The programme structure is fixed
Janine Coutinho, Anelise Rizzolo (left), Catherine Geissler, Luciana Castro
and Ines Rugani (centre), plus three of the congress secretariat team (right)
The main single mission of the meeting of the Rio2012 executive committee and supporting teams held between 15-21 May, was to agree the structure and provisional content of our congress. The partners in this initiative are the Association, together with Abrasco, the Brazilian national association for public health. The mission was accomplished. As a result, invitations to potential speakers are being sent out this month, and as soon as we have acceptances, later drafts of the programme published here will include session titles and speakers. Here below is the programme structure:
Pictured at the beginning of this story above, are just some of the team members responsible for the Rio meeting. At left are Janine Coutinho of the Pan American Health Organization, and Anelise Rizzolo from the federal University of Brasília. The middle picture shows congress executive secretary Inês Rugani (at right) impressing programme committee co-chair Catherine Geissler, and State University of Rio department head Luciana Castro. At right above are three of the team of student volunteers forming the secretariat of the meeting: from left to right, Amanda Silva and (in a pathetic attempt to address gender imbalance), Daniel Oliveira and Paulo Cesar de Castro.
The first challenge addressed at the Rio meeting, was how to make all sessions of our congress interactive. Everybody agreed that the era of lecturers who talk at an audience that respectfully attends, listens, applauds, and exits, as in the cartoon below, is ended. It was also agreed that our congress will not be an occasion to describe research results that can be read then or later in journals. Typically, sessions will 'have attitude', and will follow the spirit of the congress mission phrase – from knowledge, to policy, to action.
Everybody at our congress will be encouraged to participate. Before the Rio meeting, many of the Brazilian members of the congress team had gathered at the University of Brasília. Their purpose was to explore and rehearse methods already proved to be effective in engaging everybody in interaction at meetings of all sizes, ranging from less than a dozen to over a thousand people. These include Peter Senge's 'Fishbowl', Harrison Owens's 'Open Space', and the 'World Café' technique. Everybody at the Rio meeting agreed that suitably adapted, these and other methods were crucial to create interactivity.
It was also agreed that the era of session chairs who introduce speakers and then take it easy, as a result of which speakers over-run and often obliterate any time allotted for 'Q&A', is also ended. All sessions of every type at our congress will include hosts or moderators, appointed as soon as possible this year. In advance, they will guide the speakers in their sessions, ensure that presentations are appropriate, and at the congress itself, see that time is respected. One wag at the Rio meeting suggested that recalcitrant speakers could be subjected to the Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber time-keeping methodology, whereby the moderator pulls a lever when time is up, and the speakers disappear through a trap-door.
The first big debate at the Rio meeting concerned plenary sessions. Eventually it was agreed that each plenary of 90 minutes will feature two speakers with complementary innovative ideas and views concerning important and urgent topics, especially those that impact on the whole living and physical world as well as on human health, disease and well-being. Thus, plenaries will range over the social, economic and environmental as well as biological and behavioural dimensions of nutrition. Each speaker will give a short presentation, using the vivid style pioneered by the TED ('technology, entertainment, drama') method. This will be followed by an equal amount of time for brief contributions from participants and interactive discussion, in turn followed by brief summaries by the speakers, and further contributions and discussion. A version of this method will be used for the series of 90 minute parallel sessions for discussions and debates. These usually will feature three speakers, and will have rapporteurs.
The second big challenge addressed at the Rio meeting, was how to make the congress flow, and be productive. Six overall themes drafted before the meeting were discussed, revised, and agreed. These are:
- Equitable food systems with dietary diversity
- Food and nutrition policies
- Environment and food and nutrition security for all
- Determinants of and threats to health
- Successful strategies and interventions
- Nature and strengthening of public health nutrition
Within these, series of 'sub-themes' were also discussed, revised and agreed. Their purpose is to guide participants, including those who will prepare abstracts of their own work. The themes and sub-themes will inform all the congress sessions. Further, the topics of the plenary presentations and discussion will introduce and set the scenes for the more detailed parallel discussion and debate sessions that follow. These will shape the key product of the congress. This will be the Rio Declaration, on the vision, mission, nature and purpose of public health nutrition, fit to face the opportunities and challenges of this century. The Declaration will be finally drafted during the congress, presented for final discussion and agreement in the closing plenary session. It will be published, and used as a basis for promoting the vision, mission, purpose and work of public health nutrition.
What are congresses for? This is a good question to ask now, considering that 'the marvellous city' of Rio de Janeiro includes the biggest and best city beaches in the world, mountains and forests, a warm ocean, phenomenal vistas, an impressive historic and cultural heritage, great music, food and nightlife, a climate that at the end of April is liable to be sunny with ocean breezes, and beautiful people. Registrants are strongly encouraged to book to stay and travel in and around the city for some days or a week or more after the congress ends.
Yes, the congress itself will be a great time to meet and make plans with friends and colleagues. This said, its main purpose derives from its mission of moving from reliable knowledge, through rational policies, to effective actions. Another special feature of the congress is working groups on ambitious yet achievable opportunities. Working groups will extend over three days. They will discuss drafts of policy position papers, pre-prepared by core members, supported by secretariats. These will be designed as the basis of policies and actions to be proposed to and accepted and enacted by UN and other international bodies, national governments, and other decision-takers. They will be discussed and revised during the working group sessions and also over two nights, and finally revised and agreed, together with the Rio Declaration, at the closing plenary session. In a real sense the purpose of the working groups will begin as the congress closes. The groups will remain in place until their missions are accomplished. This is one way in which leaders in public health and in nutrition really can and will make a difference for the better in our world.