It seems you can’t turn around these days without hearing about another government conference scandal. But what gets lost in the horror stories of magicians and fancy hotel suits is the real reason why these conferences are essential for govies, learning.
Sandra Magnus is the Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). She told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that conferences are a breeding ground for innovation and collaboration.
“When you talk about the science, technology and engineering sectors, conferences allow you to get caught up on what’s going on in the industry. There are a lot of technical papers given that talk about the fundamental research going on as well as the people working on the projects from around the country,” said Magnus.
Academic, Private and Public Sectors Unite
“Each part of the community approches problems differently. The academics are focused on the fundamentals of technology. Industry is of course working on optimizing it. Government is interested in the long-term problem solving that industry can not or will not do. So everybody has a different approach to the problem. When you put everyone together you get these different perceptions in the same place that allow people to broaden their horizons a bit. This cross-pollination is the only way to leap ahead of other countries and stay competitive,” said Magnus.
Rate of Change
“We are living in interesting times because the rate of change is so fast. Now we have these mobile apps that let us take our office with us wherever we go. If communities aren’t allowed to gather and catch up then portions of the community are going to get left behind and then their decision making and strategic decisions are going to be stale,” said Magnus.
“You can do some of this interaction virtually but you don’t get the full richness or potential until people can meet face to face. Real relationships are extremely hard to build online.
“I think all of us in the professional societies realize that we are living in a very challenging fiscal time. We recognize their are steps that need to be taken and that we need to be responsible on the budget front,” said Magnus.
“99% of people who attend conferences are there for the right reasons. But the behavior of the 1% gets blown out of proportion and drives everyone else into the ground,” said Magnus.
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The other thing that I don’t like, but have learned to accept, is no positive feedback for even those conferences which have gotten “bad press”
Unfortunately, I think that we have seen the end of the old traditional conferences that are attended in person by a large number of people who are flown to a remote location and housed and fed by the government. The future of conferences and training will be via web-conferencing, which is often times much more interactive than sitting in a crowded conference room. Conferences are going the way of office buildings, suits and ties, and traditional meetings. We are in a new age and we all need to adapt to the new reality.
It’s a great thing to get together with others and share ideas, work methods, experiences, etc. It probably does generate some amount of improved performance, collaboration, and innovation. That’s all good … but from the perspective of a taxpayer the question is really is it worth the cost? It is expensive to transport, house, and feed a large group of employees … not to mention the cost of the venue and the training/exhibits/presentations/key note speakers. This is further exacerbated by the economic squeeze that many taxpayers have seen in their own personal budgets and in their workplace. It appears that the federal government has not significantly moderated spending for non-essentials, and that’s the rub to the public! The Congress, the President, and the Agencies and Organizations appear to be spending without real limits … it may be a (mis)perception problem, but it is still a problem.
Fraud, Waste and Abuse are a legitimate concern even in the boom times. Government should simply be frugal during these uncertain times without sacrificing professional development. With so many convention centers in the DC-area, industries simply need to host their government-targeted conferences here in town. This will cut down on the unnecessary cost of flights and hotels while still providing the core educational and networking opportunities the Public Sector needs. Attendance will increase. The stigma of these conferences as boondoggles will reduce. Ultimately the government will maximize the value per tax dollar spent.
As some of you know, I am a huge supporter of virtual events/conferences; but, I believe face-to-face interaction is still essential. The best of both worlds is a Hybrid Event – having both the virtual and the in-person elements occurring together. In my experience, you can have smaller, more frequent in-person gathering with simultaneous virtual versions, and it cuts the costs in half.
The reasoning is that if an in-person event is kept smaller, (no “rubber chicken dinners”, no bloated hotel expenses, etc.), and more frequent, you can still get what you need done by augmenting with a virtual component.
We have a really exciting group I invite all of you to join, theGovernment Virtual Engagements Govloop Group, Standards, best practices, lessons learned and training will be developed for virtual/hybrid events, as well as working with interested vendors that can help your agencies. Join us!
Lessons Learned: IRS Conferences & Training Videos