Enhancing Learning at a Global Conference
This quality improvement study focused on large global peace-building conferences convened by an NGO. The study tackled two questions: a) How can the NGO improve planning of its global conferences to enhance learning of participants?; and b) How can it improve evaluation of its global conferences to enhance learning of participants? Etienne Wenger’s Community of Practice (CoP) framework was the study’s conceptual framework, as its social learning perspective appeared in much of the literature as relevant for understanding the conference activity. Data sources collected for the study included participant observation, document analysis, attendee responses, and semi-structured interviews. Data revealed that conference CoP members find meaningful social learning and mutual engagement during their conference experience in such mundane activities as meals and breaks, while sharing hotel rooms, and being transported to and from conference events. While the NGO created a safe environment for mutual engagement and community formation, its conference planning focused on listening and observing activities with little time allotted for social and interactional practices. The organization’s practice of soliciting unstructured reflections or testimonials from conference participants suffers from selection bias and does not provide a representative sampling of its attendee population. The study recommended increased focus on social and interactional practices in conference planning, and implementation of a structured, systematic conference evaluation framework to assess conference participant learning. These changes, if implemented, would form a continuous improvement cycle which would facilitate enhanced social learning for the conference CoP.