Stage 5.4.6  Conferences, Workshops, And Training Events

When complex innovations are under consideration, it will usually be necessary to arrange conferences or workshops which involve key members of the client system. Such meetings can be used for diagnostic sessions (Stage 2), for identifying relevant resources (Stage 3), for brainstorming and choosing alternative solutions (Stage 4), for facilitating individual awareness, interest, and evaluation, for providing a protected environment to allow practice of new skills and trial use of the innovation, and to mobilize social forces (leaders, opinion leaders) on behalf of the change (Stage 5). Anyone conference could conceivably accomplish all of these goals, but it is probably advisable to specify in advance the particular subset of change goals you want to achieve in a particular meeting.

Major complex innovations probably cannot be adopted by a complex social system such as a school district or even a school without convening one or more conferences or work­shops. The design and management of such meetings is an art, not a science, and it deserves a handbook of its own. Here we can only suggest some general points that should be kept in mind and some of the outcomes that conference planners should strive for.

First of all, consider the seriousness of the conference/workshop as an undertaking. It will be seen as a major event, a temporary system unto itself. It will be highly visible, and it will be costly, probably in dollar terms, and also in all kinds of other terms including your time as a change agent, the time of the participants, the disruption of routines that may be involved, the preparations, the materials, the facilities, the presenters, and the follow-up. It will require careful planning including:

who should attend
There must be opinion leaders and there should be a representative cross section of typical prospective users, but not be so many that the sessions become unwieldy or that participation by the average attendee is minimal.

where it should be held
Off-site meetings  separate attendees from their daily routines

publicity before, during, and after

materials for attendees including background reading, workbooks,  notebooks, and useful take-home and re-use items

session structure and sequencing. to allow full exploration of the innovation and full simulated transit through the seven stages of the change process as outlined in The Guide

session and conference design to allow fully adequate informal mixing and concern sharing across roles and interest groups.

The ideal conference should:

  1. be an enjoyable experience in itself for all participants (comment on reward value of group discussions applies even more strongly to conferencing)
  2. leave all participants with some new learning of:
    • ideas
    • problems
    • findings
    • solutions or
    • skills
  3. lead to diffusion of such learning beyond those participating (usually means that opinion leaders in the client system have to participate)
  4. lead to subsequent self-training, self-practice back home, and further inquiry activities by participants back home
  5. multiply itself (i.e., stimulate participants to initiate similar meetings for others after the conference is over)
  6. lead to more permanent linkage (liking, trust, and respect) among individual members and the groups they represent