Center for Community Futures
Phone: 510-339-3801
Fax: 510-339-3803
Mailing Address:
Center for Community Futures
P.O. Box 5309
Berkeley, CA  94705
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Conference and Meeting Planning Services


Meeting Planning Software -- CAPERS   

Conference and Meeting Planning Services

The Center for Community Futures assists trade associations and other organizations produce excellent meetings and conferences. Our customers have included:

bulletNational Association of Community Action Agencies (NACAA)
bulletHousing California
bulletCalifornia Community Economic Development Association (CCEDA)
bulletNational Congress for Community Economic Development (NCCED)
bulletNational Economic Development and Law Center   (NED&LC)
bullet California/Nevada Community Action Partnership (Cal/Neva)
bullet... And many more.

The Center for Community Futures is a team of experts in comprehensive meeting planning and on-site management. 

Whether your meeting, conference, convention, seminar, or workshop is for 5 people or 5,000, we can help you with:

bulletMeeting-planning methods
bulletSite selection/contract negotiation
bulletAdult learning theory
bulletTime blocking and event flow
bulletPre-conference and post-conference workshops
bulletSocial events, banquets, receptions
bulletSetting prices
bulletBudgeting for profit
bulletFund raising strategies
bullet Organizing:
bulletSpeakers, trainers
bulletAudio visual equipment
bulletChild care
bulletAudio/video recording
bulletMembership visits to appointed officials and elected officials

bulletWriting and printing brochures, sales letters, ads

bulletOn-line advance registration
bulletDoor signs and posters
bulletTent cards
bulletInvitation letters
bulletParticipant lists
bulletProgram design/printing
bulletThank-you letters


On-Site Management:
bulletFood and beverage
bulletMeeting rooms, sleeping rooms, and other facility arrangements

~ The Center for Community Futures will help you expertly plan and manage all the aspects of your event – satisfaction guaranteed. ~

Call, write, fax, or e-mail us for more information.

Use Your Meeting Planning to Help Keep Your Field Vibrant and Growing

By Jim Masters
November, 2004

    How can you keep your field vibrant and growing?  In a mature industry with proven technologies, it can be a challenge to recognize, try out and incorporate new ideas.  This paper (a) describes some of the challenges, (b) speculates on the causes of those challenges, and (c) proposes some remedies.  The purpose is to create a learning system that keeps your field vibrant and growing by systematic interaction with people who have knowledge that is relevant to your field.

    All ideas, services, products, programs and social systems wear out.  Some people attribute this to entropy where everything in the universe is always dis-integrating, but there are more specific and human causes than that for the long, slow slide that affects most strategies and organizations.  It takes anywhere from 20 to 40 years for an approach to lose its legitimacy.  There are several “causes” of this.  One is the inevitable consolidation of ideas over time.  Even if we “let 1,000 flowers bloom” most die from lack of nourishment and eventually, like a field of sunflowers, a dominant idea establishes itself and crowds out the rest. 

    The slide may be due to changes in the environmental factors that nurtured the original strategy (a high-school diploma is no longer enough to get a good job), because the strategy largely succeeds (civil rights) or because the as the strategy operates it accumulates reveals flaws in the original construct such as contradictions and blank spots or gaps.  In science, this is documented by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  He shows exactly how “normal science” identifies the errors and omissions in an accepted theory, and when the weight of evidence eventually undercuts the existing theory – then the future overpowers the past and there is a paradigm shift.

    When a field of practice is new there are many new people who arrive on the scene.  As time passes, a social system forms and a hierarchy is created.  The people at the top become the defenders of the revealed truth (the dominant paradigm of thought) and gradually lose interest in other ideas as their own success increases.  This reinforces the established order and adds legitimacy to the dominant paradigm.

     The number of new ideas is fairly constant, since all knowledge systems grow at the edges about 3% a year. It is like watching the Mickey Mouse balloon getting blown up, larger and larger.  Eventually Mickey’s ears, nose and eyes are visible only to those on that side of the balloon, and a whole new sub-field is born.  Bureaucracy really does creep as one idea splits into two ideas, and one data element wants four more data elements, and one form becomes two.  

     Discontinuities accumulate.  The difference between the rhetoric and the actual delivery begins to grow.  As Peter Drucker tells us in his book Innovation and Entrepreneurship, eventually one of several things will happen.  One is that the system loses credibility and goes into decline; another is that a competitor slices into the void created by the discontinuity; another is that a new theory and approach is developed that reconciles the discontinuities with reality; or – the system simply collapses (remember the Soviet Union?).

     About 85% of all ‘new’ ideas go nowhere, and about 15% are the seeds of the future.  What happens is that the people at the top DO NOT lose the ability to assess or sort ideas, but they do they lose interest in considering them.  Or, they downplay the importance of the discontinuities or discredit them because they challenge the dominant paradigm.  If the only people who are in charge of screening ideas are at the very top of the social system and they are also the gatekeepers for the future, then we can tell what their preferred future will look like – it will look like the present (or the past).  They will tend to select ideas that area congruent with the ideas that made them successful.  Such is human nature and this is not a bad thing because it creates stability in a system, but it is something that must be balanced with the admission of new and unsettling ideas if we are going to keep a system open and alive.

