News - September 10, 2019

A new kind of scientific conferences

Donatella Gasparro

According to Resource blogger Donatella Gasparro most scientific conferences are boring. Very boring. An update in regular conferences is badly needed - and the time is ripe.

© Sven Menschel

No PowerPoint allowed: the harshest rule for a scientist. That’s what the Wageningen Soil Conference board told to the Masterclass organisers for the 4th edition of the soil conference, which brings soil (and more) scientists from all over the world to Wageningen. I haven’t been at a lot of them, but we can probably all agree: conferences are usually boring. Very boring. And quite predictable. At the WSC 2019 they really tried, though, to make an effort in innovation and interactivity.

Escape room
Besides the morning presentations, key note speeches and orals, the afternoons were all reserved for interactive masterclasses that ranged from field excursions to virtual reality sessions. I was lucky enough to be involved in co-facilitating one of the masterclasses – maybe one of the coolest. A colleague and friend, Mariana, designed an Escape room based on the European CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) post-2020 reform and asked me to facilitate the escaping process with the group of participants in one of the three escape rooms. Each group, representing an imaginary EU member state, had to put together their own Strategic Plan through a series of challenging puzzles. The engaging one-hour game was followed by an explanatory debriefing with Alan Matthews, former professor at Trinity College in Dublin, who unfolded the CAP reform and the game and answered the participants’ questions.

By the end of the conference no one had a decent looking badge

Science can be fun!
This kind of sessions end up being way more informative and effective than simple slides in a passive presentation. Playing a game or doing something hands-on trigger memory and thinking and make learning and discussing important topics fun and exciting. It’s great to see that science slowly picks up on this. An update in regular conferences is badly needed - and the time is ripe.

We’ll plant it for you
One more fun fact about the WSC is the conference badge. The name badges were made of biodegradable papery material filled with wild flowers seed. Day 1 reaction: amazing! What a brilliant idea. The fun started at day two, when most of the badges were already falling apart. By the end of the conference no one had a decent looking badge and I laughed so much looking at the shredded pieces of paper hanging from people’s necks. Also, who came up with nice idea did not consider that it is pretty illegal to bring back to other countries and continents plant material, such as, for instance, wild flowers’ seeds… Maybe that’s way at some point a box appeared downstairs in Orion, were most of the conference was held. A paper on it was inviting people to leave their badges there: “We’ll plant it for you!”.