Seemingly every week, multiple high-level meetings or development conferences are taking place all over the world. And these events, more often than not, follow a common structure.
They start with an opening address or speech from a key figure — a government official from the host country or known personality attending the event — then move to a plenary, followed by a series of panel discussions, which in some cases are broken down into different small sessions. Toward the end of each panel discussion, attendees are invited to ask any burning questions they may have. These conferences are often packed with stakeholders from different organizations and institutions: senior officials from bilateral donor agencies and multilateral development institutions, directors and heads of different U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations, and representatives from civil society as well as the private sector.
This is not unique to the humanitarian and development sector. Business conferences often have the same layout. But how many times have you been to a conference only to find yourself nodding off, or to glance over only to find the person sitting next to you more engrossed in Facebook than the topic of the panel?
If the goal of a conference or meeting is to get people’s ideas and input, engage them on an important topic such as solving the broken humanitarian system, for example, network or the very least keep them awake, conference organizers may need to move toward the unconventional — or at least add a few tweaks to the current norm.