post conference reflections – on networking and “reporting back”

As always, after coming home from a conference I’m in a swirl of muddled ideas. I have some obligations to contact people and send things, and there’s some further follow up work to do. I’ve also inadvertently been thinking about the conference connections with research practice.

I’ve been thinking about the process of network-ing. A number of conference people, including me, are in the process of forming a new European arts education research network. This was actually our third meeting and we have another coming up in November. Because we don’t exist in any formal sense yet, we can’t get any funding, so we need to piggy-back on other occasions such as this event at Wildbath Kreuth. At the same time, we actually have to do something. Networks are based on activity not planning, so some people in our group are putting in quite a lot of work to develop an infrastructure and a preliminary project that will make the network a network. At the same time, each of us also has to initiate some kind of activity in our own countries, again without funding. Personal connections are clearly paramount in all of this and the “founding members” of the new network are inevitably going to look a bit like a snowball research sample. Not everyone who ought to be there will be, and from outside, it might be a bit hard to locate the reasons for the founding members being who they are!

I’ve also thought about the (generally dreadful) processes of working groups reporting back to plenary sessions. No matter how slick the drawings, or how detailed the notes, or how passionate the speaker, it seems that reporting back in an interesting way is a pretty scarcely distributed skill. I’m sure we’ve all sat through long sessions in which appointed reporters did their very best to sum up a rather rambling discussion in which various points of view are put. 

I saw one person at this conference report back in  a more elegant way. In his first report back he said – ”I’m going to say three things that I saw as the most important in the discussion” – he then gave a succinct two minutes about each point. The second time he spoke he said – “There were five words that summarised the discussions…. “ He then offered a theme such as “ the local” and spoke for a minute or so on each theme.

This person treated the notes of the discussion as if they were data. Rather than offer a summary of everything that was said, he moved “up” a level to find some major patterns – that is, he analysed what was said – and reported those patterns in a way that was both succinct and engaging. He applied some basic social science data analysis practice – that of pattern finding – to the task of reporting back. 

It now seems to me that reporting back is another of those hidden conference “skills” that could be talked about more. If it can be though of as analogous to what we already know how to do with data, then perhaps more of us can find ways to draw out the big pictures from our collegial conversations.

Perhaps there is a need for an equivalent to the Three Minute Thesis here. People could learn to report back, opting for major points and arguments, within a limited time period, rather than going for coverage and a rehash of everything that was said. We could also practice succinct reporting back rather than just going on and on and on and on… Zzzzzzz

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in conference, networking, reporting back, Wildebath Kreuth and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to post conference reflections – on networking and “reporting back”

  1. laurammonk says:

    Great idea – I’m going to try this. Thanks.


  2. Sue Gollifer says:

    As I plough through a ten-page meeting report I also think this is something that needs to be explored. Reporting back is a difficult skill as you point out, and also tends to be treated as an individual responsibility. In some meetings, perhaps working out the purpose of the reporting back prior to the discussion may make it more of a collective responsibility.


  3. I like your reflections on the conference in Bavaria. I think you make a very important point about ‘reporting back’, so I have tweeted your post at @alidonaldson. It might be worth someone running workshops for academics to develop these skills. In case you are interested, I recently blogged about academic conference habits myself at—writing-and-its-uses/the-conference-is-dead-or-is-it


  4. Reblogged this on PGR Doc Blog and commented:
    Ever considered presenting the summary of a meeting as if you were presenting data? An interesting and useful blog post!


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