My Takeaways from Planet under Pressure

Looking back on Planet under Pressure I can’t help feeling a touch dazed. What an extraordinary event to have moderated at, with the next Earth Summit, Rio +20 looming on the horizon. The sheer scale of the conference was mind-boggling, as three thousand people – scientists, NGOs, policy makers, a sprinkling of business folk and about a hundred journalists – descended on London’s Excel Centre from the four corners of the world. Yet somehow the level of debate was mostly high, the boiled-down, ten minute-long presentations were the most memorable I’ve encountered at many a conference, and the electronic questions, despite my initial misgivings, were a triumph…

A short digression on the use of social media and electronic questions, if I may. With time of the essence at such a vast event, the Planet under Pressure organisers decided early on to abandon conventional questions from the floor – and rely entirely on electronic questions sent in via Twitter, or text/sms, or directly through our live webstreaming page. And it worked! Reams of questions poured in: well over five hundred over the four day event. That, plus the ability to scan the questions on my ipad, gave me a far better chance to connect the audience to our plenary speakers and panellists than if I had simply called on random contributions from the floor. It also meant that a further three thousand or so people joining the conference via the live webstream could also participate by sending in their comments remotely. Best of all was: “no mic hogging from the floor”, as one tweet so memorably put it.

Other personal highlights: Sandra Diaz’s beautiful slides illustrating her presentation on biodiversity in peril; Lord Giddens of LSE’s humane wisdom; Bina Agarwal from Delhi University’s plea for small scale projects involving women; Richard Wilkinson’s persuasive evidence on how equality, not growth, is what delivers wellbeing; Oran Young and Maria Ivanona, who did the seemingly impossible and made governance interesting, even imperative. But the biggest surprise was Anne Glover, chief scientific advisor to the European Commission – was there ever such a blunt, outspoken, kick ass advisor as she?

Those are some of my personal takeaways from the crazy jamboree that was Planet Under Pressure. Please take a moment to add your own comments below – how was it for you?

PS: And I made a whole family of new friends too. From the IGBP: Wendy Broadgate, Owen Gaffney, Reed Evans, Hilarie Cutler, and my ace Twitter guru, Andrew Merrie. Also, Priya Shyamsunder, Felix Dodds and Nigel Cameron, not to mention the incomparable duo, Lidia Brito and Mark Stafford-Smith, plus always smiling, ever so helpful, John Ingram.


13 responses to “My Takeaways from Planet under Pressure”

  1. Purvish says:

    Hey Nisha,

    Thx for hosting the event. You awesomely handled and superbly moderated. Was a pleasure watching the event over the web and twitter was just the perfect fit to make it more addictive. Despite a time difference of 5 hours, I was for all the 4days at London Time (wondering at 7pm about lunch).

    All the speakers made an ever lasting impression and left lots to think and learn. The panelists with their experience and lightning fast brain made every discussion engrossing. You were strikingly good at getting the “punch” of every discussion with your very best one-liners (am sure it was less than 140).

    From whatever i managed to see my favs were Giddens, Wilkinson, Lidia and Ramphele but I missed Anne Glover. Every speaker or a panel discussion i missed i just wished i should have recorded the entire event (big lesson for me).

    I really would go with (read retweet here) Nigel’s tweet in reference to you : “Hope they’ve got her for Rio +20”

    Look forward to seeing more of you at all possible events.

    Many Congratulations for the successful PUP event and welcome to the serendip twitterland… see you there via @purvishdiwanji


    Thanks Nisha!
    It was a pleasure watching the event over the web and twitter! Congratulations for the successful Conference of London !
    Thanks to Students of UK !they translated the problematic of my students here in UNIVERSITY OF M’SILA FROM ALGERIA; Lidia Brito and Mark Stafford-Smith; Sandra Diaz for her presentation on biodiversity in peril; Lord Giddens of LSE’s humane wisdom; Bina Agarwal from Delhi University’s plea for small scale projects involving women; Richard Wilkinson’s; Oran Young and Maria Ivanona; Anne Glover, chief scientific advisor to the European Commission and others names !.

  3. Nisha says:

    So glad you and your students could join Planet under Pressure from Algeria. Thanks for taking the trouble and for your nice comment.

  4. Hmm, I left a comment earlier and when I pressed the button for post everything froze. So out there in the ether are profound and lost words.

    Less profound, no doubt, but here are some more. Since I am no Malthusian, I do not believe their number to be finite.

    1. I must say I liked the integration of text and Twitter questions, and we had a moderator agile enough to cope. Same time, no big showdowns with experts being challenged form the floor. In general, remarkably little online engagement, I thought (given that there were 3,000 allegedly science people in the room).

    2. Which brings me to your comment about the “level of debate” being high. Well, the level of presentation undoubtedly was, and the short presentations were a good way of keeping the flow going even if they tended to be repetitive (as well as endlessly hortatory and, ahem, sorry, I must add, too frequently Utopian). Did we have any actual serious debate? Panel exchanges yes, though panels are designed to smooth disagreement. And as to moderation, no Paxman moments, shall we say, or did I miss?

    3. Which brings us to the point I think was key, that the meta questions were raised rarely and by few, though the fact Anthony Giddens made his comment about alternative universes put the meta question squarely on the table.

    Thanks, Nisha!

