3 reasons why we should revive gov conferences

Conference spending at four agencies fell 88 percent from fiscal 2010 to 2012, according to a report released Jan. 3 and those agencies weren’t alone. Across government spending on training and conferences fell. So what should feds who are want to grow and network do?

Tom Fox is the Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that conferences do matter.

Why do conferences matter?

“I think conferences matter. Undoubtedly there were too many conferences or too many people going to conferences, but for a government that is often criticized for being badly out of touch with the average American, that is reason enough that conferences should continue. Conferences are really helpful in allowing feds to reconnect with average Americans in their field. It is vital that federal employees get a chance to network and learn from their colleagues in other sectors,” said Fox.

1. Meet new people?

“If you read Steve Jobs’ biography or other biographies of real innovators they talk about the connections that take place in the oddest of circumstances. Steve Jobs references several sort of odd experiences by the average person that allowed for some of the breakthrough thinking that occurred. That is not a blank check to attend any conference in any pursuit, but I do think it is a call to action particularly for senior leaders who are making these decisions about which conferences to attend. Leaders need to think about when those connections are going to be vital to helping your people and your agency advance,” said Fox.

Guide to Picking the Right Conference:

  • Invest the time to make sure the conference/training is worthwhile.

  • Make your case, don’t just say ‘We don’t have the money I won’t try’.

  • Find a way to make connections even if you can’t make it the conference.

2. Focus on doing job better?

“For conference organizers you really do need to be thoughtful about not just simply having the standard talking head panel but really thinking about what are the takeaways for the people that attend the conference. What is it they can actually do when they return to their job? We have seen a real uptick in the agencies that we work with around measuring, not just satisfaction, but impact with the things that they are doing,” said Fox.

3. Does the lack of conferences hurt young people more?

“My advice to the emerging leaders is to make an effective business case to attend conference. Even though the dollars are constrained there are still resources available to attend conference. The onus falls on your shoulders. You also have to show the impact you attending a training would have on your team. Be prepared to bring whatever you learn back to the folks on your team,” said Fox.

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Dan Gephart

Great points about networking and takeaways. Another point to consider: Ask if and how what I learn at a conference will help my agency meet its mission.

Sheena Pietzold

I think it’s also important to be sure the proper team member attends the conference. Often, you see staff preparing materials for their managers to present at conferences. In some cases, perhaps the staff (and the audience at the conference) would benefit more by attending conferences than their managers.