Conference: World Community Development Conference 2019 (WCDC2019)
Dates: 23-30 June 2019
Venue: Dalhousie Building, University of Dundee and various locations such as Apex City Quay Hotel & Spa and The McManus
Attendance: 508 from 37 countries, contributing over £643,000.00 to the local economy over 3 days (this figure does not account for the additional 5 days of practice exchange/international reception or extended stays)
Chair: Clare MacGillivray, International Association for Community Development
Conference websites: www.wcdc2019.org.uk/ and www.conventiondundeeandangus.co.uk/attending/conferences/wcdc2019
Images: CLICK HERE
People, Place and Power
“We knew we wanted to shake up the academic world. We really wanted this conference to be different. And Dundee is different to everywhere else in Scotland in every respect – it’s fierce, feisty and confident,” said Clare MacGillivray, chair of the World Community Development Conference 2019 (WCDC2019).
“Dundee as a city is small enough and friendly enough to host an international conference, but also big enough and bold enough to really shake things up.”
Held every year or two years in a different location around the world, the conference was planned as a two-day event for around 150 delegates. But as word spread about the breadth and variety of the programme, it expanded into something so much more: an eight-day festival of learning, culture and practice exchange welcoming over 500 delegates from all corners of the globe.
Conference chair Clare MacGillivray said: “It took us 18 months to plan the conference, but right at the start we knew this had to be more than just an academic conference. Dundee is strong in its communities, and there was a real willingness from them to get involved. When we decided that we were going to take delegates out into local communities to see first-hand what is taking place in the region, we knew we couldn’t pack all that into a short conference.”
Throughout the conference, the organisers sought to do things differently and challenge delegates’ preconceptions of what an academic conference could be. Presentations, for example, were limited to just seven minutes. Clare said: “We weren’t averse to taking risks. Many academics said that seven minutes wasn’t enough time to get their point across, but in practice it really worked. It really levelled the field between academics and practitioners. And that allowed us to build in our ‘unconference’ spaces, where there could be lots of valuable unstructured discussion.”
Giving an equal platform to academics, practitioners and activists, the conference organisers sought to level the playing field and transform the way people think about community development both locally and globally.
Clare explained: “There’s spirituality in every one of us in some form, but often conferences don’t explore that or think about wellness. Right from the beginning we knew we wanted to bring that into the programme. For example, many of our delegates travelling from around the world mentioned that they were unable to attend church, so we organised an opening Mass. We started each day with a yoga session; we held daily labyrinth walks to enable inner reflection; and we had music at every opportunity – from rap to classical cello to songs from the Dundee jute mills. We really wanted to set it apart from any other conference.”
Finding the perfect venue was high up on the organisers’ priorities – but with ever-increasing delegate numbers, they were once again forced to think creatively. Clare explained: “When our delegate numbers outgrew the lecture theatre at the University of Dundee we were a little concerned – but thankfully the university was quick to help us find a solution, and we ended up live-streaming the sessions into a second lecture theatre.
“Our civic reception at The McManus Gallery and our conference dinner at the Apex City Quay Hotel also filled up incredibly quickly. But luckily the team from Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau (DACB) were able to help us find practical solutions.”
That theme of support and guidance is one that spread throughout the conference organisation process. Clare added: “We could not have done this without DACB. It just wouldn’t have happened. I’m not a professional conference organiser – in fact, I’ve never organised a conference for more than 100 people before – so their insight was outstanding.
“The DACB team supported us brilliantly. They showed us the ropes with project and budget planning, helping us find and liaise with venues, supporting delegate bookings, organising reduced air rates with Loganair, setting up a dedicated section of their website, and providing loads of information for delegates who wanted to extend their stay. They were magnificent.”
“Throughout the process we were able to set up fantastic partnerships – not only with Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau, but also Dundee City Council, the University of Dundee and Leisure and Culture Dundee. We also had access to a wide advisory group made up of other community development organisations both in Dundee and across Scotland which really helped.”
Beyond the Conference
The connections that were made throughout the conference were very inspiring. “There were people in Belfast connecting with activists in Brazil; delegates from Dundee reaching out to people from New Zealand; and people in Liberia connecting with Indian delegates on the topic of maternal health,” said Clare “These stories are incredible, and we are looking forward to watching how these synergies develop over time.”
This newfound global attention and potential for worldwide collaboration has led to a new vigour to community development in the Dundee city region following the WCDC. Clare continued: “I think people at the grassroots in communities in Dundee, Fife and Perth who were involved in the practice exchanges didn’t realise how spectacular their work is. So, to have people from around the world coming to see their work was a fantastic confidence boost for the region.”
The impact of the conference stretched far and wide – both at home and abroad. An issue of global journal Practice Insights dedicated entirely to the activity in Dundee city region is set to be published, as well as a special edition of the Radical Community Work Journal, and new input at the University of Dundee to develop a human right-based approach to community development is on the horizon.
When asked to sum the whole experience up in one word, Clare chose carefully: “magnificent.”
Feedback in statistics…
79% of delegates said they would be collaborating with new connections following the conference.
95% of delegates would recommend Dundee city region to their colleagues as a conference destination.
93% of delegates rated the overall organisation of the conference as very good or good.
83% of delegates rated their overall accommodation experience in Dundee as very good or good.
…and in comments
“Everything on the day was well organised and information provided that I needed. The people involved on the day at registration table were really helpful and there was always someone on hand & visible who could point you in the right direction or take you to where you needed to be.”
“I represent a national Government perspective and it was useful and interesting to hear the discussions around the role of community development and its importance in society.”
“Use of tickets was a handy way to deal with booking places at workshops, including giving information on where the workshops were being held.”
“An exceptionally well-organized conference and on a day-to-day basis everything ran very smoothly. The host representatives were VERY helpful.”
“The level of interest must have created planning and organisational challenges that were very effectively addressed.”
“Conference programme was outstanding. Innovative, creative and high impact. I liked that there was space for activists, practitioners and academics in equal measure, and at an equal level. The keynotes were brilliant – well constructed and conference flow was strong.”
“The conference was an excellent opportunity to learn about innovative and exciting practice linked to social justice issues. I met some amazing people and have built good working relationships for future practice.”
“Impacts on most of what I do within Community Planning. Very useful and inspiring to hear about a range of perspectives and projects from around the world.”
“I wondered if my position as a non-academic or professional would make my voice not heard. However, I was welcomed by everybody I spoke to and it felt great to be included.”
“The unconference space was really useful to enable informal conversations to carry on where time was tight. I liked the unstructured nature of these organic opportunities for learning.”
“[The Unconference session walking tours] inspired me to come back to Dundee for a weekend break.”
“The focus on the power of music throughout, but particularly during the last session on the last day, was brilliant and allowed time to relax and reflect on the whole learning experience.”
“As a local I was so proud that we could welcome and look after so many peers from so many countries and the planning committee created a programme that would be hard to beat anywhere.”