In Search of the Mind-Blowing Conference Model

Philanthropy411, in partnership with the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a post by Philanthropy411’s very own Kris Putnam-Walkerly, President of Putnam Community Investment Consulting.

By:  Kris Putnam-Walkerly

In his post Blowing Up the Conference Model, Sean Stannard-Stockton suggests a significant re-thinking of the traditional conference.

I don’t disagree, although I am left wondering what it could look like. I learned a great deal at the Council on Foundations conference (including from this Blog Team coverage) and met many interesting people I am excited to follow up with. But it can always be better.

Maybe I’m suffering from sleep-deprivation after returning from a 22 meeting/event marathon  (and being up since three o’clock this morning caring for 4-month old twins). Maybe I’ve been to so many “standard” conferences that I don’t know what a mind-blowing learning experience would feel like. Am I so focused on deadlines and diapers that I can’t imagine a new way of engaging with and learning from my peers?  Apparently!

At our consulting firm, some of the first questions we ask when we start a new project include: Has anyone else figured this out already?  Do new models and practices exist so that we don’t have to re-invent the wheel? Who has already thought about this topic that we should talk to?

With that in mind, I assume that people more creative than me have been thinking about, designing, and practicing unique and innovative methods of engaging people to learn from each other – I just don’t know what they are.

So I ask YOU:

  • Have you been to a “conference” lately that blew your mind?  What was different about it?
  • How else can we support “networking” among individuals and groups at professional gatherings besides cocktail receptions?
  • What are the “best practices” in adult education and learning that we should incorporate in our convenings?
  • How can social media be used to support learning and engagement before, during and after a conference?
  • How can we move from “learning and sharing” to “creating and advancing”?
  • What other industries or fields are doing this better than philanthropy? What can we learn from them?
  • How can we incorporate the voices and ideas of those unable to attend a philanthropy conference (often due to financial barriers or because they aren’t funders)?

Please share any experiences or ideas you have – the greater detail the better! We will be sure to pass them along to Council on Foundations conference planners.