How We Build Our Conference Agendas at State of Reform

OR-15-Morning Keynote

Our annual conferences are the cornerstones of our State of Reform initiative.

They convene in one place the community we spend the other 364 days of the year trying to build and foster.

But it’s more than a one day event.  In fact, it’s really like a 365 day event.  By that I mean we are working to facilitate the cross-silo dialog that is central to our conferences all year long.  We do that through one-on-one conversations and connections, through small group meetings, and through our online engagement (web, social, video, and email).

Everything we do at State of Reform is about fostering new ideas, a culture of innovation, and supporting new relationships among and between the stakeholders which engage with us.

So, our agenda setting process is a function of that work in very meaningful and clear ways.

First, we have a series of one-on-one conversations with key stakeholders, sponsors and colleagues.  This happens between 4-6 months before our event.

Those conversations are distilled down into a set of possible topics.  Those topics are discussed more broadly at our Convening Panel meeting, where we get folks in a room together, or on the phone.  There, these stakeholders engage one another in the same kind of cross-silo discussion that happens at State of Reform, but seldom happens in other rooms during the year.

From that, we build a Topical Agenda.  This is a list of topics culled from that meeting, and organized according to a specific methodology.

For instance, we think of our audience as a collection of different cohorts from health care.  So, at our Seattle event with 600 attendees, we think of that as 60 attendees from 10 different cohorts.  Those cohorts are groups of folks that seldom get in the room together: hospitals, public health/counties, legislative/electeds, state agency, providers, mental health, pharma, employers/brokers, health plans, and technology.  The exact cohorts can shift each year, but the basic idea is the same.

So, we build a Topical Agenda with the goal of having at least 2 sessions (3 in Seattle) which speak directly to each cohort throughout the day.  We also want to have something that has at least indirect appeal and relevance to each cohort during each breakout period of five sessions during the day.

Our Topical Agenda is usually released about 10 weeks before our event.

From there we are able to start recruiting speakers.  That takes a herculean amount of time.  Each panel needs a diverse set of perspectives.  And, the earlier someone confirms with us, the easier we can start finding complementary speakers.

This leads to challenges as we get closer to the event date.  Often we will have potential sponsors who will arrive in the last few weeks before an event and ask to be on a panel.  But, in our model, once a perspective is confirmed on a panel, a new speaker needs to bring a different viewpoint, something constructive and additive, to be added to a panel.

So, while we love our sponsors, early engagement with us creates the best outcome for everyone involved.

With 60 to 90 speakers, building the full list of speakers is a huge jigsaw puzzle.

When we are (mostly) done with that process, we release what we call our full Detailed Agenda.

That lists every speaker on the roster.  It also reflects a finalized Topical Agenda, which has been shifted and moved based on the feedback we hear from talking with potential speakers.

The Detailed Agenda is usually out 3 to 4 weeks before the conference.

So, this week, for example, is the second full week of October.  Last week we hosted our Alaska event.  This week, we release our Los Angeles Detailed Agenda. And we are also distributing our draft Topical Agenda to our Washington event Convening Panel.

That means we have a lot of moving parts here!  And as we grow into more markets, providing more market intelligence and hosting more events, strong project management becomes central to what we do – and now you can see more clearly why!

So, when you join one of our events, or read some of our content, know that it’s borne from an extensive and thoughtful process  that takes up much of the calendar year!  It’s much more than a single day event or a single news story.

And we think it’s what makes what we do at State of Reform so unique.