Is it time for ICTD conferences to have a bit of a shake-up..?


websiteheader2It was with some reservations that I booked my travel to Singapore to attend ICTD2015. It’s a long way to go for a conference, and I had heard very mixed things from friends and colleagues who have been before – “it’s too academic” and “there aren’t enough practitioners” is the most common complaint.

Well, I like to keep one toe dipped in academia so I thought whether those concerns are valid or not, I am sure it will be interesting and useful.

Half a day in and, while enjoying it, I notice I am having a few misgivings.

Reading through the list of papers, notes, open sessions and demos there is no shortage of practitioners, organisations from the South and technical folk alongside the list of University names, Doctors and other noted academics (although @ICTD2015 / @ICTD2017 – an attendee list would be invaluable – please try and arrange before the final day!).

Where things fall down is not in the attendees or the subject matter, but the format…

Days 1 and 4 are the so-called “open sessions” which I had been informed are interactive spaces where the whole room will engage and discuss or work on things together. Great!

Well, so far… Day 1 so far is a series of sit and face-the-front lectures with a few minutes of Q&A at the end. Apparently this is not always the case, but for this year at least – given the choice of lecture theatres as spaces, this was either planned or at least inevitable.

Frustratingly, the subject matter is great! The format is not. Why does this matter..?

Why do people attend conferences like these? Invariably it is either to learn or to network and collaborate.

The last few decades have taught us many things about learning – and it is now pretty well agreed that lectures are not a good learning format. There are practical arguments why they might be necessary, especially with groups of 100s of people, but they should be the format of last resort not the go-to-format which is reached for first. And for the smaller sessions, with 10-20 people – there is literally no reason for this format when a round-table, group work, or any of hundreds of well-established and easy to facilitate interactive approaches would make for a better learning experience.

For the second reason – networking and collaborating – face-the-front lecture style sessions are all but useless, where small and large group interactive sessions are invaluable! Even better networking opportunities between sessions would be a good backup!

So I am already here… Why am I writing this?

Well, OK I am English, so of course it is nice to live up to the stereotype and whinge now and then… But more importantly, I would really like this to be better!! There are a fantastic group of people here, in one place, together, for four days! And this risks becoming a wasted opportunity for something exciting and valuable to take place!

So a plea to the @ICTD2015 / @ICTD2017 organisers – for future years, please try your hardest to make the conference more interactive – I think you will find the practitioner-community flocks back in droves if you get this right. And by more interactive I don’t just mean getting the open-sessions working as intended – why not open it up much more? How many people really want to spend two full days in a lecture theatre watching presentation after presentation..? Break it up a bit, have more participant involvement, more streams, more hands-on, more facilitated networking, more options!

I know Aptivate would love to work with you and help you do this – we regularly facilitate Open Space / Unconference type events (http://www.aptivate.org/en/blog/tagged/open%20space/).

As for this year… Well it’s probably too late to change anything, but maybe as attendees we can at least fill the gaps and do some networking and collaborating and sharing of learnings ONLINE…

Please post your suggestions at the lowest-bandwidth simplest collaborative idea I know of – http://lopad.org/p/ictd2015.

Comments from other attendees or organisers welcomed below! 🙂

2 thoughts on “Is it time for ICTD conferences to have a bit of a shake-up..?

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