Workshop Logistics and Challenges

In this section, Dr. Sastry discusses many of the details that go into planning a workshop such as this one, including the need to have a plan B when something inevitably goes wrong.

Compiling the Literature

I assembled hundreds of readings for this course, and to pare down to that number, I had to read even more. Then I had to categorize them. That was a huge project, but I wanted to do it anyway. I picked topics aligned with my interests, and the list will be useful for others, but given the massive effort involved, I recommend instructors planning similar workshops select topics they care deeply about.

Connecting and Communicating with Experts

Another challenge was to line up a bench of experts in the field, and then design the method of using them in the class. I have a good Rolodex from my eight years of GlobalHealth Lab. I selected the group, wrote biographies for all of them, and compiled these into a document, which was a big job. Then we had to get on their schedules and figure out the logistics of how they would talk with students.

Students have no idea how much back-end work goes into [a course like this] …

 —Dr. Anjali Sastry

I had this whole group of experts on standby, but because I wanted the students to have choice, there were more meeting slots than were used, so some of the experts didn’t get called. Also because the workshop involved back-to-back teaching, I wasn’t able to let the experts know each morning whether they were going to be called or not. I had some help tracking and checking up from a student who was doing an independent study with me, but overall this was a logistical challenge that I didn’t solve as elegantly as I would have liked.

Planning for Meetings and Local Travel

Another logistical problem was that the students needed breakout rooms to call or Skype the experts or other contacts, which is important since some were not connecting with their experts in person. This isn’t easily available at the MIT Sloan School of Management, but we were lucky enough to find study rooms available that couldn't be booked in advance.

Some students had to travel elsewhere in Boston and Cambridge to meet their experts in person. I needed to make sure they thought through how they were going to get to, say, Harvard Medical School and back, knowing that the class wasn’t paying for travel. There are a lot of little steps and details like this to consider when planning for a workshop like this one.

Due Diligence and Plan Bs for Everything

Because we were dealing with an NGO and some important global health issues, it took an investment of work to get Sangath, our partner organization, to agree to work with us. Months before the class I had to write a formal proposal, they had to go their board with the information, go through checks, and the process took weeks. Luckily, I started early and had time, but it was a lot of work.

We had some technical issues in the classroom that we couldn’t get resolved in real time. Even though I had scheduled in advance that we would have live video calls, somehow we didn’t have the right setup in the room. I had to repeat every question twice, which was awkward. And then we had to think about what would happen if one of the experts didn't show up to the meeting? This happened to one of the teams. One of the experts wasn’t in his office at the designated time.

Students have no idea how much back-end work goes into every interaction, all the steps it takes to have a single call: there are memos, proposals, and meetings with tech support people. The same applies to in-person meetings. You always need a plan B for everything, especially when there are live interactions and live technology.