    Occasionally, ideas that were in good currency and then fade from prominence come around again for a process of renewal.  This happens in cycles that are about 10 to 20 years long.  These include: planning, community involvement, comprehensive services, board leadership, staff leadership, computerization, and evaluation.  All of these have been through two or three cycles in human development.

     So, in the past few years, community action agencies re-discover maximum feasible participation and now call it community engagement; E&T re-discovers comprehensive services can call it one-stop shops, and publicly funded social services agencies re-discover common intake forms with -- hold onto your hat -- common intake forms.  Most administrators and managers can fill their day with this, but how much of it is progress and how much of it is just running the machinery? 

     Where do truly new ideas come from?  They usually come from outsiders, from people at the edges of our boundaries including the newcomers who are just coming in, and occasionally from insiders (usually old people) who have nothing to lose.

Outsiders. The largest source is from outside -- from competing domains, from universities and think tanks.  If funders are smart they have a permanent program development, evaluation, dissemination strategy. This used to be common in the Federal government, in DOL, HUD and HEW. OEO had the best program development shop in existence.  The Federal role is largely gone.

    The Ford Foundation, Casey, Enterprise, HAC, CfED, Aspen, NWAF and the other intermediaries have moved into this void and are the primary source of new ideas.  Think tanks like Brookings, AEI, Urban Institute and Heritage are fountains of new ideas.

    People at the edge of the domain.  They may be trying to push it outward or trying to get in, but you can feel them pushing!

    Newcomers.  They are the people who are brand new to the system and see it with “fresh eyes”

    Insiders.  They come from inside, from the evaluations that prove that things are not working and from that annoying staff person who keeps pointing out the flaws in the existing system.  This may be the junior staffer or the people who are really old -- like the board member who retired from their real job years ago.  These people are no longer vested in defending the status quo.  They have nothing to lose by bring critical of the existing system.

     So now we are ready to allocate “workshop time" or “clock time” to the various types of data, information, knowledge and wisdom that will be presented to participants in the ongoing system of learning.

1.  In a normal year when the system is not under threat and it is more-or-less business-as-usual, about 70% of the speakers and clock-time should be on current program operations, regulatory issues, management issues, and continuous improvement of existing strategies.  This is “maintenance” training.  This is the typical panel-of-peers, the leading practitioners of the accepted strategies.

2.  The remaining 30% should be allocated among the topics listed below.  The amount of time on each depending on your own assessment of what is most needed to open things up, keep things moving, present a new idea or bring something to a close.

A.  Environmental scan.  Changes in the (1) economy (including science and technology, globalization), (2) social values and (3) demographics.  One or more of these three are the drivers underlying almost all change in a society.  Only about half of the change in these three areas gets picked up in public policy, and the lag-time is anywhere from 5 to 20 years.  What is coming at you or has changed to create new threats or opportunities?  Which of these changes will most likely affect public policy?  What is happening in the world?  How do you weight the probability of these new things having a real effect?

B. Domain Boundary Review.  What separates employment and training from vocational education or other skill training?  What are the overlaps, incursions, or softening of boundaries that create opportunities for expansion into another domain or that make you vulnerable?  Is one-time drug use by a juvenile a criminal justice issue, a health issue, an education issue or a parenting issue?  What can be re-classified into your domain?  Or, booted out?  Where are some of the places we can look?

 C.  Contrarian Perspectives.  The people who look inward and say “we should be doing it exactly the opposite of the way we are doing it.”  They are also the people who point out the discontinuities between the rhetoric and the performance.  “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and he feeds himself forever” is one of those sayings that human development professionals love to quote.  Yet the facts are that we give away 40 billion dollars worth of fish (food programs) plus 16 billions dollars worth of fish (rental assistance) plus 12 billion dollars worth of fish (cash assistance) plus 50 billion dollars worth of fish (health care) every year, and – how much do we spend teaching people how to fish?  Not quite as much.  Peter Drucker (Innovation and Entrepreneurship again) tells us exactly how the discontinuity eventually results in (1) a competitors filling the gap, (2) loss of credibility in the system, or (3) the collapse of the house of cards.  We need people who are not afraid to tell us the problems that we have now – and to call upon us to change.

D.  Visionaries and Next Generation Scenarios.  These are the people who look outward and try to anticipate what the world will look like or should look like ten or twenty years from now.  What are some of our options?

     The creation of a vibrant agenda is not something that a staff person can do, and it will not happen if the board delegates primary responsibility to a consultant or to an association staff person.  A conference planning system and committee needs to create a basic structure for a normal year that is 70% maintenance activity and 30% re-invention activity.  In a year when there are major new environmental challenges, the ratio might shift to a higher percentage of re-invention.


    Conference planning should begin at least a year in advance.

     The planning committee should include (1) a few prominent insiders, (2) a newcomer, (3) an old codger, and (4) an outsider.  Assign a staff person to provide logistical support, take notes, to organize the meetings and schedule the conference calls.

     Ideally, the planning group will also meet at the end of the conference to debrief what worked and what did not work, and to set up the process for the coming year. 

For help with your meeting planning, please e-mail Jim at or call 510-339-3801.


Center for Community Futures. 
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