  5. Andy Morse says:

    I really enjoyed the conference – I do not normally like such large meetings apart from catching up with old friends. I had ample opportunity to catch-up and seemed to have a never ending list of side meetings. Our session linking Humanitarian Agencies to Climate Data was packed and the inactive session we ran worked even with three large groups. What is more we got a point or two onto the declaration which really made things worth while.

    I enjoyed most of the plenary session talks and some of the panel discussions which did not always work.

    I agree with Nigel above the social media interaction was a good idea but the take up was relatively low. Outside Twitter there was virtually nothing on Google Plus and very little on Facebook.

    And finally Nisha you did a great job keeping things running, your comments and suggestions and keeping us on our toes.

  6. Nisha says:

    Take your point about the panel discussions, Nigel and Andy. But believe me I’ve sat through so many bland-as-cream-cheese discussions, these were quite refreshing by comparison. Main problem with the plenaries was the lack of time for follow-through and to make unexpected connections. A parallel session panel on Trade and Sustainability, organised by the WTO was altogether more satisfying, with plenty of time to test and explore ideas and lots of room for dissent from and probing by the audience. It was fun for everyone in the room, including me the moderator. And that’s not always the case.

  7. Thanks for your response, Nisha, and Andy for your post.

    Seems to me that big international conferences now need world-class social media strategy and strategists and whatever else Elsevier provided (and a great job was done of the nuts and bolts) this seemed to fall between stools. A clear aim of the event should have been, say, 500 bloggers and 1000 tweeters in the room, including representation from very nation at the event and in all key languages.

    I have a couple times moderated plenaries at World Congress (it’s a company) health/tech events in the States where everyone was issued devices and one could poll the audience at any time. Made it all yet more complex to be the ringmaster but would have been a fun add to the PuP and any effort where diversity of view, changing opinion, uncertainty as to what people do and don’t think/understand, are major elements.

    But that takes us to one base issue: whether an event is really seen as process or as an end-point. I think that is not clear in this entire series, which is why diversity of view is being kept somewhat in check . . . .


  8. Nisha says:

    You’re right, Nigel, how to better integrate social media into such events, to help them reach out to the wider world, is the next challenge. Re interactive hand-held devices for the audiences, they seem to be falling out of fashion: very popular a few years ago, no longer so.

  9. owen gaffney says:

    It is great reading all these comments. We have a lot to learn from others on how to do social media bigger and better We wanted to do something experimental, we wanted to try to engage the world. We had a limited budget and limited time but we did our best and the comments from Chergui in Algeria make it all worthwhile. (And how old is social media? Five years? We are all still learning!)

    The last time the global change programmes held a conference on this scale was in 2001 in Amsterdam. As we prepared for this conference I looked back on the feedback from that conference. One delegate noted that it was shocking that only those in the Amsterdam conference hall understood the profound impact humanity was having on the planet. A goal for Planet Under Pressure was to try to ensure we engaged far more than those in the room. Attracting people like Nigel and Andrew Revkin really helped.

  10. Hi Nisha,

    I agree the questions by social media worked well, though one of my Twitter followers felt that the questions chosen were too similar – nothing challenging the overall theme and aims of the conference, nothing seriously provocative (I will try to dig out his question).

    Many colleagues and non-experts hugely appreciated the web stream and there was a lot of Twitter discussion around the plenaries.

    I live tweeted the communication session on Wednesday and this led to many interesting conversations both offline and on. Most people were very supportive of the communication points raised, though some criticised our (my) approach to engaging with sceptics. I blogged about it, which has sparked long discussions…!

    So #planet2012 extends well beyond the original week.


    Tamsin (@flimsin, climate modeller)

  11. Hey Nisha,

    really nice thoughts on #Planet2012. I really enjoyed working with you and was very relieved that the question system worked out so smoothly. It is really great when you try something new and it manages to work out! I think it proves that digital does not have to mean detached and that the quality of the discussion and engagement can be enhanced by using all the amazing technology we have available rather than relying on ‘safe’ options that are in fact severely limited. I am looking forward to getting all the questions up online as I think that people will find it valuable to be able to track the interesting themes that came up during the conference. It was a pleasure and I wish you all the best!


  12. Julian Rush says:

    Hi Nisha

    You’re so right about the use of social media at conferences like this. It was a real pleasure to work alongside you, presenting ‘The Daily Planet’ news show for the web stream – thanks for all the plugs! We used a few questions in the news show, though not as many as I’d have liked, perhaps because the format didn’t quite allow enough time with just 3 or 4 minutes for each interview.

    But PUP has blazed a trail for the future and demonstrated conclusively just how effective social media can be. Well do ne to you and the whole team.


  13. Kaisa Kosonen says:

    Hi Nisha,

    A belated thank you for your energetic, sharp and engaging moderation of the conference. It really made a difference!

    I was also surprised how smoothly the interaction with electronic questions went. Clearly the right choice and definitely saved time. Talking about which, yes, the panels in the plenary would have benefited from some more time. I agree that the WTO discussion worked well and I suppose what helped – in addition to more time – was the narrower focus.

    I’m happy that the PuP webcasts are still online. It was interesting to watch the Daily Planet Editions afterwards and get some snapshots of the many sessions I had missed. That was my personal frustration, that there were so many interesting sessions taking place in parallel…


    P.S. Glad you liked my blog. Thank you for tweeting it!

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