What is the purpose of dissemination? For most of the projects that I have been involved with dissemination is about telling people about the project. But this idea of dissemination can be traced back to when the web was a unidirectional medium; most conferences in this field have been around, at least, since the birth of the internet. For most of the 90’s and the early part of this century to disseminate a project the most effective way was to go to a conference and hope that more than 4 people turned up to your presentation or workshop (I have been to several where that was the case, and in one particular case there were only the 5 presenters giving 3 papers in total and myself as the session chair).
In many of the bids that I’ve read there is an almost Pavlovian response to the question ‘how will you disseminate your project?’ Most bidders give you a list of conferences that they will present at (and assume that they will have their paper accepted – and of course some conferences will take as many papers as they can because they need delegates).
But how does this activity help? The best that can be hoped for is that someone asks you a question, and tells you that they may try your idea in their institution. And most of the time that is only way you’ll know if the project is having any kind of impact.
But what if… Instead of taking the team to XXX conference, which if there are 4 people could cost upwards of £3,000, you used that money to run 4 seminars/workshops in different institutions where you knew that people wanted to try your project? This approach is something that I trialled with my Users and Innovation Programme, and am trying with the Institutional Innovation. Instead of making dissemination a passive or serendipitous activity we are asking that the project identify partners and work closely with them to help them test their assumptions and trial the project.
Of course this relies on having people know about the project, and that was often done by mail list or at conferences. That need no longer be the case. I know the activities of almost all of the projects I manage through their blogs and tweets, and I’ve even been to a few webinars. Regular blogging and tweeting generates and maintains knowledge about the project in the cloud, and when it comes to finding willing partners it is easier than finding them in a bar at an event. Of course what I’m really talking about here is the idea of generating ad hoc communities around projects and clusters of projects which makes the embedding and sustainability of projects easier and more cost effective than turning up to a 3 day conference and hoping for someone who’s really interested showing up to your 20 minute presentation.
Go to conferences, for whatever reason, but not for the dissemination of your project. With the plethora of online tools and communities now available dissemination is most effectively achieved by careful management of the project’s online identity.
And what of conferences? At the JISC 2009 conference a delegate approached me and said “This event’s been great, a good keynote, not too many parallels and loads of space to network” and it was that last point that was the key. Conferences are still good for networking, as long as they aren’t too big, or even worse a clique; but generally a nice small (100 – 150 delegates) 24hr conference, with long lunch and coffee breaks is still a good way to meet like –minded people. And if you really want value for money, keep an eye on the institutional learning and teaching conferences, I’ve been to a dozen or so and found some real gems of ideas and practices.