What makes a great organized session?

Many of us are planning to share our work with the health systems community in Liverpool at HSR2018. Organized sessions offer a great format for this, as they are an opportunity to create a clear and coherent narrative on a particular topic, involve a mix of speakers, and present a variety of perspectives. The call for abstracts for organized sessions will open in September, with a closing date in January 2018. Soon it will be time to start planning organized sessions. So, what can you do to create an interesting session proposal with the best chance of being selected to be part of the symposium program?

Discussing with colleagues, looking at different evidence and thinking of past symposia, the following elements came to mind:

  • Start with a topic and working title for your session. The topic has to align with the conference theme/sub-themes, but to attract symposium participants to attend your session the title should be catchy and exciting.
  • Think about the session format. A great organized session will be engaging, entertaining and thought-provoking. There are many novel formats, some of which can help facilitate participation in a session (e.g. fishbowl, debate, etc.). If you choose to follow the traditional panel presentation format, make sure that you leave enough time for discussion and engage the audience in Q&A. If you opt for a series of panel presentations, consider inviting speakers who will bring complementary evidence, so that when it is put together, it advances understanding of a topic. This could be, for example, experiences of a similar topic from different countries, or different aspects of a particular topic.
  • Plan the content of the session so there is coherence or logic among the different elements of the session and how they build together to the larger message you are trying to convey.
  • Consider diversity and invite speakers that cover different regions or countries, age groups, gender or professional backgrounds such as researchers, policy-makers, managers, and civil society activists.
  • Try to generate engaged debate. Include contributions that are a little unexpected, controversial or provocative.
  • Draw out the relevance for policy and practice. It is critical for the session discussions and outputs to have relevance for policy or practice communities. Also, plan a summary at the end of the session that will capture these learnings.
  • Ask for help! If this is the first time you are putting together an organized session proposal, draw on more experienced mentors and advisors to comment on your outline, suggest (and introduce you to) speakers from their networks, and advise on the use of time in the session. They will be delighted to support you.

Looking back at previous symposia, organized sessions which have been well-attended and garnered lots of discussion both during and after, have been those which:

  • Showcase collaborations: these organized sessions demonstrate the workings of pre-existing research or policy partnerships, and go beyond sharing empirical findings to detailing challenges and successes of the relationships involved;
  • Span the system: these organized sessions add depth to understanding the same phenomenon from different vantage points of the same health system, from national-level all the way down;
  • Have a unifying theme to answer common questions: one such session in Vancouver was a ‘Funder’s Panel’ which set out to address many concerns of researchers and practitioners in a changing landscape;
  • Are really innovative in how they use the time: Participatory performance has been used in the past, and fishbowls, world cafes, and ‘speed-dating’ are also energizing ways to exchange information and learnings.

We strongly encourage HSG members and followers, especially those based in LMICs to consider submitting a proposal for an organized sessions. To help submissions, we have developed a more detailed guidance note (PDF).

We look forward seeing you at HSR2018 in Liverpool during October 8-12th, 2018.

HSR2018 Program Working Group

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