Volunteer Reporters at the World Knowledge Dialogue
17 September 2006
With most of the World Knowledge Dialogue (WKD) Symposium's participants holding positions of influence in the academic, scientific, economic and political fields, the challenge of the Symposium's ten volunteer reporters was not only to convey the essence of presentations, but also to capture contributions coming from participants with different perspectives and backgrounds-- to encourage communication, interaction and debate.
Creating a sustainable dialogue on these matters is a long term process, which exceeds the time constraints of the Symposium itself. Availing proceedings to the delegates and to the general public over the longer run is a crucial part of this.
To meet this challenge, organizers of the WKD worked with Conference Reports, a partnership between a volunteer organization and communications group. Their challenge? To keep with the objectives of the Symposium, capture the dialogue and lessons learned that are subjects of importance and globally relevant, and communicate the content and the spirit of the symposium to the world.
On the front line, just in the back row
Many delegates may be surprised to learn that while particpants presented and discussed issues, there was always a pair of reporters in the room.
Volunteer reporters were recruited from varying backgrounds, including journalism, international relations, science and the humanities.
Each reporter was a part of the audience, each with his or her own education, qualifications and life experiences with which to consider and express what had occurred. Through the reports, the content of what was said, by whom, and why, is retained within the context of the session. Their mission: to convey the essence of discussions that involved many well-established researchers, and include contributions coming from participants with different perspectives and backgrounds, and encourage particular forms of communication, interaction and debate. "Over the years, we have learned a lot of things about getting accurate reports", explains ICVolunteers Founder and Director Viola Krebs. "We specifically recruit people for their interest and background, and provide detailed training. The whole idea is to create opportunities for everone, but always stay focused on the bottom line, which is to provide good proceedings."
Home runs from left field
"The fresh perspective --and importantly, the interest-- of the volunteers is the secret ingredient", explains Randy Schmieder, Director of MCART. "For some odd reason, people often equate benevolent work with being somehow substandard, but there is no reason for this. Ask anyone who has worked with a team, and they will tell you the same thing: if you want quality, get people who are interested."
As for formal background in the subject area? Schmieder applies the same rule: "For Conference Reports projects, we always identify one or more resource people from the organizing group who can help with vocabulary or answer questions. But more often than not, the volunteer reporters not only 'get the picture', they see things that the embedded people do not." Schmieder explains: "Who ever studies to remember a great time at the beach? People are capable of incredible things, and at the end of the day, we are experience-driven. Accurate observation only requires that you are plugged in. Just like in field biology: if you know too much, you start to see only the inside of your own eyelids. On a bigger scale, formal background is great to provide a framework, but every teacher knows that there is nothing like being able to be there, or do that--yourself. MIT's FAB Lab knows this well-- people are set up with a challenge, and set off with it. Check it out."
Under pressure, but loving it
Far from being a "amateur operation", volunteer reporters were trained before the event, provided background materials on the sessions, and given specific assignments. Reporters attended each session, researched the topics, and wrote the reports, all within tight time lines required of standard journalism. As Steve Pollard, coordinator for the Reporter's Team, and a volunteer himself, points out, providing visibility for the reporters is often an important motivator: "It is important to recognise the work of the reporters in creating the articles."
"I have to say I very much appreciated being a part of the Reporters Team. Working together with all went really well!", effuses Beatrice Nordin, a reporter for several sessions.
The reports complement other resources available on the site: abstracts and documentation, interviews, images, and the web casts.
The Online News for the World Knowledge Dialogue is based on Conference Reports, a cross-sector partnership between MCART and ICVolunteers started in 1998 that directly involves volunteers in carrying results around the world. Over the years, the two organizations have developed an effective reporting system and experience in training volunteer reporters to provide and range of event coverage, includsing reports, articles and interviews.
Posted: 2007-8-18 Updated: 2012-4-05