Thursday, May 21, 2015

How Do You Organize Your To-Do's, Tasks and Work Flow? A Blog Post for Productivity Geeks Only

It is always interesting and fun to swap personal productivity systems tips and techniques with others. How do other professionals organize themselves, their information and workflow? How do they keep their tasks and "to do's" up to date? Do they combine home with work projects?  All great questions that we have all pondered at one time or another.

Today I got to share some of my tools, and a central piece of this is my GTD-inspired notebook that corrals all my work and home processes. For years I have been a devotee of David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) and have implemented a number of these techniques over time, and adapted them for my own purposes. The result is not 100% GTD, but warmly inspired by it (See this blog's other tags for GTD to read more about how I use this interesting system). On today's call, I offered to share my Tasks Notebook table of contents, and instead of writing an email I thought I would blog this -  Linda, this is for you!

Getting Started: Hardware

I use an A5 notebook that has removable pages so that when pages get full I can simply replace them.

I have plastified tabs that separate major sections (see first photo). These are labelled as follows:

  1. Next Actions - the immediate next action on a project or task, organized by context
  2. Waiting - Things I am waiting for
  3. Projects - Activities that have more than one task (these can be work or home)
  4. Agendas - Pages for people that I talk to or work with regularly
  5. Someday/Maybe - Things that I don't want to do now, but don't want to forget
  6. Checklists - Lists that I have made once but will use again 
Within each of the tabs there are a number of individual pages, These are described in more detail, tab by tab, below...  

Next Actions Tab: Organized by Context
  • Email Work - Time Sensitive: These are emails that need to be sent quickly, their deadlines also show up on my calendar.
  • Email Work: These are emails that need to be sent, but have more flexibility in terms of time, but are not in the Someday/Maybe category - yet...
  • Computer Work - Time Sensitive: These are things that need to be done on my computer (writing, reading online documents, checking websites, signing up for things online, etc. in a time sensitive manner)
  • Computer Work: Again less time sensitive but still needs my computer, including things I need to do online
  • Office: Things that I can do in my office that don't involve my computer. This can be reading hard copy, scanning a file, finding a business card, practicing my next toastmasters speech, etc.
  • Write Blogs: I have a separate page for this to record my blog ideas, they were clogging up my Computer Work page, so I made a separate page for them. 
  • Email Home - Time Sensitive: Any email I need to write quickly that is home-related - like send an email to an internal listserve to find a pet sitter for my dog for vacation, etc.
  • Email Home: Not time sensitive but again not on the Someday/Maybe list - for example, thank Grandparents for present (this should be on my son's To Do list, but somehow is on mine).
  • Computer Home - Time Sensitive: Fill in that accident form, rent a car for holiday, etc. Things that need to be done on the computer asap.
  • Computer Home: These are online and computer-assisted tasks that are not as time sensitive - such as find the baseball schedule for spring, sign up for half-marathon in October, etc.
  • (Note that when I am travelling I might start a page called Computer Plane/Train - which includes things that I need to do on my computer that I don't need to be online to do)
  • Home - Indoors: Things I need to do in my house (change light bulbs, make a list of household repairs, find the cabin key, organize the loft, etc.)
  • Home - Outdoors: Things I need to do outside the house - like trim branches, put up the hammock, etc. These may be seasonal in which case I might write them on a paper and put them in my tickler file for that month. (My tickler file is a major life-hack for me, couldn't live without it! Google it, there's lots of ways to set it up.)
  • Calls: Phone calls I need to make WITH the telephone numbers (no good just saying 'call the orthodontist' - then you should put it on your "Computer" list as you need to find the number before you call.)
  • Errands: These are things I need to go out to do - buy slippers, turn in something to the lost and found, buy a baseball glove, etc. I organize these by place which can be shop (department store, grocery store, garden store) or the town where I need to go to get them. 

