9 ways to do development conferences differently

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 05 July 2016

Development events, more often than not, follow a common structure. But how many times have you nodded off, or glanced over to find the person sitting next to you more engrossed in Facebook than the topic of the panel? Photo by: Grant Ellis / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

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.

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About the author

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Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.


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