A future for conferences

Mark Charmer of Akvo, the innovative water knowledge organization, gives a scathing assessment of big conferences attended by important people.

Mark recalls watching a member of royalty

tell an audience of several thousand water experts, under the watchful eye of the media, that access to clean water was vital to everyone, rich and poor. The air of resonance chamber was overwhelming – two hours x 2,000 people is 4,000 hours of expert time wasted on a series of statements that everyone in the room already knew.

Mark then gives a generous interpretation of this, and a cynical one.

He goes on to talk about the near-complete lack of innovation at these events:

In a session on innovation, I was asked for my impressions. I was scathing. As intimidating as it was impersonal, apart from the presence of mobile phones, I didn’t see anything happening around me that couldn’t have happened here in 1969. Where was the innovation? … Worse was what I didn’t see – there were not many people demonstrating new, low cost technologies, one of the things we care most about at Akvo.

Of course, there are better, more open ways of doing things, including the BarCamp approach to conferences, and Mark gives some specific ideas in his post. Read the whole post on the Akvo blog.


A bunch of different folk are doing BarCamps* on a Green theme. This GreenCamps page lists the ones I could find, though I haven’t had time to organize the page.

Coming soon: OSNCamp, aka The Open Sustainability Network Conference, October 18-19 in San Francisco, at which the Open Sustainability Network will be launched.

*A Barcamp is also known as an unconference – a very ad hoc conference. usually they are mostly on tech subjects. Think how the conferences you’ve been to have often been more notable for the conversations that have happened spontaneously, rather than the main talks. A BarCamp has a lot more of the informal stuff, and short talks can be given by anyone, at short notice. You can choose which talks to go to, or just do your own thing.