Waiting Tab: Things I'm Waiting For

This tab only has two pages:

  • Waiting for Work - Things I am waiting for comments on, things I asked people to do, things people promised to send me, things I lent that I am waiting to get back, payments for invoices sent, contracts promised, etc. 
  • Waiting for Home - Things I ordered online, money my sons owe me, phone numbers I asked for, dates for weddings, school photos delivery, etc. 
Projects Tab: Current Projects

This tab has a master list of projects first, with little boxes that I can tick when they are finished, and then a list beside it of pending - these are projects that are potential but not yet settled. Once they are settled they go into the master list. I keep this by year, so I am working on my 2015 list now. Once a year passes, I take the list and put it at the back of this tab, so that I can keep in mind the projects that have been completed.

After the master projects list, I have one page for each project, organized alphabetically. They have the next actions listed and create some redundancy with the Next Actions Tab, but give me an overview of the project and its steps and activities.  

Once a project is done, I take out the page and toss it (unless it is useful to keep the steps, then I keep it in the Project file. These are for any physical artifacts - meeting notes taken by hand, printouts, brochures, etc - that I need for my project. They are all kept in pink paper folders (all the same colour and style for added neat factor) and have a label (label maker essential - same reason) and kept in alphabetical order on the side of my desk so when I get a call or go to a meeting, I can grab it easily.

Agendas Tab: For People I Deal With Regularly

This tab has a page for each of the people that I deal with on a regular basis, husband, kids, colleagues, etc. The page has their name at the top, and then anything that I need to talk to them about I write there (from "can you help me find my lost file" - husband being software engineer  - to "you owe me 32 francs" - son (the former might also be on Email Home - Time Sensitive and the latter would also be on Waiting - Home.) I don't think redundancy is a problem, whatever it takes to get it done. With the Agendas lists, when you are sitting down in front of someone, you can just work through it quickly and get answers efficiently. 

Someday/Maybe Tab: For Things I Might Want to Do Someday

This set of lists was very liberating. So many things sat on my To Do lists for ages, I just kept copying them and not doing them for one reason or another. This set of lists - which are Someday/Maybe Work and Someday/Maybe Home include all those things that I don't want or need to do now but that I don't want to forget. There might be a reason why the time is not quite right, so I write them here and I review this regularly and occasionally they move up to the Next Actions Lists because the time is right. Or else they stay there (forever). Sometimes I have wildly ambitious ideas - Write a book, Listen to the Reith lectures, Do a PhD, Buy a trampoline, Take all the photos off my SD cards, Get a dog (well this latter I finally did), etc.  

Checklists Tab: Never Make These Lists Twice

This final tab is a useful one. If there are things you do over and over again, why not make a Checklist and keep it for the next time? For work I have a mobile working checklist - all the things I need to take when I am travelling with work, a venue checklist when I am looking at a workshop venue, a Webinar Facilitator's Checklist that helps me prepare for online webinars, and for home a ski checklist - I don't go often but I always take along the same things, etc. Make these generic and reusable and findable, keep them on the web and/or keep them under this tab. 

At the end of my Notebook I keep some blank pages, so that when I have some time and am doing my review (going through all the tabs and updating, checking off, moving things around etc.) I can rewrite my lists if they are full or mainly completed and pop these pages into the appropriate places. 

You need to review this system regularly (David Allen calls it a "weekly review" but I think I do it with less regularity.) When things are super busy, I set my pomodoro and do it almost daily, and when things are less busy I might do it on my next flight or train trip. Either way it is a pleasure to do. 

And even more fun is talking about and sharing those tips and techniques with others who are also productivity geeks - and you know who you are!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Speaker's Checklist for Super Short Speeches: Don't Let These 8 Things Come Between You and the Prize

There's nothing like a conference with short presentation after presentation to remind you what makes a particularly good one. I facilitated two Awards ceremonies recently where 18 people in all presented their cases and proposals in 6 minutes each. These were critical opportunities for the speakers to share their ideas and convince the jury and audience of their merits in relatively micro-timeframes (imagine condensing your 30 years of hard work into this time frame?) It became very clear in this long string of short speeches that a super good presentation would do a lot to support a candidate's case.

As I watched one after another fly by I jotted down observations that I thought might make a good checklist for speakers making short presentations (including me!) I would say that we all know these things intellectually, but when we are up there in front of the lights and hundreds of people, do we do them?

