How Do We Improve the Conference Model?

Tactical Philanthropy is currently covering the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference with the help of a blog team. This is a guest post by Barbara Kibbe of Monitor Institute.

By Barbara Kibbe

image As I’ve gone from session to session here at GEO I’ve been hearing from friends and colleagues that this is their favorite conference; that they really look forward to it; and that they find people here that really help them with real issues. I love hearing that GEO has held on to the let’s be practical and helpful vibe. Maybe the people with big criticisms don’t approach me so I’m not saying it’s perfect. But I am proud of the energy here at GEO, of the openness and generosity and the efforts to do things differently.

I haven’t been on a GEO conference planning committee in six years but I am bubbling over with ideas for next time. What if we break out of the 90 minute sessions for at least part of the time and sprinkle some TED-type talks around? (Short, pithy, great presentations, made to provoke.)What if we facilitate some open space sorts of conversations? (attendees build a list of topics and folks self organize around what they want to discuss with the help of facilitation.) What if some session leaders think of their time as a focus group rather than a presentation and we document the knowledge in the room on a given topic? What if we run a rapid prototyping exercise to uncover opportunities to innovate? What if we run a live Twitter Feed on the screen during a presentation? (Just to see what it surfaces.)

Those are some of my ideas. What do you think?


  1. Kevin Rafter says:

    I whole-heartedly agree with both Barbara’s points here – people really do appreciate the GEO conference, but the time is also ripe to experiment with new formats!

  2. I agree Barbara. How about next time we do the whole 3 days as Open Space. I have done it with groups this large and it is always a great experience, way better than talking head panels.

  3. David, I think Open Space is a great process for dialogue and problem solving. I think it would be great for some parts of any conference but I actually think there’s even more variety that could be fun. We could do facilitated rapid prototyping exercises, run some focus groups and capture insights to build content around troublesome questions. We could host After Action Reviews as a fishbowl exercise to demonstrate the benefits of the process. And we could use the TED talks format to get intriguing new content over without the too-familiar panel discussion format. We could do peer consults too. And we could use live webinars to bring people into the conference dialogue who can’t physically be there. I’m getting all geared up to design an “un-conference.”

  4. Awesome, I think we are on the same page. Anywhere in that mix would be terrific. So how do we move this conversation forward?

  5. Kevin, David and Barbara,
    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments! Of course we’re always looking for the next big upgrade to the GEO conference experience. We’ll certainly circle back to get your input as we start the 2012 planning in motion. . .