Wrap Up: The International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2009)

Little did my co-organizer Jen Ziemke and I know how incredibly successful the first International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2009) was going to be. Many participants noted in person or by email that the conference was one like no other. Some even said that ICCM ranks as the number one conference they’ve been to, period. Wow.

ICCM was certainly an incredible treat for me to co-organize and moderate. Yes, the workload was beyond ridiculous. But the reward was also beyond incredible. Sitting in on the Ignite Talks, Open Roundtables and Self-Organized Sessions was a thrill; not to mention perusing the always-active Tech Fair and reading through the insightful #ICCM09 conference Tweets.

The Self-Organized Sessions were some of the most engaged sessions I’ve ever seen at any conference. The same goes for the Open Roundtables. This is a testament to how absolutely tops ICCM participants are. ICCM 2009 was truly a participant-generated conference, which I suspect partly explains why so many participants had so many kind words to say about this unique event.

And then there were the many thought-provoking conversations over the lunches and dinners with some of the biggest movers and shakers in the crisis mapping field writ large. Indeed, having an off-the-record dinner  conversation at a famous Jazz restaurant with two senior representatives from the UN Secretary General’s Office is not something that happens everyday, not to me at least! And this is just one of many surprising anecdotes from ICCM.

For just a fleeting moment I thought I’d be able to summarize ICCM 2009 in a blog post. I’m now on a flight to Geneva and thus have plenty of time. But summarizing such a rich conference that spanned three days in just one blog post could not possibly do justice to the incredible contributions generated by the 100 or so participants who joined us in Cleveland for the first ICCM.

So let me instead use the remaining paragraphs to briefly reflect on conference design and to outline what you can expect from post-conference productions in the coming weeks.

I truly enjoyed designing the conference format for ICCM. The format very much resonated with participants as well. Not only did they laud the conference for the network it brought together, the partnerships and content generated, the facilities and service, but I was surprised to learn that the format itself was a model that many participants said should “be replicated everywhere.”

One of the many take-homes for me on how to run a successful conference is that experimenting with conference design is important. My word of advice to other budding conference designers out there is to find your own unique style, be bold and creative; try something new. Think of yourself as a DJ.

I realize I could easily write half-a-dozen blog posts of lessons learned on conference design, and I probably will in the future. I would simply add one more piece of advice here: take a leap of faith and keep your conference as “unstructured” as possible. This means defining topics not too narrowly and leaving plenty of time for open conversation. You’ll be surprised just how much conversation and knowledge this open space approach generates.

Just be sure you can fully participate yourself though!

So what’s next now that ICCM 2009 is over? Well, in a way, ICCM 2009 is not over. We launched the International Network of Crisis Mappers (CM*Net) on the final day of the conference and conversations are continuing via discussion forums online along with new blog posts added on a daily basis.

In the meantime, stay tuned for the conference report, which will provide a summary of the Open Roundtable discussions. We expect to get this out on November 16, 2009. But not to worry, our excellent film crew is already busy editing the 28 Ignite Talks videos and we plan to start releasing them as of next week. The Keynote address and a compilation of participant interviews will also be released in the near future.

Until then, all the slide presentations from ICCM 2009 are available here and all #ICCM09 Tweets can be found here. If you’d like to join us for ICCM 2010, be sure to add your thoughts on content and format here.

In closing, thanks again to all participants and our stellar volunteers for making ICCM 2009 the incredible success it was!

Patrick Philippe Meier

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