News - October 30, 2018

Blog: A call for depth and fewer coffee breaks

Donatella Gasparro

When blogger Donatella Gasparro attends conferences and symposia, she always gets frustrated. Because every time a delicate -thus important - problem comes up, time is up and everyone goes for coffee.

© Sven Menschel

The second week of this October has seen both the Seriously Sustainable week in Wageningen and the Soil Food Week in the Netherlands (Friesland). When it comes to sustainability, soil and food, you’re sure Organic Agriculture students will be there. And so I was.

We all know how conferences, symposia and this kind of things work. A bunch of experts on a topic – and maybe a couple of curious individuals – get together and listen to each other’s presentations; and you get time for discussion in the end. Whatever the level of understanding of the audience is – from not grasping a single graph to knowing by heart what’s being presented, it usually all stops at the first part: the presentation part. Panel discussions and Q&A moments too often end up being compressed in residual timeslots in very packed schedules, and when it’s actually the time to put thoughts, reflections and doubts on the table, it’s time for drinks.

Frustration is the result, most of the time: problems that we all know are repeated over and over again, questions are not fully answered, issues are superficially simplified, doubts grow bigger and you – a second year passionate master’s student – sit there looking at professors, policy makers, company managers and just want to explode because of all the things that are running in circles in your mind. Especially when talking about sustainability and food systems; how can we tackle our extremely complex challenges if, as soon as we touch upon a delicate – and therefore very important – problem, we just quit and go for coffee? ‘Circular’ should not mean going in circles around the key issues and avoiding them*.

There’s always something we don’t know. But there’s also always something we can start doing.

‘Further research is required’: the conclusion of most talks and discussions. True, but not always. It feels like sometimes, this is just a very good old excuse. What if more action is required? There’s always something we don’t know. But there’s also always something we can start doing. We need to come together and draw a vision for the future, as well as – and maybe most importantly – define the steps to get there.

We do not always need linear communication means like presentations; we need round tables; we need brainstorms, forums, open parliaments; we need markers, colours; we need to sit in the grass under a tree and rethink the way we think itself. We know what’s wrong. But where do we want to go? And how do we want to get there? I do not know the answer. But I call for more sharing and depth – and fewer compulsory coffee breaks.

*Thank you Heleen for this idea.

Donatella Gasparro is a master’s student in Organic Agriculture; she hails from Italy.