Key questions for planning a 5 day scientific symposium


Next week I have a meeting with an organization to kick off planning for a 5 day international scientific symposium for about 200-250 people.    They hired me as they want the agenda to be more participatory, innovative and engaging than a typical scientific symposium which generally means powerpoint presentations all day interspersed with some poster sessions and possibly a couple excursions to the local sites.  We will still include the presentations/posters, etc but I will embed them into a more engaging structure that includes different types of knowledge sharing, networking and general engagement.

The planning meeting will have about 10 people from the organization and is my first opportunity to get all ideas on the table as well as key information that I can take away and use to design the first draft of an agenda.  I have two hours to get the information I need with the people in the room.

Here are the questions I’m planning to ask:

  • What are the 3-5 key objectives of the symposium?  (as specific as possible)
  • What are your desired outcomes for:
    • Participants
    • Field of study
    • Public/community
    • Donors
  • What learning, knowledge products and/or artifacts do you want to document during and after the end of the symposium?
  • What are the big questions that all scientists attending are interested in? What big questions are emerging in the field?
  • Who are potential audiences/groups that you would like the visiting scientists to engage with?
  • Are there other organizations that you could partner with to offer community engagement opportunities?  If so, who?
  • What are potential excursions that could be offered?
  • What capacity exists within your organization to help deliver the conference on the ground?  What additional capacity might be needed?
  • Anything else to consider or take note of in the design and planning process?

Am I missing any key questions to get this started? Do you have any suggestions for how to structure the meeting of 10 people to ensure I get through all the material using all knowledge in the room? I am always happy to use visuals as well….

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


Filed under Uncategorized

6 responses to “Key questions for planning a 5 day scientific symposium

  1. I like the question on ‘big questions’.

    Things that come to mind for me:
    ▪ What’s usually good about your events? What do people come for? What have you seen in other events that you liked?
    ▪ The TV camera question: If a TV crew interviewed your participants right after the event, what would you like them to say?
    ▪ What would you like participants to see, feel, experience during the event?

  2. Michelle Laurie

    Thanks Wiebke, your insights are always appreciated. I like your approach to keep the language simple and engaging even for the planning meeting!

  3. Did you think of having a team to help you host all this… from beginning to end? This is not a small thing! Maybe there is even appetite in the organisation itself to be part of the core team – in this way you can let the participatory approach sink in a bit deeper…
    See a compilation of how we did it recently in something way bigger!

  4. Fernando Loureiro

    Hello Laurie! It seems to me that this meeting is already an event!..:) I like the questions and the sequence (maybe it swift some questions from the ‘big picture’ to small issues). Some questions arise to me just concerning to this 10 people meeting: – Who is in charge to decide about the agenda? Are them responsible? Do they know who is in charge? – How do you plan to work on disagreements during this meeting? Maybe all this already set, but I hope it helps anyway!

    Good luck for you, presence and fun on a wonderful work!

    Fernando Murray Loureiro Skype: aprendix Cel: (250) 509 1167


  5. Michelle Laurie

    Ria – wonderful video, thanks for sharing! Looks like an amazing EU event you hosted!
    Fernando – good questions….I will incorporate into the meeting and discuss with my point person.
    Lots to think about. Should be fun 🙂

  6. Michelle Laurie

    As an update I’ve learned that I can have some ongoing meetings. Thus, I’ve decided to keep #1 simple, using some of the q’s you have all suggested to focus on: purpose, desired outcomes, big questions to address, and harvest. I’ll get into roles, hosting team, decision making, and other details in meeting 2. Agenda details will come in mtg 3! Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s