f2f-meetings of SDC networks – lessons to be learned (III)

November 23, 2010 | bit-wartung | SDC Networks |


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Michèle picture for sdclanBy Michèle Marin
By now, a series of the SDC networks have come up with their first international f2f meetings. Their experiences reveal a few recurrent lessons to be learned, and trigger questions on how to best manage an f2f event. The SDC Learning & Networking team reflects upon them in a loose series of blog posts. This third post looks into a number of questions with logistical implications, such as country and venue, translation modalities, presence of participants and side events.

The available reports on f2f-meetings of SDC networks accord insight on a number of considerations with an impact on logistics and event management:

  • Standalone meeting or side-event:
    The very first f2f-meetings of SDC networks would mostly be held as a standalone event to give it the necessary weight. Yet, a couple of them have been conceived as parallel or side events of international or regional conferences around the globe, thus enabling logistical and thematic synergies while reducing the overall expenditures. The good experiences with either choice suggest adapting the event-mode according to needs of the network and opportunities.
  • Choice of country:
    A couple of SDC’s international f2f-meetings have taken place in partner countries, several in Switzerland. With Focal Points and core groups being mainly based at headquarters, organizing a f2f event in Switzerland is logistically clearly lighter that one in a partner country. Professional logistics experts proved invaluable for organizing meetings abroad, even more so where the program included one or more field trips. Yet, 2 lessons come out clearly from the network reports:
    – If event management is sourced out, close supervision is key; time resources should be planned accordingly.
    –  the cost difference is considerable: While lodging and participation costs are similar, the time needed to prepare the f2f  in Switerland was only about half of what had been necessary for the similar event in the partner country (India, in the respective case).
  • Place and venue:
    In Switzerland, all f2f-meetings took place within reach of the Headquarters. While one network opted for a combination of four venues in Berne including SDC headquarters, several networks chose among two venues on the shore of Lake Thun –  both choices have generally been highly appreciated by participants: Gwatt (Gwattzentrum: and Spiez (Ausbildungszentrum für die Schweizer Fleischwirtschaft: While ABZ Spiez is more convenient for public transport and its proximity to the town center, both venues offer full seminar infrastructure with daylight, adequate food, lodging and service, as well as nice surroundings for work and after work. The attractiveness of the location  is considered a motivational factor of a f2f-event, clearly having its share in a good atmosphere.
  • Presence of participants:
    National Program Officers from partner countries generally appreciated the f2f taking place in Switzerland and the chance of getting to know the Swiss context better. Proximity to office and home for Swiss staff, however, slightly sapped the continuity of their presence.  Where a larger fraction of the Swiss network members would not stay overnight at the venue, the NPOs virtually remained among themselves in the evenings – a lost chance for informal personal exchange between headquarters’ and field staff, particularly in cases where there would not be  any side events offering a similar opportunity.
    In order to ensure smooth community- and seamless contents- development some organizers recommend to require full-time participation,  including overnight stay at the venue.
  • Language modalitities:
    The fact that participants of f2f-meetings come from around the world, makes language- and translation modalities an important issue for program design and logistics alike. SDC networks approached it in different ways, the main ones being
    – ad hoc whispering translation by colleagues
    – permanent professional simultaneous translation
    From an organizer’s point of view, the advantages of an ad hoc whispering translation by colleagues are evident: low (no)-cost factor; no administrative burden; flexible handling during the meeting.  According to feedback, concerned participants generally considered whispering translation as “very helpful” and “quite tiring” at the same time: No doubt, an informal whispering translation asks for a particular concentration effort by the concerned, who is bound to follow and contribute to a discussion in lagged mode. Depending on acoustics and the number of side speakers, whispering translation may be disturbing the other participants in the plenary, too. With either translation mode, participants who are not at ease with the main workshop language would tend to contribute less to a workshop.  In conclusion, whispering translation asks for sessions to be kept rather short and limited in number and for sufficient complementary opportunities for participants to express themselves in one of their languages. Thus, work in linguistic subgroups proved invaluable. More preventive measures are to inform participants well in advance about the main workshop-language and the translation mode provided, as well as to mobilize participants to form language groups of roughly equal size, eventually changing the main language during the meeting for more linguistic equity.
  • Fieldtrips and side events:
    From a headquarters perspective it might be more evident to plan a thematic fieldtrip as part of a f2f in a partner country than it is in Switzerland. Experiences show that a fieldtrip in Switzerland can be  thematically very enriching for both Swiss and national participants while boosting informal community building. Where a thematic fieldtrip was not part of the concept, a motivating side event (an evening excursion on the lake; a dinner out at an attractive place etc.) showed a similar effect on social dynamics.
    Those who placed the fieldtrip or side events at the end of the meeting would lose the chance to tap on the kick of a field trip in thematic discussions and social interaction. Furthermore, they experienced difficulties to bring the participants together for a joint closing: People taking their leave individually, the closing turned out unsatisfactory for the organizers. Add the fact, that a community does not seldom pass a “valley of motivational depression” in the middle of the week. In conclusion, it makes sense to plan a field trip or informal side event in the middle of the 3-5 day-program. Seen its often positive impact on the f2f-process, organizers suggest to consider the fieldtrips and side-activities as integral part of the official program, in which – as suggested above – full participation be strongly encouraged.


Comments to“f2f-meetings of SDC networks – lessons to be learned (III)”

  1. Riff Fullan says:

    I would like to comment on only one aspect of Michèle’s excellent summary of learning from SDC f2f events: the field visit. Until recently, I was totally sure that the only time to have a productive field visit that also fed into the workshop was in between the first and last days. However, Helvetas and Intercooperation recently held a climate-change-related workshop in Ethiopia where the two days of field visits were the first two days of the week!

    The opinion was that this in fact worked very well, especially in bringing participants socially together, but also in terms of the substance of the meeting. One suggestion for change was to have at least an introductory session at the very beginning to provide an overview of the whole workshop, but otherwise participants were very happy with that kind of start.

    So, although I still believe mid-workshop is probably the best timing in general, I am less strict in that belief now :-)


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