Lessons on organising Exchange meetings/logistics

6 February 2015
SERIES Articles and Opinions

The Exchange has organised 3 multi-party meetings -and is about to organise one more in Quito in April 2015.

These meetings have served a number of purposes including building or helping to build a good rapport between the participants and between the members of the different teams. In fact, rather than focusing only on ‘working’, the sessions have given ‘playing’ a great deal of attention. Work, in a way, is a means to build a relationship between the participants.

But organising these meetings (including 15 people from all over the world) can be complicated and expensive.


This may sound rather obvious but the following should be kept in mind when organising meetings with participants from all over the world:

  • Possible visa restrictions (e.g. a Georgian participant at The Exchange had to apply for a visa for Indonesia in Kiev but since due to the Ukraine conflict no courier would deliver her passport to the embassy in Kiev she was faced with a challenge. The only way was to go in person or ask a friend to travel on her behalf and bring her passport to the embassy to get the visa. In the end she was able to resolve this by asking a colleague from The Exchange based in Ukraine.)
  • Extra costs and insecurities related to regional/national conflict (e..g. The Ukrainian participant was unsure whether she was able to participate in exchange meetings which delayed the booking of the flights)
  • Flights:
    • Not everyone likes to fly, in particular long distance/stop-over flights. While administrators and project managers are mindful of the budget they also have to consider the researchers’ wellbeing.
    • Flights, in particular, need to be booked early but some participants/team members are not able to fix dates several months in advance, which means extra costs on flights that are booked last minute. On the other hand, booking flights too early may imply inevitable changes that can also lead to additional costs. Finding a good booking agency that can help manage these contingencies is important. If a single organisation manages this, it may be able to get a better deal and set up a ‘company account’.
  • Jetlag: In the case of The Exchange, participants from South East Asia flying to Latin America vice versa will be jetlagged and need extra time to recover from travelling. This is inevitable. It is a mistake to think that ‘more hours working’ is the same as ‘more work done’. Later morning starts, free days or afternoons, can help to keep the participants fresh and engaged.
  • Discuss the terms of the events with the hosts well in advance. The Exchange was designed to use the hosts organisations’ as the location of the workshops. This can lead to costs that the hosts will have to assume. This must be discussed with them in detail well in advance to make sure that they are able to address these. While the hosts may be able to participate fully it should not be assumed that they have the capacity to manage these events entirely on their own. This is not, after all, their core business.
  • Not all event costs can be paid in advance, i.e. via international transfer, so the help of the event host is needed to advance the money for such costs.
  • It is not always possible to withdraw large amounts of cash in the local currency, which is needed for per diems, expense reimbursements (e.g. visa costs), event costs reimbursements to event hosts.
  • The per diem daily rate is set following the advice of the local event host as standard per diem rates do not apply (i.e. as accommodation and the majority of subsistence and transport are paid for directly by the project).
  • Booking the hotel via the event host can bring the benefit of better room rates.

Is this effort worth it?

One of the contributions that The Exchange has made is that it provides a kind of subsidy for collaboration. These costs of ‘getting to know each other’ have not been paid for by the participants. The various trips have given them a chance to meet each other, their colleagues’ think tanks and other think tanks, too. They have been able to learn more about the contexts in which their colleagues live and work so as to get a better understanding of their own challenges and opportunities.