My advice, don't read this list now.

You will just say, "Yes, of course, obvious, duh."

Use it AFTER you have prepared your presentation, as a checklist, then it will be most useful. Be honest when answering these questions, the quality of your presentation depends upon it!

  1. Does it fit into the allocated time? How do you know? (Please practice for timing out loud.  Just because you can whiz through something in your head in the allocated time, doesn't mean that when you have to move your lips, pause to breathe, and fiddle with the slide changer, etc. you won't need a few extra minutes. With a 6-minute time slot, this can be a killer.)
  2. Are you talking too fast? (Don't speed up to fit it in the timeframe, and when you are nervous you might speed up your pace naturally - or should I say nervously. It is also incredibly stressful for the audience members who are desperately trying to keep up with you and understand you. Non-native speakers have a big advantage here as they might be translating at the same time which can slow speech down. Native English speakers have to work harder at comfortable pacing. Breathe again.)
  3. Is there any fluff? Cut it out. (Don't spend time thanking every distinguished person in the room up front, it is nice but people will assume your thankfulness if you don't say it. Remember that your timing starts as soon as you open your mouth. Don't give too much background on yourself, a smart sentence will do if needed at all - in all of my sessions I introduced the speakers, ask if this will be your case, so you can cut this out. Don't give too much context and background, just enough to launch your idea. You probably have a very smart audience too who knows where Switzerland is, skip the map.)
  4. Are your key messages up front? (It might be tempting to leave the big idea for last, but if you run out of time, and you have a strict timekeeper like me, you might never get there - this happened over and over! Pull them up front and share your lessons learned all the way through rather than saving all that juicy stuff to a potentially rushed and awkward end. You can always repeat them on your closing slide which you want to leave up while people clap for you - NOT that big empty slide that says "THANK YOU!")
  5.  Is your presentation or slide set too data heavy? (In these short time frames you should sprinkle in the most powerful data and figures and not overload slides with graphs that say too much for the seconds you have to share them. If you do use a graph, use a red circle to highlight the key point or figure, or write the key message on it. And you should NEVER have to say to your audience, "sorry that graph is not clear", "sorry you can't read that table from the back, etc." Just skip it and give a summary instead.) 
  6. Can you deliver it without reading your slides? (With a short timeframe, you should be able to memorize or at least mostly memorize a presentation. In those that are best, the speaker moves away from his or her slides and tells the story with the slides as emphasis photos, key words/figures or messages. It also means you will be facing your audience rather than having your back to them. With a short time frame, you will not be able to engage them much or make eye contact if you spend 50% of your time starting back at the big screen. For short speeches have a few strong key headings that you can keep in mind while you weave your narrative together. Of course, this takes practice - see Point 1 above again.)
  7. Is your PPT/Prezi working? (The PPT equivalent of a wardrobe malfunction is when your animation doesn't work, your video doesn't stream, your sound doesn't work, your picture on a huge screen is blurry, etc. Does this work 100% of the time when you test it before you speak? Even with this testing, your e-karma might be off this day, we've all seen it. Can you pare it down to the minimum of these additional bells and whistles - because if they don't work, your time is still ticking away, and they can create a bit of a "what was that?" blur if they do. A good, clear short video can be a powerful addition, but make sure it is faultlessly embedded and works every time; get rid of the rest unless it really adds to your message.)
  8. Do your visual choices work? ( Are your colour combinations caustic, or sophisticated? Does that font colour show up when it is two stories high? In all these presentations I really liked the ones with a dark background, especially those that also featured photos which really popped on the black or dark background rather than white. For short presentations you need visual punch as well as message punch, with crispness to both of these. There isn't a long time to develop thoughts and ideas with many white slides and verbal or visual asides,)
Well, there you go, that's my checklist, derived from my observations from watching all those very short presentations one after the other. No doubt there are plenty other tips to add.  These were the ones that really jumped off the screen and stage at me. 

