The Big Value of Smaller Conferences
In the Quality arena, especially in health care related organizations, it is critical that we distinguish between what we want and what we need. There are all sorts of things that we would like to have: a better and more extensive Quality library stocked with both on-line and paper books, new Quality platform software, a new statistical software package, a 5 member Quality Team, opportunities to visit other organizations to learn from their Quality system, and all the time necessary to visit every Quality oriented blog and web-site on a daily or weekly basis. And if you can do all those things, congratulations, you are extremely well-funded, far beyond most of us.
But there are some opportunities that do not fall into the “nice-to-have” category, and much more in the “need-to-have”. You need to have the time and where-with-all to be doing some internal audit process. You need to have the knowledge and skills to have some form of regular Quality monitoring such as Quality Control and/or Quality Indicators. You need to have some form of Continuous Improvement program. And perhaps the most important, you need to have a mechanism that will enable effective Continuing Education, for as many of your people as possible.
And that brings me to the topic of conferences. There are many organizations that are giving up on sending people to conferences. Travel is too expensive, the amount of social time as compared to learning time is too great, and the amount of tangible take home information can be too little. Sending your people to an education oriented conference can be heavy on the cost and weak on the benefit, unless some work is put into selecting the right meeting with the best chance of return value.
From my perspective, big international conferences that attract people in the thousands are great for networking and maybe for some highly selective trade-show information, but generally are very low on the education and information side. The crowds tend to be too large, the number of concurrent sessions make getting to the sessions you want very difficult, and getting direct contact with the informed faculty is almost impossible. All too often the faculty-to-participant ratio is around 1:100, giving little opportunity for meaningful conversation. What may be useful for the individual person interested in networking is less satisfying for the person there to pick up tips and ideas.
At the same time, the small local meetings can have limited value in the other direction. Local meetings usually mean that people are expected to attend and work at the same time. The small local workshops tend to be short half-day events, usually on a single topic only, and usually with a limited faculty. Good if the topic on discussion is the topic that you are interested in, but otherwise you just have to wait your turn. Faculty-to-participant ratios tend closer to 1:50, better than the former, but still not very effective.
So does that mean that meetings are complete waste of time? Not so. I think what it argues for is the intermediate regional meeting. The meeting of 150-250 people is actually an ideal size. It is large enough to attract a faculty of knowledgeable speakers on a subject theme, but at the same time it is small enough that folks get to chat and brain storm in reasonable sized groups. It is large enough that you can meet and network, but small enough that you can actually get to know someone beyond just sharing a business card or Linked-in address.
In October 2013 we will be hosting our POLQM Laboratory Quality Conference. We anticipate about 200 laboratory technologists, residents, students and pathologists, all interested in laboratory Quality. Many will be from Western Canada, but there will be folks from across Canada and the Pacific North West. We already know of some people coming from outside North America. It will be a good group to network with. The faculty, all knowledgeable experts, will be there in ideal ratio, about 1 faculty to about 8-12 participants; a perfect opportunity to pick some brains. The location (Renaissance Hotel in Vancouver) will provide a comfortable environment conducive to good conversation. And there are sufficient sponsors for those that want some tradeshow experience and the opportunity to garner a variety of laboratory supplier information.
If you want a cast of thousands, this is probably not the meeting for you. But If you want or need an opportunity to network, discuss, and learn this is going to be a VERY good meeting.
It’s like Mick said: “You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes well you might find you get what you need”.
For more information visit www.POLQM.ca