The George Washington University and USAID have partnered to host the annual Global Health Mini-University for 16 years running. Organized by USAID’s Global Health Professional and Organizational Development (GHPOD II) program, which EnCompass now leads, this annual forum educates participants about emerging and best practices in global health and brings together students, professionals, and experts for learning, engagement, and networking. The agenda for this year’s Mini-University, on September 14, included more than 60 sessions on 10 technical tracks, from maternal, neonatal, and child health to global health security.

EnCompass is fortunate to have viewed the Mini-University from many different angles over the years. This year, in addition to managing GHPOD II, members of our team attended sessions as presenters and participants. After the Mini-University, we spoke to organizers, presenters, and participants, seeking their reflections on what makes the event so important to the global health community.

Planning helps bring the right people together

GHPOD II Program Director Bob Rice credits the Mini-University’s success year after year to the team’s commitment to detailed planning. One month after each Mini-University ends, the six-member core planning team begins preparing for the next year. They work with global health experts to select sessions, use the GHPOD II listserv to put out a call for speakers, and tackle logistics and other details as early as possible.

All of this planning is key to bringing together the unique combination of participants who will express their passion, expertise, and curiosity during Mini-University sessions. Whether they’re students, young professionals, or experts, everyone comes with an open mind and an eye toward developing relationships and learning about truly innovative ideas for global health.

This year’s Mini-University included a networking session instead of a closing speaker. This gave participants time reflect on the sessions and continue learning from one another in a more social setting.

Showcasing and modeling innovation

About 6 months before the Mini-University, GHPOD II circulates a call for session proposals. Each proposal is dedicated to one technical track. Experts in each technical track then score and rank the proposals, guaranteeing the quality and relevance of each year’s topics.

Another important selection criterion is the participatory nature of each session. The planning team prioritizes sessions with time built in for participants to engage with the presenters and with one another. For instance, when EnCompass Evaluation Specialist Kelsey Simmons presented on two newborn health case studies, her session included a portion for attendees to talk about their experiences and ask questions about working on newborn health projects. A richer discussion emerged because participants could share their own stories and give immediate feedback.

As an event that focuses on the latest advances in global health, the Mini-University itself models innovation. “Every year we try to do something innovative,” Bob Rice said, “whether it’s the livestream we introduced a few years ago or the Mini-University app, which has been a hit.” This year, 26 percent of participants attended via the livestream, which enabled people from 19 U.S. states and more than 20 other countries to attend virtually.

Soliciting feedback and taking it to heart

The GHPOD II team understands how important it is to hear from program attendees. Participants were asked to complete an online survey designed to solicit feedback about the overall event, about specific sessions, and about the livestream experience. With more than 1,000 attendees at this year’s Mini-University, the GHPOD II team was able to collect a wealth of feedback, including suggestions for future sessions, that they will use to inform next year’s planning.

The core planning team also reads participant tweets about Mini-University sessions and considers these social media messages to be another valuable form of feedback.

Tweet from participant

After all, just as engagement is the most important social media metric, participation is a primary measure of success for the Mini-University.

This year’s Mini-University was an inspiring and informative event, with more than 93 percent of respondents stating they would attend again. The event is free and open to the public, so we’re looking forward to seeing all of you there in 2018!

Image and video c/o GHPOD II