1st June 2012
I always enjoy The Wheel's annual conference (for example, see my review of last year's event here). This year's conference was held on 31 May and its theme was Innovate Involve Inspire: Building Better Outcomes. I was honoured to have been asked to present at the session on innovating, alongside Nuala Doherty of the Centre for Effective Services and Sean Coughlan of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland. My topic was "How do we know we are doing our best?", an exploration of the art of social impact measurement (see pages 46-58 on this slideshare presentation). I was thrilled also that the best practice guide on being outcomes-focused and impact-led that I recently wrote for The Wheel was launched on the day. I received great feedback on both. I will dedicate a future blog post to the guide itself.
It was a very well-attended event, once again chaired excellently by Fintan O'Toole of the Irish Times. The day was primarily about 'big picture' issues, not just about the community and voluntary sector itself, but also its role within wider society. So there was talk of human dignity, the fact that people are citizens not just consumers, democracy at both local and national levels, the future of philanthropy, and much more.
Some speakers stood out for me, including Fergus O'Ferrall of Trinity College Dublin and Seán Healy of Social Justice Ireland, who were scathing about the state this country finds itself in and Elaine Byrne of We The Citizens who beautifully outlined the choice we now have to make as a country with an uncertain future. Martin Simes of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations provided a useful international perspective. I was particularly struck by his advice that our community and voluntary sector should not go blindly down the road of compulsory competitive tendering for social care contracts, as the experience in Scotland has shown that doing so will result in a race to the bottom. I was also very interested to hear Deirdre Garvey of The Wheel outlining a summary of the organisation's draft strategic plan.
There were many different speakers, possibly too many. It's the conference organiser's classic quandary. You wish to attract as many people as possible and you therefore organise a packed programme with something for everyone. Yet this means that time pressures are intense and that delegates are often left with the feeling that no one issue was covered in sufficient depth. I also have questions about the prominence of the main corporate sponsor in the day's proceedings. These are minor criticisms, however. Croke Park is a good venue with delicious catering, there was a wide range of exhibitors with tempting prize draws, attendees were numerous and engaged, interest was maintained (including through a fun Eurovision quiz after lunch) and lots of important ground was covered.
Here's to the 2013 conference!