Lee is back from the European Rural Parliament, this is the first part of his blog.
So, I’m now sitting in Schipol airport at just before 12pm. I arrived here around 45mins ago and don’t fly until 4.30pm. For some reason, the organisers thought I needed to be transferred this early! This gives an indication of some of the organisational issues we have encountered. Individually, the organisers and volunteers have been first class, but collectively communication and organisation has been pretty poor…
I thought I would take the opportunity to discuss the third day of the European Rural Parliament, in Venhorst. The morning was a plenary session, with numerous presentations about different projects and events from across the 40 countries represented here. From a positive point of view, it was really interesting to learn about the experiences of others and perhaps unsurprisingly, they are largely similar to ours in rural Scotland (context and definition of what is rural are rather different though). The problem I had with it was there was no time for discussion or debate, it was presentation after presentation for the best part of 4 hours…the phrase “Death by PowerPoint” springs to mind and to be honest I really struggled to pay attention. This was reinforced by the fact that the conclusions reached in each presentation were very similar and to be frank, were not groundbreaking. I did feel sorry for the organisers, as the speakers overran, but were not challenged. I also felt a little sorry for the speakers as I cannot conceive what it is like to try and give a presentation to 250 people in a language which is not your own, and I can appreciate that a presentation which may take 5 minutes in your native language could be doubled or trebled in another language.
Lessons from this section for me were:
- Significantly reduce the time spent listening to presentations
- Ask presenters to focus on key learning points, not the full narrative
- Ask the presenters to pose questions to start a debate
- Group presentations into short blocks and then allow time for an open discussion thereafter, potentially with a proposition to argue for or against
The overrunning meant that in the whole 4 hour block only one question from the floor was allowed. I had a couple scribbled down, but did not have the opportunity to ask them! I felt it was a real wasted opportunity given the level of experience and knowledge in the room and some having travelled thousands of miles to take part.
The afternoon was much more interactive, with workshops on a variety of themes. Each delegate picked two and I decided to go to one on the economic challenges facing rural Netherlands; and a second on rural leadership. In the first workshop, delegates were asked to outline some of the main challenges facing rural areas in their country. For Scotland I briefly outlined issues around population movements, demographic change, challenging topography, land ownership and significant infrastructure issues. I was joined by delegates from the Netherlands, Belgium, Croatia and Estonia. The issues they highlighted struck a chord with that in Scotland: