track separately.
- Assigning Reviewers: The main strength of EasyChair is the assignment of reviewers. The system uses a special-purpose randomized algorithm to assign papers. The algorithm takes care of the conflicts of interests. In addition, organizers can assign papers interactively using an interface. One can first make an automatic assignment and use the interface to change the automatic assignment. After the assignment is complete, the chair can use the system to send emails to each PC member about their paper assignment.
- Selecting the Review Process. EasyChair supports a variety of review models. Based on our experiences, I recommend having two types of reviewers: Ordinary PC Members (normal reviewers) and Senior PC Members (the program committee and/or executive committee). Senior PC Members write only meta reviews. A meta review contains a summary of other reviews and an accept or reject recommendation for the submission. The final decision about accept or reject is made by the chair. Once the final decision is recorded, chairs can then notify the authors. The system will send mail to each author, typically including reviewer comments and scores and / or the meta review. The chairs are able to customize the email message depending on the decision (reject or accept).
- Testing Environment: Lastly, I strongly recommend taking advantage of the demo version. Many of the configuration options do not become clear until one has tried them out, and seen how they play out in the process of submission, assignment, review and decision. Particularly if you are making group decisions as a conference host committee, this feature is helpful to demonstrate the features, options and limitations of EasyChair.
Who is behind EasyChair?
Hosted by the computer science department of the University of Manchester, EasyChair is owned and maintained by the company EasyChair Ltd from Manchester (UK). Andrei Voronkov, Professor of Formal Methods at the University of Manchester and Professor at Chalmers University of Technology is the company’s CEO.