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Learning as You Go, Part 1: Planning a National Public Sector Conference

If you’re a regular GovLoop follower (if you’re not, what are you waiting for? – sign up here!) you probably saw that last week the site published, for the fifth year running, a great roundup of “The Best Government Conferences of 2019.” I was profoundly delighted to encounter this comprehensive resource for those looking to expand their professional development horizons.

Full disclosure, because I may be a little biased: I happen to be planning one of those conferences, so my delight was not entirely unselfish. But I loved seeing the emphasis on the face-to-face conference as a learning tool – one that is more and more important as a counterbalance to our predominantly digital work – almost as much as I loved seeing my organization’s conference among those recommended.

If you scanned the list, one conference might have popped out at you: the Canadian one. It was a delight to see the recognition by GovLoop of The Institute of Public Administration of Canada(IPAC)’s Annual National Conferencein Winnipeg, Manitoba, August 18-21, 2019. This will be the 71stiteration of the IPAC Annual Conference, and planning this three-day event has been my board’s labour of love since we first bid for the event years ago.

I’m proud to say that today, five-ish months out from opening day, IPAC Manitoba(one of 19 regional bodiesof IPAC), is in the 11thhour of planning. We’ve learned a lot about hosting a national conference in a regional context. In a country as diverse as Canada, you can bet there’s a lot to consider on top of project management: official languages, Indigenous protocol, geographic challenges, representation, accessible marketing, polar bears* – all to be filed under “Things You Don’t Learn at Your Desk.”

So – how do you even begin to plan an event that is relevant to government (three levels), academic and not-for-profit stakeholders across 13 provinces/territories in a massive country? At a minimum, I’ve learned you need:

Time: I’m sure it will come as no surprise that planning an IPAC Annual Conference is accomplished over not months, but years. Once the conference dates were set, we did the site visit and booking of our venue – in the fall of 2015!

Foresight: If you’d told me in 2015 that we’d eventually land on “Public Sector Transformation: Action and Meaningful Change” as our central theme, I probably would have been perplexed. In 2015, my daily work seemed reasonably predictable and words like transformationwere not part of my common vocabulary. Fast forward a few years, and innovation and disruption are on everyone’s radar. It’s hard to even conceptualize four years out, particularly in a government context, what will be the trending topic of the day – but IPAC as an organization has always been “ahead of the curve” when it comes to public sector trends.

Collaboration: IPAC Manitoba fortunately has the tremendous support of the IPAC National Office in Toronto, and a network of regional groups across Canada to offer input. We’ve also worked closely with universities, not-for-profits, municipal and federal governments – the list goes on. Those relationships become more and more important the deeper you get into event planning.

Volunteers: Much of the work done in planning the IPAC National Conference is volunteer. Thousands of hours of passionate discussion and planning have supported the IPAC Manitoba Board in bringing this giant learning event to life step by step. It’s not even possible to describe the depth of my gratitude for these folks who just don’t quit. These are people who live and breathe public administration and are glad to donate their personal time.

I can categorically say that this type of “extracurricular” board/not-for-profit involvement teaches lessons that can’t be learned in the office. I’ll be addressing aspects of my various learnings in future blog posts. If you can’t wait that long, you can watch our event evolve at @IpacManitoba (twitter), @ipacmanitoba (Instagram), IPAC Manitoba (facebook) or email us for more info at [email protected]!

*totally not kidding about the polar bears. Our Monday night social event will be at Journey to Churchill at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

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