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WW2012: Down to business

2 November 2012 

Thursday is the day WW2012's educational sessions get underway.

Those sessions constitute what in the UK would be the core substance of the Conference, although as you might have gathered from my previous day's blogs, here there have already been many and varied meetings, training sessions and information exchanges in the past two days.

Anyway, with 60 educational presentations on offer, it's really only possible to give a flavour of the scope and diversity of the topics available, and since at any given time there are 12 concurrent presentations on the go it is literally impossible to report on the sessions in any meaningful way. But let me try to convey something of what goes on here.

The sessions on the programme are sorted under themes to try to help delegates decide on their options. But even so there are 14 themes, aligned with the IFMA core competences, which is still a lot of choice. And since at some times there can be two topics on the same theme on offer, that theming alone still leaves some difficult choices to be made. The most common areas covered are sustainability, leadership and strategy, project management, FM solutions, quality, and technology, for each of which there seems to be an option at every session.

There is an inevitable element of competition in trying to attract audiences as well (no one except Clint Eastwood aims to speak to empty chairs, after all), so some of the presentations boast interesting titles as a lure. Like Victorian novels, they often boast subtitles to explain what the idea is. Those that caught my eye either for their provocation or simply because they sounded intriguing, included:

* High Heels and Hard Hats - Women in FM (The Men Tell All)

* Why Smart Buildings are "Old School"

* The Role of Consequential Strangers to FM Organisations

* Communicate Less, Change More - alternative strategies for workplace change management

* Does this office make me look fat? - how Intuit is thriving on a space reduction diet

Equally there are a significant number of very prosaic titles, but it would be more than a little impolite to detail those here, so I will move on.

As you can imagine, organising all this activity requires not a little administrative effort. Corralling speakers, loading presentations, getting the PA systems in places - all that is the least of the problem that the organisers face.

There are sponsors to keep happy, multiple lunches, breakfasts, receptions and so on to arrange, the Expo to keep an eye on... But IFMA has hosted a good number of these events by now, and of course conventions are a big business in the USA anyway, so between IFMA and the convention centre everything runs pretty well.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, there is a strong reliance on member volunteers to provide support too, with a moderator chairing each presentation session, members staffing the information booth, bookshop and lots of support in cash and time from the local chapters for all the events.

Finally for today, something that puzzles me about America: in my hotel room is a large notice explaining that because San Antonio draws its water from an underground aquifer, and there has been a long term drought resulting in low water levels in that aquifer, water use is restricted and specifically no drinking water will be offered with meals unless specifically requested, which is unheard of here. Yet without fail at every single meal, water has been poured without my even being asked.

And that does seem symptomatic of the problem that too often here there is a disconnect between the intent and the action, as if willing something to happen was the same it actually occurring. In a country where the pickup truck adverts boast of "outstanding" 25 mpg fuel consumption and pickups have 5.7 litre engines, and where people complain because gas prices have risen to 56p a litre, the link between carbon footprint and climate change may have been made mentally, but actual behaviour has not yet changed to reflect that. Whether the increased severity and frequency of extreme weather events begins to change those behaviours remains to be seen, but we have to hope something does before long.

Dave Wilson is a director of specialist international FM consultancy Agents4RM. He is a former BIFM deputy chair and convenor of the CEN working group on benchmarking.

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