The AOS Conference in Chicago is a prime example of a conference that worked well!!!! The organizers decided to skip out of the discussant mode and adopt the conventional “Chicago school (i.e. JAR Conference)” approach of having the “discussant” be a summarizer and integrator of the thoughts of the participants about the paper as well as their own thoughts.
Thus, we got away from the highly stylized discussant comments and responses to discussant’s comments that have tended to dominate conferences that employed the traditional discussant approach.
Now, of course, this required participants in the conference to carefully read the papers in advance as they were the true discussants. And it seemed to work well. Everyone got to ask a series of questions when they wanted to including follow-ups. Other audience members were able to add short clarification questions as supplements to others questions! In other words it was a true intellectual experience that lead to substantive knowledge creation which should be the goal of any of the smaller academic conferences.
Yes, I know this model will not work well at conferences featuring multiple concurrent sessions with twenty to a thousand papers being presented. but at conferences where there are less than 8 papers being presented this model should be encouraged. At the very least we need to stop it from degenerating into a duality between the formal discussant and the author. Else, the entire reason for small academic conferences seems to go away.