I assure you that I was also listening to these short presentations at the Awards Ceremonies as they whizzed by me, 6-minute timer in hand. I really noticed, however, that your presentation's delivery can really help the audience get your point, or it can stand firmly between you and the prize.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How to Write a "How To" Guide: 2 Approaches to Creating Reusable Learning

I have been working for the last few years as the Learning Expert on a very interesting partnership project called the Learning and Knowledge Development Facility (LKDF). This project focuses on "promoting green industrial skills among young people in developing countries".  The focus is on developing Public Private Development Partnerships (PPDPs) in selected Vocational Training Centres (VTC) in a number of countries, and promoting multi-level learning within and among them in innovative ways, as well as capturing this  learning and reintroducing it back into the different projects and into new PPDPs.

In addition to developing the learning elements and designing and facilitating the peer-learning components, I have had the great pleasure this year to write a number of "How-To" Guides - four in all. They have taken two different approaches to development, described below. But there is something critically important that must come first...

The first question to answer when writing a How-To Guide is "Who will use this?" Who is the audience? If you are crystal clear about that, then it makes it much easier to write with those people firmly in mind. Our audience for these Guides was project managers who are developing and implementing PPDPs and those who might be interested to do so in the future.

Approach 1: Interview-based 

The first How-To Guide was based on a co-generated set of "Learning Opportunities". This set of questions, combined into one document, was effectively what the different partners wanted to learn from their participation in the different PPDPs and the LKDF. In our Learning Opportunities document each partner has its own set of questions under each agreed heading - one for the UN partner, the donor, the private sector partner, and the VTC. This took a question format and formed the basis of ongoing query throughout the project. We use these questions in our face-to-face learning workshops (self-reflection and group reflection) as well as for the interviews that provided the input to this particular "How-To" document, which was titled, How-To Guide: Developing and Implementing a Vocational Training PPDP.

The Learning Opportunities - that is, what we wanted to learn - included 5 main headings, paraphrased here: How is the PPDP different than a more traditional project of a similar kind; What steps make up an effective PPDP project development process, and an effective implementation process; What is the value added of the learning platform; and how can policy-makers be most effectively engaged and policy change supported.

Each Learning Opportunity had a number of assumptions that we were making, and then related sub-questions identified per partner (exploring their experience, their role, their learning both internally in their organizations and as a part of a multi-stakeholder partnership, what was working and what could be different and better in the future).

This document was used to create a one-page interview questionnaire tailored to each of the Partners. The interview was timed to take 30-45 minutes (it tended to take 45-60 minutes) and was administered by telephone or Skype. After the interview the notes were recorded under each question to create a set of response forms that ranged from 4-6 pages in length. For our How-To Guide we undertook 13 interviews (some had 2 people on the call).

Then the exercise was to take the inputs from the interviews and write the How-To Guide. For this I used the following process:

  1. Divided the questionnaires by Partner (UN, Business, Donor, and VTC)
  2. I did a first read through of those in each sector to get a general overview of the key messages, and to see what themes were repeatedly arising among them members of the same sector. 
  3. As I used the 5 Learning Opportunities roughly as the chapter titles for the How-To Guide,  I went a second time through all the interviews (still clustered by sector) in more detail, picking out key words that were repeated under each Learning Opportunity 1-5, and I wrote those key words in the margins of the questionnaires (so I could see them at a glance). I was especially looking for success areas/things working well and why, challenges being experience and actions that partners had taken to mitigate the challenges (or try to), and learning and advice for the future.
  4. I then put aside the Interview questionnaires and created the overall Table of Contents for the How-To Guide, and blocked out sections with titles and placeholders to write into. Creating a Table of Contents is a great way to see if there is overall flow to the Guide. The Chapter headings I chose (and changed a few times) became: What Makes the PPDP Approach to Vocational Training Successful; How to Develop the PPDP Concept and Project Document; How to Implement a Vocational Training PPDP Project; How to Form a Dialogue with Policy Makers During Vocational Training PPDPs; and How the LKD Facility Fosters Learning. The Chapter titles were based on the Learning Opportunities, the interview questions and what had emerged from the interviews (some questions produced rich responses, others not so much).  I found it very useful to have the framework set up before writing the main body of content. 
  5. I then wrote the Introductory sections of the How-To Guide: About the project; About the Guide, Useful definitions (what is a PPDP?), Who is involved, etc. 
  6. Next I went back to the Interview Questionnaires. I wrote bullet points into my Guide framework under the right headings, amalgamating and summarising the text from Questionnaires. I used the key word reminders that I had written in the margins that repeated, drafting them into more generic lessons. If it was a sector specific comment or a general comment, then I noted that. 
  7. I organized these bullet points into sub-sections that were emerging based on content from the questionnaires such as: Reported benefits; General considerations; What to watch out for; Steps to take; 10 things that have worked so far. I also included some observations and tips by and for specific partners (e.g. The Business Perspective or The Donor Perspective).   Each chapter was organized differently depending on the kind of inputs Partners gave in their interviews, but always with the Guide user/reader, and the questions they might have, in mind. 
  8. The rest of the exercise was writing the bullet points into narrative, making them parallel, reorganizing for flow and logic, and editing for readability. 
  9. This was then sent out for feedback to the Partners who gave suggestions and questions and sent the document back through an editing cycle before finalisation (formatting and printing).

