Photo by Barth Bailey on Unsplash.

Conversation Tapas: Bite-Sized Ways to Design a Better Convening


Sep 23, 2013


Minute Read


We’ve all been there. Stellar participants. A promising agenda. But within the first hour of the workshop, people to your right and left are already on their email or editing manuscripts. The first several speakers have gone over their time limits, so even the few minutes reserved for Q&A have evaporated. The moderator cancels all breaks to try to get back on schedule. People have been talking at you all morning. The speakers are unprepared, recycling content you’ve heard several times before, and each talk is completely disjointed from those around it. Your mind drifts to the many sacrifices, professional and personal, you made to be there. You are… once again… in workshop hell.

When it comes to planning convenings, we all make mistakes. COMPASS designs dozens of them a year – from interactions between a handful of scientists and Congressional staff, to trainings and workshops of 20 to 30, to mixers involving hundreds of scientists and journalists. And we’ve made (and will continue to make) our share of missteps. But, we’ve also celebrated many successes, reflecting a willingness to take risks and learn from our mistakes.

Whether you’re running an NCEAS working group or on the organizing committee for a large conference, even a few small tweaks can go a long way. For deep dive into this topic, check out this recent guide from the Rockefeller Foundation: Gather: The Art and Science of Effective Convening. For lighter fare, I share a menu of bite-sized changes to design a more effective convening. ¡Buen provecho!

Despite plenty of knowledge about what works (and doesn’t), many of us find ourselves in workshop hell surprisingly often. I hope these delectable selections inspire you to think differently about tweaks you might make at your next convening.

Please add to the tapas menu! What are the small things that you’ve seen work particularly well at a recent workshop, working group, or conference?


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