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Thursday, 9 January 2014

Can you build a successful pracademic conference?

by Michele Kirchner and Kelly Santarossa

Three things to know about pracademic conferences, like IPAC 2014:

  1. The richness of blending the practitioner and academic perspective in a conference matches solid best-practice with substantive academic research.

  2. A conference that is built on a pracademic foundation builds on thought-provoking ideas and engages participants in co-creating “real world” solutions in “real-time”.

  3. There is a greater opportunity to move the learning from the meeting room to the “street”, sparking innovation and bringing the discussion into the community. 

Three myths about pracademic conferences:

Myth #1: A conference focusing on practitioner best practice will not be substantive enough to hold the interests of the academic community.

Reality: There is a continuous cycle between theory informing practice and practice informing theory. Academics often enjoy enough distance from the policy process to develop a breadth of knowledge and produce generalisable conclusions across government, while practitioners generally develop a unique level of in-depth expertise when developing policy for a number of years. Both may learn from each other about how to understand, and seek to influence, the policymaking world. The fruitful exchange of ideas, and the ability to learn from each other, is promoted in an informal conference setting.

Myth #2: Presenting the academic perspective at a conference will bring the energy level down with esoteric research.

Reality: Although academic theory can be self-contained, the impact of research and teaching is often most compelling when it addresses the concerns of practitioners. Jessica Daniels, blogging for Tufts University, talks about her experiences attending conferences and workshops in her field of study. She writes: “One can, even for a few days, be in the presence of, or in conversation with, the individuals who shape the direction of their field of work, study, and interest.  What was previously a remote and theoretical study can become an interaction and a present conversation, in ways that humanize intellectual pursuits and spar curiosity.”

Myth #3: There will be difficulty in bridging the practitioner and academic perspectives in one coherent session.

Reality: Although practitioner and academic perspectives can vary, both groups are under pressure to demonstrate impacts and convince those holding the purse strings that their work represents a good investment. In a blog for the London School of Economics and Political Science, Rachel Hayman notes that in an increasingly results-driven environment, researchers and practitioners have much to gain from engaging each other.

To experience a pracademic culture in action, come to IPAC 2014 National Conference in Edmonton from June 1 to 4, 2014.  In less than a year, IPAC 2014 will be the place where practitioners from the public and private sectors and the academic community come together to create innovative solutions to real life issues. You can register for the conference at

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