Conferences are events that I generally support because of the learning and conversations that take place. I consider conferences to be an integral part of knowledge management, especially the person-to-person interactions that occur between sessions and at meal breaks. The networking opportunities are also important.
But I am wondering if conferences are really all they are cracked up to be. I heard on the news last night that there is going to be a big conference in Canada in the coming weeks to discuss donor response to the disaster emergency in Haiti. And in the world of international development there are always plenty of conferences taking place around the world. Are conferences the right forum to discuss disaster relief and emergency aid when people still don’t have access to aid, food and shelter in Haiti even now?
My questioning about conferences has triggered some thoughts about networks. The world wide web is a network of computers. An organisation is a network of functions performed by individuals, some of whom will form personal networks in order to do their jobs, and become more effective in their work. So why aren’t networks sufficient to act in times of crises, or at other times for that matter, instead of formal conferences? Conferences may act as a catalyst for the creation of networks, but at what point should networks replace conferences?
Whilst I have given examples from international development, the questions are just as valid for other subjects and issues. I’d like to hear what people think about this conference issue, and whether there is any scope for networks to take over.