I have written a few posts now (see this, this and this) about Natural England's recent Near and Far conference. It obviously made quite an impression on me – not wholly positive it has to be said. I have been asked,
"So, if you're so critical about how NE handled it – "poor pedagogy", "incarceration", "enfettered", and all – what would you have done?"
As it happened, I was going to write about this, as I thought about it on the day; so, here goes: some alternatives for the morning.
1. Fewer presentations, using the saved time to allow us to ask questions of each presenter would have been a big improvement. It would have broken the structure up and allowed immediate comment and challenge.
2. One good scene-setting in-depth presentation at the start. Follow this with small group activity with sharp questions to focus on. Follow this with questions from the groups to a well-moderated panel. End (perhaps) with some synthesis comments from a rapporteur.
3. Circulate papers from the experts a week beforehand (no power points). On the day, begin with one good scene-setting in-depth presentation. Then introduce the experts (one minute each). Follow this with a market place: experts spaced out in a room or rooms (with poster displays / hand-outs if they wish) and those attending go round to ask the experts the questions they want to ask based on the information they've been given and there own ideas.
4. Start with that good scene-setting in-depth presentation. Then have a witness session. Here, delegates meet in small groups and the experts move between the groups only responding to questions. The onus here is on the group to organise itself to gather the information it wants to gain, and/or the ideas it wants to challenge. Come together at the end to share learning.
There is a progression here with delegates gaining more responsibility and agency as we shift from 1 to 4. The depth of organisation needed also increases from 1 to 4, as does the degree to which organisers have to 'let go'. This probably explains why nervous conference organisers tend to stick with the safety of endless presentations.
Actually, none of this is all that alternative; it's just designed to allow participants time to discuss what matters to them with the experts, and add their own views. Simple really. But oh, so difficult.