Making the annual gathering work for my CIAT colleagues has been one of my motivations for many years. The collaboration with Maya Rajasekharan, CIAT’s Head of research management on what we call the APR (Annual Program Review) has been mostly fruitful. This year however, we made a splash. “This was the best APR so far” were the words that many chose to thank us.
So here are some reasons why it was a successful week:
1. Nail the session topics: Maya was able to identify the most relevant topics in consultation with our leading researchers and unit heads, as well as to find a right mix between discussions on strategy, business practices, and thematic and regional integration.
2. Contrast in the agenda design: For the first time this year we had session that entailed parallel group discussions and we diversified formats more than in previous years: Interviews, conversations, hard talks, open house, poster session, presentations followed by discussions. Compelling session titles, and well-chosen moderators (memorable performance of Ravic Nijbroek in the “Elephants in the room” session, and presenters were also part of the successful mix. It seems that the thematic focus and session design allowed us this year to facilitate open and franc discussions that most participants felt very useful.
3. Assure significant presence of colleagues from the regional offices: During our Annual Program Review, not all our regional staff travels to Colombia. This time we welcomed delegations composed by plenty of early career scientists and new colleagues, which added new energies, point of views and ideas. The teams from administration also welcomed staff from the regions and organized retreats before, during and after the event while participating actively in the agenda. Kudos to the regional directors for bringing such a great crowd along.
4. Give enough time for people to meet and work together: Over the past years, we did give a lot of time for side meetings. This year we gave even more time (only one day was an all-day event) and made an extra effort in coordinating the meetings to making them integral part of the agenda.
5. Add new tools: This year we introduced Mentimeter to allow live comments during the sessions. The rational was that some people are shy to ask questions and that it would bring a new dynamic to the sessions. It worked nicely for many sessions even if some found it distraction. We continued to use Bluejeans to allow virtual participation from our colleagues and we also issued again the daily digest newsletters to all CIAT staff with the best quotes of the day, interviews of participants, and access to all presentations and materials. The twitter feed @MyCIAT allowed live social reporting and was streamed on the CIAT screens and Intranet.
6. El “Ambiente”. Food and social time, logistics, housing, hotel and transportation solutions were excellent and well received.
From the very positive debrief with the management team two take-away messages would be to still pay more attention to the bilateral meetings, and prepare and coordinate them better, as well as to use the Mentimeter for specific sessions.
Comments from participants
“Great APR program design! Let’s keep talking about the big elephants in the room. They could open each morning discussions next year.
“We need in the APR agenda activities with a team building focus, this will help with the so expected integration across regions and themes”
“This APR was very dynamic. The open discussions, especial the “elephants in the room session”, are a testimony of CIAT’s open culture.”
“Loved the coffee. Loved the fruit in sessions. Nice lunches. Good spaces. Thanks to support services for making it a productive environment.”