“We spend millions on IT systems to capture, store and disseminate ‘stuff’. We endlessly attempt to codify “what we know” into different forms of media for those who might benefit from it, so they can completely ignore it. We set up communities of practice to connect the unconnected and link our structural silos. We endlessly promote the virtues of Web 2.0 and social media as the panacea of all our knowledge ills. We do all sorts of things in the name of knowledge management it seems – except tackle potentially the most productive and lowest hanging of all our fruits, our meetings.” (Cognitive Edge)
This quote reminds us that while we often organize and attend meetings, we often do not put enough effort into how to make them really efficient and more importantly effective.
An ideal meeting or event?
Depending on its precise focus, a great meeting features all or most of these characteristics: It…
- Has very clear objectives which it achieves or modifies in the interest of the whole group;
- Brings together a variety of participants that are energized by the agenda;
- Has a well balanced agenda mixing the sharing of information and the way participants are digesting it and adding their own experience;
- Invites, gathers and values perspectives of everyone in the room;
- Leads to concrete actionable insights or recommendations that are co-created by the group;
- Offers a variety of work forms (inside, outside, individual/group/plenary etc.) to achieve the micro-objectives of each session and keep the energy of participants high;
- Generates strong relationships among participants through joint conversations and activities;
- Is connected with the wider world through social media engagement and social reporting and extends the conversation beyond the meeting room;
- Is documented properly, during and quickly after the event, involving various formats and channels for different purposes and audiences;
- Invites everyone in the room to play a role;
- Has an inspiring venue, strong logistical support, and perhaps even music.
Often, not always, the events we attend don’t match these aspirations. They are frequently:
A conference with high-level objectives, un-facilitated, chaired by ‘experts’ that use all their talking time – and usually more – to show how much they know. Then a series of presentations (three, five, ten) follow each other, often poorly-timed and delaying the entire program. Any question and answer session is monopolized by two or three vocal (often senior) participants allowing no time for group discussion and reflection.
It becomes difficult for participants to remain awake through these strings of presentations. So the coffee break buzz is really welcome – it is really the only moment in the day when participants are full of energy as they get a chance to talk.
Sometime, for a change, a panel discussion is organized, frequently all men and ‘usual suspects’ and the discussion does not electrify the audience. The meeting continues and closes with some rather vague conclusions. Since there was little time for group work, these have often been developed by an organizing committee and have not really been validated by the participants.
Meanwhile, no one really paid attention to capturing the few conversations that took place, and the presentations are all scattered on individual presenters’ personal computers and USB sticks.
Finally, participants depart, glad the event is over, not entirely sure what they gained or what it was really about. But they enjoyed the few informal networking moments where they could share their frustrations on the short coffee breaks, delayed sessions and missed opportunities to meet the colleague they always wanted to talk to. They do have some new business cards to follow up by email when they get back to their hotel room.
Sounds familiar? Of course this is a caricature, but we believe there are lots of recognizable features.
Even without expert advice, anyone organizing a meeting can tackle some of this. For ILRI staff and partners however, the engagement and collaboration team of the ILRI communication and knowledge management (CKM) unit can help turn meetings into more successful, productive, and long-lasting milestones.
Here’s how we help – as a full package or on a ‘pick-and-choose’ basis:
- Co-design for results: We help you think through your objectives, expected learning, outputs and outcomes to maximize the results of the meeting taking into account the amount and profile of participants, duration of the meeting, objectives of each session etc. Our co-design – every step is discussed and agreed with you – ensures that the event is made to measure.
- Facilitate engagement: We can ensure that all participants are engaged in interactive ways to ensure maximum energy, learning, ownership, commitment and results. More on the role of facilitators.
- Document for follow-up: We help document conversations from plenary and group sessions so the dispersed knowledge and insights are captured, can be shared and participants can see where their contributions feed into the results and decisions.
- Harvest, store and re-use: We help participants and organizers create, harvest and curate (archive, format and tag properly) all materials generated during the meeting: pictures, presentations, audio recordings, videos. These can be the basis for rapid dissemination of messages and they serve as a multimedia record. As well as livening up an event report, ILRI’s communications and KM teams ensure they are properly published and archived for future use.
- Spread the word: As desired, social reporting during and after the event helps your event connect with the wider world through, for example, Twitter, Yammer, LinkedIn, Facebook (or any social network). This ‘push’ is matched by online event pages that ‘pull’ in other viewers so they can follow and sometime contribute to the conversations. If you want to more actively engage virtual audiences, that’s also possible. Finally, we can help generate attention by writing web stories, conducting interviews, and bringing in media. All accessible in one place. Nice and neat.
- Rapporteuring: Depending on the issue or topic, we can also draft a timely ‘report’ of the event, in Word, PowerPoint, Prezi or Storify.
- Co-organize: Occasionally we can also help with logistics to ensure a total support. This is usually available only in Addis Ababa or Nairobi.
Keys to success?
Often we are contacted after an event is conceptualized and someone feels a ‘facilitator’ would be helpful. This is always better than nothing. The real game changer is to involve us from the start. Before the agenda of the meeting is set. Before participants are invited for inputs. And certainly before presenters have been promised 30-minute slots.
Contact us when you have an idea about organizing a meeting or an event, and let’s work together to better achieve your objectives.
We have supported a number of ILRI and partners’ events and workshops. Click here to see this comprehensive list.
These are but a few testimonies that we received in the past about our event support services…
You are both skilled facilitators (i.e. great herders of cats!) and this ability was integral to the success of the conference. (Mike Nunn, ACIAR, about the Conference on Policies for competitive smallholder livestock production in March 2015)
Hello la Dream Team, Félicitations à tous les trois pour l’organisation du séminaire ! C’était très riche, très professionnel, très convivial, et très participatif. Bref, un séminaire qui donne du tonus et des idées pour l’avenir ! (Guillaume Duteurtre, CIRAD, about the African Dairy Value Chain Seminar in September 2014)
Having observed your work and skills during the Africa RISING workshop meetings over the years, I really was of the opinion that you are the best person for our forthcoming MIRA launch country meetings. (Joseph Rusike, AGRA, about Africa RISING review and planning meetings in 2014)
Thanks for the great job that you did, Ewen and Peter, with the facilitation. Speaking with the “left-over” people here this weekend, I found unanimous enthusiasm about the way you handled the workshop and created spaces for so much enriching interaction. Also the living keynote idea shows a lot of possibilities in generating a product out of all the discussions and gaining group ownership of the product. (Ann Waters-Bayer, PROLINNOVA, about the AISA conference in May 2013)