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September 19, 2007

A (Personal) Conference Wishlist

As Andy highlights in the discussion in the comments on his recent post about the ALT-C conference, I think we are all increasingly conscious of the resources that are expended in organising and delivering such events, and in participating in them - particularly, of course, those which involve long-distance travel.

I recognise that even in the age of ubiquitous network connectivity and a smorgasbord of social networking and video-conferencing software, face-to-face gatherings still have a valuable role to play, and I still attend a fair number of conferences, workshops and smaller meetings, both in the UK and elsewhere. However, I do try to weigh up whether I can really justify the costs - financial and otherwise - involved, particularly if international travel is required. Even so, I've made three intercontinental flights in 2007, which is probably a small number by some standards, but is more than I really want to be making, and quite enough to have my friends reminding me of the unenviable size of my carbon footprint. :-(

So a few things I'd like to see from a conference or similar event....

From a conference venue:

  • The use of a venue which has a demonstrable commitment to working practices which minimise waste and maximise the efficient use of energy and consumable resources (provision for recycling, the use of reusable rather than disposable materials (e.g. for food/drink utensils), a preference for locally-produced food, etc.) I'm really not sure that a hotel where the service staff come in to your bedroom to switch the lights on in the early evening when you're not even there makes the grade....
  • Ease of access by public transport. After arriving at the local transport hub (airport, mainline station), ideally, I'd really like to be able to complete my journey to the venue or accommodation by local train, bus, tram, or on foot, rather than having to get a taxi out to a site somewhere miles away on the edge of town.
  • Dependable wireless network access, free of charge in all areas of the conference venue, and network access also in the accommodation if that is part of the conference venue. Sure, providing network access itself consumes resources, but if I can be sure of having a connection at an event, I'm almost certainly less likely to print stuff off to carry with me. And of course such access enables participants to provide commentary and reflections on the event in real time via weblogs, Twitter, Facebook etc., which can bring in a remote audience indirectly - even in the absence of "direct" live streaming of the primary content by the event organisers. (Edit: I notice that Lorcan refers to this sort of practice as "amplifying" the conference.)
  • Vegetarian and other "special" diets catered for without an extra effort on the parts of participants, if their requirements have already been notified in advance. If it's a buffet, I'd like the dishes to be clearly labeled so that I don't have to prod and sniff to work out whether that's hummus or fish; if it's table service, I'd like to be served at the same time as the non-vegetarians.

Things I would like to be provided with when I register at a conference:

  • A paper copy of the conference programme which tells me clearly the timings and the locations of the sessions, the titles of the sessions/papers, the names of the presenters, in a format I can use without having to cross-reference one section of a document to another (typically in the middle of a busy corridor at the same time as everyone else is running from one session to another and grappling with the same problem!)
  • A paper copy of a map/plan of the session locations, preferably down to room level, especially if sessions are spread over several different locations.
  • No more paper, thanks. No, really.

Which brings me to things I'd really rather not be provided with at a conference ;-)

  • A conference T-shirt. As far as I can recall, the last time I wore an "event" T-shirt (well, outside of Second Life...) was - well, it was a very long time ago, and my post-adolescent enthusiasm for Marillion turned out to be short-lived. I'm an enthusiastic contributor to the work of DCMI, but, TBH, a shirt saying "Dublin Core used here" (eh? where? on the shirt? on my chest??) probably isn't going to get that many outings. I know, I know, some of you do like these things, and I'm sounding like a right old curmudgeon, but at the very least, I'd like to see organisers making them some sort of "opt in" item.
  • A conference bag. I've got my own laptop bag. I've just traveled half-way round the world/country/region/town carrying it. I rather like it. It's plain but it's functional without looking like something from an Army & Navy surplus store. So it's hard to get excited about a rather flimsy-looking plasticky bag covered in the sponsors' logos which will probably fall apart if I actually go as far as trying to carry my laptop in it.

