Monday, 3 November 2008

Five things I learned at ICAWC 2008

I'm ba-ack! Did you miss me? Were you watching the live coverage on the ICAWC blog? If not, and you're interested in all things animal welfare, I urge you to go and take a look through the posts and read highlights from presentations on subjects such as population dynamics, the EU-lobbying Pets In Europe group, trap-neuter-release in high volumes for stray cats and the business of running a shelter.

It was my first experience of ICAWC; I've only been at Dogs Trust since April, when the charity decide to focus more centrally on the marketing value of social media, and the importance of starting a dialogue online with supporters. These are some of the personal and professional things I learned from my attendance and participation.

1. Dream the impossible dream

In any other circumstances, you might dismiss Adrian's urging to set a vision for an organisation that seems impossible. However, so many examples at ICAWC proved that this is essential. Many of the delegates come from tiny organisations who do a great deal with very little. Anneleise Smillie of the Animals Asia Foundation told us of how the organisation started out in the founder's bedroom, but has now watched 6,000+ children graduate from an education programme focussing on treating animals with care and respect. That started with just one teacher at one school who was willing to take a chance.

2. Take consensus where you can get it!

Animal welfare is a complex issue. Different groups will have different ideas about the aims and methods that should be used. But one message that all the speakers held in common - and that is enshrined in the ICAWC mission statement - is that no healthy animal should be destroyed for want of a responsible owner. With this key objective established, everyone is keen to learn from each other and prepared to open their mind (and organisation) to a different point of view.

3. Handle Q&A sessions the smart way

You know how it is - the presentation is over, but there's one person with a lengthy and very specific question who ends up dominating the questions. ICAWC scrapped this format in favour of two Q&A opportunities: a 'speakeasy' at the end of each day, where speakers sat at tables around the room and were open to questions for up to two hours, and a 'your questions answered' segment where written questions submitted to the organisers were read out and answered by the relevant speakers.

I was so impressed by the way this worked to speed up the spread of information, that I used the analogy in my presentation, explaining that a website is like a presentation and social media is like the speakeasy afterwards!

4. It's okay to talk shop

At many conferences there is as much value in the conversation that goes on outside the official discussions. What was particularly excellent about ICAWC was how much everyone who was there talked about 'work' with pleasure. You don't go into animal welfare if you don't have dedication and passion because a lot of the time the goals are very hard to achieve, especially where local attitudes have to be changed and overcome. As a result we all talked about animals all the time. I now have a reputation as a Crazy Cat Lady (and the sponsor from Cats Protection who is clearly dog-mad shall remain nameless!) but have never swapped so many good tips for pet care and stories about our beloved companions before in my life.

Oh, and of course:

5. You will not get eaten by drooling monsters if your presentation goes wrong...

...but it won't stop everyone in your team going green before they're due onstage, no matter how experienced they are!

Thanks for sticking with us through the conference, and I hope we'll be seeing you there next year. Possible locations are currently being discussed!

Normal blogging service shall resume shortly...
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