This week I'm musing about the future of events and knowledge sharing in our sector. In part because the annual Metropolis Conference is still scheduled to be an in-person event in March 2022 in Vancouver. Not even a hybrid event. In. Person.
It was madness when it was scheduled. Now, with Omicron, it's beyond madness.
I get it. People want to get together in person. But right now, and into the foreseeable future, that's just not smart.
I've always been somewhat in the minority when it comes to the need for in-person conferences. I haven't thought they were the most useful. It tends to be the same people from the same organizations going. At least that's been my experience having been part of running in-person events at OCASI many years ago, as well as a presenter and attendee.
I'd love to see data and some research, but my sense is that the move to online events has democratized access for many in our sector. Particularly among frontline workers. In the past just the cost of attending in-person conferences has been too great for frontline folks. And I'm not just talking about airfare and hotels. I'm also talking about the time away from frontline service, which simply piles up while they're at events.
In-person events have also tended to be notoriously inaccessible post-event as well. The P2P conferences have always a good example of how to do it. Film the presentations, share them after. Too many events did not do that. If you were in the room, you got the info and made the connections. If you weren't, too bad.
And these are typically government funded events. Which means that the funders themselves were not making it a requirement to share the information after the event, beyond session abstracts, PPT presentations, and maybe research or post-conference reports.
Interestingly, even during the pandemic there have been government supported conferences (I'm looking at you Metropolis) that have recorded, but not shared conference presentations, unless presenters explicitly asked them to be shared (I know, I was one, and didn't know it was an option until I asked for it to be shared. We were never informed that was an option at any point leading up to the event). And, EVEN THEN, the videos on YouTube tend to be unlisted, which means that unless you have the link, you can't find the recording, or be notified that it exists even if you're subscribed to the Metropolis channel.
Why? Don't you want the results of all the work you put into creating and curating a conference to be viewed as widely as possible? I don't get it.
What am I getting at?
The first thing is that any government-funded online conference or presentation needs to be recorded and shared after. It must be a requirement from the funder.
The second is that the future of our sector's events must include virtual components to compliment in-person events and conferences. This isn't new. I've done it. In 2017 I was invited to Kingston to present at a conference. I wasn’t able to be in Kingston in person, so we did the session remotely. The results? A highly successful and interactive hybrid event.
The third is that we have funded Communities of Practice that can and must be directly integrated into government-funded conferences and events. IRCC has funded numerous Communities of Practice over time. Depending on the focus of the conference/event, these can and should be used in both the lead-up as well as post-event conference discussion, collaboration, and ongoing exploration. What's the point of spending all that time and money to bring people together for 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to dive deeply into something, only to move on after? There are deep information and professional connections that can be made through those sessions. But these need to be facilitated, moderated, guided, encouraged. All the things that Communities of Practice are meant to be and can be.
The fourth is that in-person connections around these topics can continue to happen, before, during, and after events. When it is safer to be together in person, a hybrid event can mean local organizations can come together in a room to watch and remotely participate in a conference event and then engage in meaningful discussion during the session, after the session together still in that same room, and continue online with others on the virtual Communities of Practice. Linking conferences with Local Immigration Partnerships (LIPs) is one way to do that. In many cases LIPs provide professional development experiences. This is one additional way conferences can be tied to local realities, in ways that continue to connect local practitioners and organizations, while also connecting them to the larger national sector.
The fifth is to start moving away from the stigma of the "must be perfect to be shared." So many interesting things happen all the time in our sector, so many good ideas, half-baked-on-the-side-of-our-desk initiatives and more that simply deserve to be shared. But our conference culture has been to wait until that next conference and put a bow on our work before sharing it with the sector.
If we've learned anything over these past 2 years, it is the importance of informal sharing. Sharing what's interesting, what we're doing and learning from what we're doing. Sharing something that might be incredibly useful to someone somewhere else and create an opportunity to connect and learn from each other. It doesn't have to be done, evaluated, or formally written up for it to be useful. We've got to get away from these academic-driven conferences that demand perfection before presentation. We have to move to practitioner focused learning, sharing, and ensure that informal good ideas and emerging ideas are shared, discussed, and cultivated. We did that recently around digital literacy, and it worked. My podcast is an example of great sharing. This episode in particular illustrates the importance of sharing an idea that grows into something formal, with tremendous impact.
We have an opportunity to rethink how we create events and learning experiences moving forward. Simply jumping back into the way we always did things is not the way to do it.