16 consequences of top-down conference process

Here are some consequences of concentrating on top-down (traditional) rather than bottom-up (non-traditional) conference process:

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  1. Everyone gets assigned their role in advance.
  2. Top-down implies that some people have “the knowledge”; the rest don’t.
  3. There’s less opportunity to engage attendees who aren’t invested; they can zone out as they choose.
  4. Passive reception of knowledge is the dominant learning modality.
  5. There may be less stress for attendees, knowing that no personal contribution is expected.
  6. There are, at best, few expectations for attendees, apart from paying for the conference.
  7. Tradition coupled to prestige confirms legitimacy—”this is the way it’s done”.
  8. The conference confers status by association; you’re a professional in this field, because professionals in this field go to this conference.
  9. Top-down imposes control of what’s going to happen: who speaks, who listens, who’s in, who’s out.
  10. Conference structure and content are fixed; they’re very difficult to change even if circumstances cry out for a different direction.
  11. The top-down model can put pressure on presenters, who may feel they need to be comprehensive, all-knowing, and coherent to justify the program committee’s choice of them as presenters.
  12. The power to create conference structure and session topics is confined to the conference program committee.
  13. Top-down supports and perpetuates cliques: the presenters versus audience, the old hands and the in-crowd versus the newbies.
  14. Everyone knows what is supposed to happen, minimizing fear of the unknown.
  15. The conference tends to mirror and/or reinforce perceived hierarchy or status in a profession or field—“here are the experts”.
  16. Meeting and connecting with like-minded people during the formal conference program is largely a matter of chance or careful preparation.

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