This produced a 27-page How-To Guide: Developing and Implementing a Vocational Training Public Private Development Partnership which had quite a lot of practical detail. To give the high points from this, I created a 7-page Executive Summary from this document (which was almost harder than the longer version!) This whole process as you can imagine, took weeks!

The next three How-To Guides followed a very different process.

Approach 2: Process and project documentation-based

Learning is everywhere in a project like this, and the astute project manager identified some good reusable learning content in the project and process documentation that had been written in the early set-up stages of project development. Experts on M&E and learning (like me) had written a number of longer documents proposing M&E systems, learning processes, management training programmes etc. for the project. These included interesting rationale, research, substantiation of what was proposed and support from good practice, expert opinion, etc. How could the re-usable learning be extracted from these early documents? (Processes which had now been tested for a couple of years!)

It was an interesting exercise for me to sit down with the proposal for the M&E system, the Management Training Programme, etc. and work with the text to identify what was generic and what could be used by other managers undertaking the same or similar processes. Again we needed to be clear on our target, and we enlarged it a little for these three How-To Guides to not only those who would be working in vocational training PPDPs, but would also be useful for those setting up and managing PPDPs in general.

Here are the steps I followed to turn specific project-related documentation into something that others could be interested to use:

  1. An initial read through of the document provided some obvious sections to cut out - details of our specific context (a little was left in the section About this Guide and the PPDP Approach to give people an idea of where we were starting), excerpts from our Project Document, references to specific partners and their roles, etc. All this could be neatly cut out immediately.
  2. A second read through provided the opportunity to take things out that we didn't do, hadn't done yet, or didn't work in the way it was planned. In some cases, it was interesting to refer to this and talk about what happened (or didn't) and why. This also provided a good learning back and forth with the project management team and some ideas of what to do in the future.
  3. At this point a number of things were also identified to add in, links to other knowledge products that had been produced along the way, videos, examples from different country experiences, and samples of agendas for events and questionnaires that had been developed since the original project documentation had been produced. This greatly enriched the learning shared.
  4. Then an overview was needed - so I wrote the table of contents and framework for the How-To Guide based on what was there now (and this also identified a gap or two, and in some cases where there was too much information - more to cut!)
  5. The final steps included writing transitional text so the sections were logical and would read smoothly, filling in explanations for an external audience, footnotes for other resources, revising charts and tables so that they were accurate (I needed to remake a number of images so they fit the new context and language of the How-To Guide).
  6. A final review by the project managers completed this exercise (this approach had more back and forth during the process than the interview approach). Then a final edit, and off for formatting and printing.

This approach took a few days of work per How-To Guide, as the existing content was mainly there and the main work for a learning practitioner was to identify what is most interesting and reusable from the original documentation (which took weeks to write and was an investment already made, additional value added through this How-To Guide development process). The resulting How-To documents were:

How-To Guide: How to Set up a Monitoring and Evaluation System for a Vocational Training PPDP
How-To Guide: How to Develop and Manage Knowledge in Vocational Training PPDPs
How to Guide: How to Set up a PPDP Management Training Programme

I think that both of these two approaches work well together. The first approach above is highly participatory and involves all partners in an iterative learning exercise. It can easily be repeated annually and additional updates to the How-To Guide can be written as learning continues and deepens. New questions could be added and new Guides produced.

