Forestry conferences are events where scientists and experts meet to find out about the newest proceedings and trends in their field. There, they meet with other professionals and create connections that will benefit themselves, their organisations and forests in the future. If successful, conferences facilitate knowledge exchange and are the beginning of collaboration that will benefit forests and in turn humans for years to come. They also represent a culmination of communication activities, which can be (with some effort) used present a narrow field to wider audiences.
Communicating a forestry conference in the 21st century
Organising a conference is hard, stressful and time-consuming work and communications are a big part of it. Before starting, we must think about the reasons for organising a conference. It can be beneficial ask ourselves why through questions such as:
- Do we want to communicate an important message to key stakeholders?
- Is it a traditional event (ex. annual meeting)?
- Is it required by our institution, funding agency or project?
These questions may seem a bit silly, but if there’s no good answer, it may be better to go back to the drawing board or even discontinue organisation. If there’s a good answer, it’s time to go to work. Like with most communication activities, the factors that shape what our conference is going to look like are our communication aims and target groups (stakeholders).
Case study: European Forum on Urban Forestry 2016
Let’s not get too theoretical and look at how we (at the Slovenian Forestry Institute) approached the communications of EFUF 2016. The European Forum on Urban Forestry is an annual event, organised in Europe. The main aims of the Forum involve knowledge dissemination, capacity building and networking in the field of urban forestry. In 2015, our Institute agreed to organise the 19th EFUF together with Slovenia Forest Service. The organisational process can be broken down into 3 phases, each carrying similar weight in terms of importance.
Strategy and team-building
Firstly, the over-arching communication aims were defined. These were:
- Promote EFUF 2016 to key stakeholders and wider audiences.
- Get participants to take part in EFUF 2016.
- Raise awareness and educate about urban forestry and forestry in general.
- Promote Ljubljana, Celje and Slovenia.
To achieve these aims, we defined stakeholder groups. Some stakeholder groups were clear from the beginning (scientists and experts who attend the Forum each year), others not as much (ex. students of landscape architecture). In the end, the stakeholder groups included: annual participants (regulars), scientists and experts in urban forestry, urban forestry practitioners, municipalities, ministries and other government organisations, students of related studies, NGOs …
After the basic strategy points were set-up, it was time to build a team. The team-building process consisted of recruiting the employees of our Institute, the Slovenia Forest Service and the students of different faculties via personal discussions, oral presentations and e-mails. The volunteers would agree to help with the communication activities of the conference in exchange of gaining education and skills in organisation and how to use social media for professional purposes. At the end of the process, the team consisted of approx. 10 volunteers, one half being scientists and experts and the other half students. This number may seem a bit high, but it actually could be bigger – in social media, the power is in numbers.
At our first meeting, the #EFUF2016 communications team was formed. Our communication goals and strategy were defined, agreed upon and written down. A rough communication plan was made, complete with phases and rough deadlines. The internal communications infrastructure (e-mail groups, “intranet” …) was laid out in order to ensure a good flow of information within the team and to keep volunteers engaged. We have agreed to use the following communication tools:
- Conference website
- Unofficial blog
- Invited blogs from urban foresters
- Blog competition
- E-news (Mailchimp – 2 per month)
- Social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
If you’re still reading this, thank you for your perseverance. Stay tuned for part 2, where I’m going to describe the communication activities and live reporting from the conference.
This blog post is a part of the Kommunikation 2020 im Wald seminar, which will take place on September 15th 2016 in Winterthur, Switzerland. There, I will present my experiences on how to cover an event with social media and writing blogposts. Please register if you’re interested & in the neighbourhood!