It’s practically impossible to describe the annual meeting of the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD) without using the word “robust.” As COR-NTD Secretariat, we strive to make those two days as meaningful as possible – and those efforts are far from over once the meeting ends.
In fact, that’s when the real work begins, as we find out what worked and what needs tweaking. Thanks to the 132 participants who provided feedback, here’s what we’ve learned:
Friday and Saturday are preferred meeting days.
In 2017 – in response to feedback from previous meetings – the COR-NTD Secretariat pushed the annual meeting from the Thursday and Friday to the Friday and Saturday before the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) conference. This move shortened the stay for participants of both meetings, providing cost savings and allowing for fewer days out of the office.
Overall, 71 percent of respondents reported that they preferred holding the meeting on Friday and Saturday. Fourteen percent preferred Thursday and Friday, and fewer than two percent felt that the meeting should cease to be held in conjunction with ASTMH.
Size is an evolving concern.
When surveyed about the size of the meeting, 85 percent of respondents were happy with the current size of the meeting. However, as the meeting continues to evolve and to incorporate new subject areas and points of view, we can expect that its size will continue to increase.
To address this potential growth, the Secretariat is brainstorming creative ways of including as many relevant perspectives as possible while also preserving the discussion-based format. Our aim is to ensure that the right voices make it into the conversations without making it, in the words of one respondent, "harder to have meaningful breakout discussions."
Breakout sessions are the meat of the meeting.
Survey respondents reported that they prefer a meeting that favors breakouts, with 53 percent in favor of a mostly breakout event, 40 percent in favor of an even balance of breakouts and plenary, and the remaining 7 percent in favor of a mostly plenary event.
About 75 percent of respondents reported that the breakouts they attended were the right size, which ranged from 20 to 65 depending on the content of the session. About 63 percent of respondents indicated 30 to 40 people as the ideal size for a breakout discussion.
As for the content of the breakouts themselves, survey respondents stressed the importance of outputs. The majority of these individuals preferred that these be shared on the web, and many commented on the success of sessions that stressed the generation of next steps for operational research in real time:
“It's a great step to have breakout sessions work to generate concrete outputs; that could be emphasized even more.”
“In one session the moderators had us discuss in groups and identify the operational research questions that should be proposed – I thought this worked surprisingly well. It not only helped the best ideas rise to the top, it helped attendees get to know one another.”
In addition, respondents noted the catalyzing role of cross-cutting sessions, which bring together discussants with fresh perspectives and provide opportunities for cross-pollination. Respondents also stressed the importance of keeping up the drumbeat between annual meetings:
“It would sometimes be nice not to have a great session only, but also organize a follow-up, either through Skype or at another conference.”
Plenary sessions should feature the most engaging content.
Of all the content presented in the meeting’s plenary sessions, the most well-received was the one-minute introductions for the Innovation Lab – with 89 percent of respondents rating this agenda item as either “good” or “excellent.” Generally, the less time allotted to a plenary presentation, the more participants enjoyed it.
As such, the COR-NTD Secretariat will be considering some creative solutions, recommended by meeting-goers, to keep everyone engaged:
- Nearly 40 percent of survey respondents suggested a “speed dating” session for quick research updates.
- Several individuals suggested incorporating an opportunity to interface with breakout moderators – possibly in the form of a poster session – to allow for interactive reporting from individual discussions.
- Many stressed the importance of allowing time for audience questions and discussion following plenary talks.
Logistics are going smoothly but can always be improved.
Logistics for COR-NTD 2017 – including food, audio-visual, seating, onsite registration, and assistance of “red shirt” staff – received high marks overall, with 90 percent of participants rating these aspects of the meeting as either “good” or “excellent.” However, you won’t catch Secretariat staff taking any victory laps. Instead, we’re scouting out spaces for the 2018 COR-NTD meeting that allow for the most people to see and hear the event, and we are brainstorming breakout seating to allow for smaller group discussions.
The biggest driver for COR-NTD’s improvement from year to year is you. We count on your feedback to shape the event into one that brings key players together, spurs new ideas, and refines the operational research agenda in the fight against neglected tropical diseases.
If you have ideas of how this could best be achieved, please keep them coming! We know COR-NTD 2018 will be the best event yet, thanks to each and every member of this energetic and growing coalition.