A future for conferences


Mark Charmer of Akvo, the innovative water knowledge organization, gives a scathing assessment of big conferences attended by important people.

Mark recalls watching a member of royalty

tell an audience of several thousand water experts, under the watchful eye of the media, that access to clean water was vital to everyone, rich and poor. The air of resonance chamber was overwhelming – two hours x 2,000 people is 4,000 hours of expert time wasted on a series of statements that everyone in the room already knew.

Mark then gives a generous interpretation of this, and a cynical one.

He goes on to talk about the near-complete lack of innovation at these events:

In a session on innovation, I was asked for my impressions. I was scathing. As intimidating as it was impersonal, apart from the presence of mobile phones, I didn’t see anything happening around me that couldn’t have happened here in 1969. Where was the innovation? … Worse was what I didn’t see – there were not many people demonstrating new, low cost technologies, one of the things we care most about at Akvo.

Of course, there are better, more open ways of doing things, including the BarCamp approach to conferences, and Mark gives some specific ideas in his post. Read the whole post on the Akvo blog.

2 thoughts on “A future for conferences

  1. Hi Manpreet. Good point – the practical approach of IDDS makes it a very different and I think a more powerful conference. And of course it’s great that the projects are written up openly on Appropedia. I was lucky enough to be at IDDS briefly last year and saw some sessions with experienced appropriate technologists (like Amy Smith and Jock Brandis) giving advice – and it was a thousand times more interesting than listening to a keynote speech by a celebrity or member of royalty. The presence of real expertise and the project focus make it a very special conference.

    Some open source conferences have coding jams. Other kinds of conference may not have such obvious opportunities for practical learning, but perhaps that’s just because not enough thinking has been done yet?

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