The second approach maximises existing investments made in project and process documentation. Rather than keeping these proprietary internal documents and on shelves here and there, it aims to draw out the reusable learning from these to share internally and with outside learners. This exercise also provides a valuable moment for reflection about what was done based on the original plan, why or why not, and might also point out what is yet to be done.  With this reflection, the result is a more accurate How-To document produced based on real learning from experience. These How-To Guides also tend to be more specific as the project documentation is more focused on specific parts of the project (e.g. the M&E system, the learning platform, etc.).

And taking the last-mile steps to create the How-To Guide out of the project documentation, rather than just releasing the original project documents, which go out of date and are often long and rather dry, gives the material new life. It does the work of identifying that learning which is most useful to others, rather than letting this work of pulling out the lessons to be done by the reader (and who has time for that!)

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Encouraging and Evaluating Impacts from MEGA-Conferences

Colloque BIOFILMS 5 à Paris.

They cost millions to put on and convene the best and brightest of a community - how can you channel that collective strength for collective impact and, in the end, how can you tell?

I just returned from 7th World Water Forum in Korea, where numbers of attendees were reported at 41,000 people. I also worked at the 6th World Water Forum in 2012, with 35,000 people. That’s a lot of talent in one place.

Is there an Expectation of Learning and Impact?

It is interesting to think about the cost-benefit for individuals and organizations for participation in such an event. If you were on the Learning Team for such an event (do these events have learning teams – maybe that is Suggestion #1!), what might be some of the ways to first, identify desired learning (organizational and individual level), foster that learning through design and format, help record outcomes for monitoring and sharing, and see what changes people are making based on their learning and participation?

I’ve seen and worked with some different approaches and, taken together, they make for an interesting thought exercise and potentially an opportunity. Here are a few ideas for consideration.

1) Use a Facilitation Team to ensure interactive learning in Conference Sessions

Conference don’t have to be panel after panel of 9 speakers giving their ideas from a podium of behind a table and a short Q&A (IF the speakers don’t go over their time) for those bold enough to stand up in front of hundreds, or lucky enough to get the attention of the person with the roving microphone.

Interactive learning is possible even for very large groups, and even in theatre set up (although round tables are MUCH better – this can work for 400-600 people in a ballroom, at least it has for us in the preparatory meetings for the 6th and 7th World Water Forum.) I have written a blog post about facilitating large groups (When Numbers Soar: Facilitating Large Groups) and it is certainly possible with good design and professional and confident execution. It might take a moment to flip your audience from passive half-listening/texting observers to active contributors, but once you have their attention the opportunity engage and crowdsource ideas, suggestions, solutions, etc. from such a large group is incredible.

A good facilitation team can also help create consistency and support reflective practice throughout the event, when these questions and practices are built consistently into the agenda of events. With the whole facilitation team introducing this in all parallel events.

2) Introduce a Conference Activity Handbook

At another large conference I facilitated recently, we created an Activity Handbook that was put into each conference pack, and had a couple of different purposes. First, it guided participants through the conference, each session had an entry that engaged the participant in some way, from a place to write their goals for the event (Session 1), to places to record answers to specific technical questions, a self-assessment that started one session, a quiz to warm up on another, an action planning template for the final Session (to record follow-up to the conference of people, ideas) etc.

The resulting Handbook once completed, was a take-home artifact from the conference that reminded the participant of his or her learning, thoughts, ideas, and actions. It also included other key information – contact information, URLs of resources, etc. all in one place. But unlike any Conference brochure, this participants interacted with daily and became a living record of THEIR event.

Even in a larger event where people are moving around to different activities all the time, such an Activity Handbook could be helpful to guide people through their experience and structure reflection. If there are facilitators, they could start and end their sessions with a reflection question recorded in the workbook (“Open your Activity Handbook to page 16 and take a minute to reflect on what you want to learn today – make a few notes for yourself and I will give you a couple of minutes to share this with the person sitting next to you”,or “What was the most important key message from the sessions you attended today”, “What is one thing you might do to follow up on something you learned today?” etc.)

