Saturday, August 28, 2021

Mission Accomplished: First CDSN Summer Institute Rocked!

 Yesterday concluded the first Canadian Defence and Security Network's Summer Institute.  The idea was to bring together people from across the defence/security community for a week's worth of professional development and networking.  This was one of the key ideas in our grant efforts, and it was great to see it realized after having to cancel last year's.  

We spent much time working on translating the event to being online for this summer's edition, and we are pretty pleased with how it turned out.  Instead of being in a conference room for many hours a day punctuated by meals and receptions and a tour or two, we met online for a few sessions a day.  The sessions ranged from traditional roundtables to breakout sessions to small group exercises to happy hours.  

The roundtables and breakout sessions focused on some of the threats facing Canada (climate change, extremism, and pandemics); public affairs and civil-military relations; personnel issues; a strategic foresight exercise; alliance politics; operations in Canada, north and not so north; figuring out what security means for different actors; thinking about data; and bridging the gap.  

Our presenters ranged from CDSN co-directors to academics elsewhere to government officials/practioners.  We had some media folks involved, but they could not attend due to the election.  We also had to shuffle things around a bit as some of the people who were supposed to speak were government officials with responsibilities including ...  Afghanistan.  The replacements were fantastic, providing very valuable perspectives.  The whole week was a Chatham House Rule event--no attribution of whatever was said--so the speakers felt comfortable being pretty open about stuff.  

The participants were mostly emerging scholars (PhD students, assistant professors), relatively junior military officers, and relatively junior policy officers with some folks who were less easy to categorize.  We had some folks from outside of Canada--US, UK, and Morocco.  Not sure that would have happened if we were doing things in person.  They were all very engaged and provided perspectives that taught me and other presenters a few things--when done right, learning is in two directions.

To facilitate networking, we had the participants split into the same small groups all week long and had them work on some creative thinking projects:

  • assigned a party, what would they write as that party's platform.  We had five groups, so five platforms.  And they were far more realistic than a certain one or two I have seen from the actual parties.
  • develop a DND/CAF media strategy.  This was pretty wide open, and they took it in very interesting directions
  • Three research agendas
    assigned a historically excluded community, each group was to develop strategies to make DND/CAF include that group better.
  • what should the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and/or DND's Mobilizing Insights in Security Defence programs set as their next funding priorities.

The small group exercises worked far better than we had hoped, as they did foster some connections within the groups AND generate some really sharp thinking.  

We had two happy hours.  We did a speed dating kind of thing where each person would meet several others and exchange a bit of info--their favorite defence/security issue, their favorite hobby, a pandemic survival strategy.  We didn't set up the zoom breakout rooms quite right so it didn't work as smoothly as we liked, but it generally allowed folks to meet others and get a better sense of the other folks in the community.  The second happy hour involved geoguessr (h/t to Lama for the suggestion), a game that plops a group somewhere in the world in googlestreetview, and you have to figure out what country you are in.  It was silly, serving as a good icebreaker.  I met a few people in my zoom room that I hadn't had a chance to speak with, so I chalk that up as a win.  

This event was very inspired by stuff I had seen at Bridging the Gap's weeklong summer seminars where I was a presenter a couple of times and also by stuff I had heard about SWAMOS and other similar enterprises.  I am very grateful to the CDSN HQ team who did so much of the work this summer to get this ready, to the presenters who did great with my vague instructions and were willing to stick around after the designated time (pretty much every session went long, which I took as a good sign), and to the participants for bringing it every day.  

One of the goals of the CDSN in general and this event in particular is to foster a sense of community for those who are in this defence/security enterprise.  I am pretty sure it worked, but only time will tell.  We will try to do things down the road to bring these people back together and to reinforce the bonds that were created.  And if we can do this in person, we will add more topics, including more speakers from beyond DND/CAF.

And now I can go back to preparing to teach the next batch of classes as, alas, summer is ending. 

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