As the National LGBT Task Force's 2017 Creating Change conference opens in Philadelphia Jan. 18, it will be considering suggestions from a Chicago-based consultancy.
The Task Force, in April 2016, hired Chicago-based Morten Group to review the logistics of the conference, which had encountered substantial strategic difficulties when the event took place in Chicago in January 2016, among them a chaotic protest at a reception for the pro-Israel organization A Wider Bridge and the invitation of officials from Immigration Customs Enforcement to speak; those officials were subsequently asked not to attend.
Among the suggestions for the Task Force included in the report are "reimagining" the conference, including using a gap year in calendar year 2018, when, the report suggests, the Task Force should undergo extensive strategizing for the conference; succession plans for organization leadership; strategies for safety measures for conference attendees; a more comprehensive reviewand reductionof conference programming; and a new financial model for the conferences. The report also proposes increased media and marketing for both the conference and the Task Force, among other suggestions.
Task Force officials said they incorporated some of the goals, including programming review and reduction, expanded safety strategies and increased marketing and media use, into the planning of the 2017 Philadelphia event. Other goals will be implemented for a longer-term strategy.
Morten Group collected data from more than 400 stakeholders by way of an online survey, interviews and focus groups. Contributions to the report were made by Keisha Farmer-Smith, Vincent Pagan, Leela Singh, Mary F. Morten and Nichelle L. Jenkins.
"The insights we've gained from this review are needed now more than ever, because of the political situation we are up againstwhich is like nothing we've dealt with before," said Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey in a Dec. 12 column in The Advocate. "The review described several core strengths of the conference: the breadth of issues that affect the lives of LGBTQ people; its forward-thinking approach; its emphasis on intersectionality; and the experiential way attendees build their knowledge, skills, and strategies through their interactions with advocates and activists from across the country."
The report said that some of those core strengths of Creating Change could paradoxically become weaknesses, noting that scope and size were mentioned as necessary considerations by many respondents.
"There is concern that the conference in its current form has become too large to be managed in the same way it was in the past, and too long and expensive to serve anyone adequately or safely," said the report. "Respondents also suggested the size of the conference is negatively affecting the quality of the content, recommending that programming be more issue focused, streamlined and reflective of the Task Force's priorities rather than trying to cover every issue at Creating Change."
The conference's finances have been a continuing concern as well. The Task Force dedicates general operating funds to sustaining Creating Change, which has incurred substantial losses in past years. Survey respondents were also concerned that some potential participants cannot afford to participate, but financial assistance to them is costly and can potentially put the conference even further in the red.
"Ultimately, Creating Change must choose to be either an expensive or affordable conferenceit can no longer feasibly be both," said the report.
"The stakes are very high for our ability to work together as activists, as we prepare the 29th Creating Change Conference," said Carey in her column. "… Our community has faced horrible odds and has been under siege before, and we know that we rise to the challenges by being at our creative and strategic best."