If people need an added incentive to complete their Activity Handbook, offer a completion gift to those who complete their book, such as a mug or water bottle with the conference logo, available in the exhibition area at Stand X – ask people to come towards the end and show their completed booklet for this gift. (There was such a gift at the recent World Water Forum, although you only needed to answer a few questions to get it, but almost all people I spoke to found their way to the exhibition hall stand with their voucher to collect it). As people get these items in their conference bags anyways, why not give them a little homework to get it?

3) Ask Organizers to Develop and Participants to Contribute to Next Action Plans

One of the features of the World Water Forum process was the expected output of an Implementation Roadmap (IR) from the different thematic streams of the conference (every conference seems to have an organizing principle of some sort – often thematic). The organizers’ reporting templates from the different thematic sessions were made consistent with this and individual session organizers were asked to collect ideas from participants in their sessions that could be integrated into a thematic IR.
The idea of this Implementation Roadmap was to capture in one place all the ideas and actions that stakeholders attending identified and felt are helping achieve some desired change in their subject area, so that they can be executed after the conference and this execution monitored. Each IR had one or more coordinating organizations who volunteered for this role (because it is central to their work), and participants in their sessions could indicate how these Implementation Roadmaps could improve, if they wanted to be involved in follow up, and what they could contribute.

Of course this only works if there is engagement and good coordination prior to the conference, real interactivity in the sessions (see Facilitation above) and if there are resources made available (time, energy and potentially funds) for this follow-up. The organizers must take this seriously and support it. More information on the IR process can be found on the 7th World Water Forum website. As this event is each 3 years, Coordinating organizations can be asked to report on progress and results from their Implementation Roadmap work. Central coordination over the interim period to keep momentum is an important additional role for the main organizer. Without this, probably only a small percentage of these would produce results, based on the sheer will and investment of the thematic coordinators.

4) Follow Selected Individuals for a Conference Impact Study

We did a Curriculum Impact Study at LEAD International when I was the Director of Capacity Development there and this was a really interesting and effective way to see how a learning experience impacted individuals participating in the programme. This could be an interesting addition to a large conference M&E and learning process, and help answer the questions – what changed? and was it worth it?

In the LEAD process, we identified a select cross-section of participants (different countries and different sectors – we had 18 in total), and invited them to participate in our study. This process took some time, so they had to be aware of that and committed (in the case of a conference, could they get a reduction on their conference fee by participating?) We started prior to the formal learning events, and went on for a designated period afterwards.

The study started and ended with an interview that we administered. The initial Orientation Interview included key questions that established a base-line of the individual and their organization, and identified an issue or issues that they and their organization would be dealing with over the next two years where they might apply their learning, etc. After the initial interview (also to explain the process), the exercise was journal-based (there were three Journals) with key reflection questions at periodic points that were triggered by dates, reminders, and email. The journals were collected and analysed (and returned) and case studies following the learning and learning application process of the individuals were written (not using the original names and organizational names).

This impact study provided a more detailed way to understand the impact of the programme on their professional and personal lives. Based on your overall goal of a conference (such as more conservation impact on the ground), such a study could help understand what participants do to prepare, engage during and integrate into their practice afterwards. It also helps identify places where the organizers can support participants more – maybe the preparation needs to be more directed and different, maybe the sessions need to be more interactive and engaging – as people spent most of their time in the exhibition hall (or maybe more needs to be programmed there), or more support in identifying or using the learning, etc. This kind of impact study of individual’s experience with your mega event can give insight into this.

5) Design a More Deliberate Learning Programme

All of the above need good design, preparation, coordination, guidance, consistency across a complex event with many moving parts. Lessons? This needs coordination, guidance, and consistency, and a central team with an overview of the learning goals and enough advance time to prepare the different elements so that the experience is reinforced throughout the conference.

Of course, this also costs money, but then you just invested millions to get everyone there. Doesn’t it make sense to invest a little more to make sure you get as much impact out of the conference as possible?