    And while I don't think of myself as particularly fashion-conscious, a dayglo-coloured bag is enough to make even me come over a bit Trinny and Susannah.
  • A paper copy of the conference proceedings. Oof. There's a limit on my baggage allowance back here in the cheap seats, you know. ;-) If I have to make a choice between this and the novel I'm in the middle of or the rather nice book I picked up in the art gallery down in town, I know which one is going to get left behind on the hotel bedside table. And, more to the point, err, haven't you just given me a memory stick with all this stuff in digital formats on it?
  • A paper copy of handouts of presentation slides. I guess I've changed my mind about this over the last couple of years. But with a wireless network and the availability of services like Slideshare, there are few reasons why the slides can't be made available online for participants (and indeed for the remote members of that "amplified" audience) to access - even if the presenter does hand over the final version only minutes before the presentation (as I admit I am often in the habit of doing) it should be pretty easy to upload them.
  • (As already highlighted by Andy) paper copies of promotional materials from sponsors & vendors.

    To conference organisers: I don't want this stuff. It's junk mail. I come to events to engage in a conversation with my colleagues and peers, not to be bombarded by advertising. There's an exhibition area: if there has to be advertising, keep it there, and the people who are interested in brochures and leaflets about those services and products will find them there.

    To advertisers: in my case at least, the impact of distributing this material in this way is exactly counter to your goals. I treat it in the same way I treat the stuff that comes through my letter box at home. If I glance at it at all before it goes for recycling, it typically serves only to deter me from using those services or products. If you really want to persuade me of their value, then come and join in our dialogues, and talk to us about the issues we are discussing. Bring your piles of paper and make them available on your exhibition stand if you really must, then the people who are interested can choose to take them (though TBH I'd really encourage you to explore other ways of distributing the information).

So from now on, I'll be taking up A.J. Cann's suggestion in his comment on Andy's post: whenever I receive a bulging pack of advertising in a logo-covered bag, I'll be quickly extracting the two or three pieces of paper I can actually make some use of, and returning the rest to the person on the registration desk for reuse or recycling.

Bags and bumf? Just say no!

P.S. Of course, yesterday I watched a number of boxes being shipped off to London for our joint JISC CETIS/Eduserv Foundation meeting on the use of Second Life in Education tomorrow, so I'm conscious we are still in the process of learning to "eat our own dogfood"... ;-)


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Spot on Pete!

Another thing I'd like to see is more power socket availability - laptops still don't last the whole day (esp. with wireless switched on). On the other hand, obviously a problem with the whole reducing resource usage thing.

I couldn't agree more - especially about the bag. I've started to give back bags as soon as I've extracted the programme. I'm not sure if this.

The only problem is that not going to the conferences would often be the greenest/lowest resource option - especially if they are abroad.

I agree in principle about conference bags, but my conference bag from the Wildscreen 2000 Festival (which though has a Panasonic logo emblazoned on it) was so well made that I am still using it on a regular basis today. My only complaint was the number of pockets so I keep losing stuff in it! Though I'm with you on the "cheap" and cheerful bags.

I do quite like the cloth bags that have been the rage, as I reuse them to do my supermarket shopping (and therefore avoid the plastic carrier bags).

Worst bag ever was the JISC Conference brown paper bag, the amount of noise during the keynotes was quite amusing.

In terms of green conferences, I have found the JISC and DirectLearn online conferences really excellent conferences and have involved virtually no travel.



Another problem with conference bags is that they have the date and name of the conference emblazoned upon them. If the conference is labelled 'international' then you're essentially scarrying a big label on your back as you walk round a foreign city saying 'I'm new in town - why not try to rip me off / pick my pocket'.

Hi Pete
Many thanks for this post - lots of interesting issues.
I wrote a post on Amplified Conferences a few days ago, which echoed some of your thoughts - see http://ukwebfocus.wordpress.com/2007/09/13/amplified-conferences/
Note, though, that there's a need to be user-focussed and not everyone is in favour of use of laptops at events.
Something I've been doing over the past few years is getting feedback on delegates' views on this. The feedback for IWMW 2005 was pleasing in this respect - see
But I'm very aware that in other sectors this won't be the case.
BTW we ran two workshop sessions on A Greener Web at IWMW 2007 and the notes were kept on a wiki - rather than attching dead trees to flip charts :-) See
the notes at

Hi pete,

Thoughtful piece to which I wholeheartidly subscribe at the JISC CETIS conference, no bags, no packs and as little paper as possible.........

cetis/ eduserve gig wasn't to bad. Ill use this as my future guide.

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