Written by Roy Winkelhuijzen
Transparency is a hot topic nowadays for policymakers and the private sector. Providing transparency is believed to lead to empowerment and is widely perceived as a prerequisite for sustainability, because how could you check this if the process is not transparent? However, transparency alone cannot solve all our problems, and sometimes an overdose of unclear information does not ameliorate the situation.
At 24-25 June 2016, the Environmental Policy Group (ENP) of Wageningen University organized the conference “Disclosing Sustainability – The Transformative Power of Transparency?” to create a platform to discuss all kinds of issues in the environmental sector related to the disclosing of information. As the question mark already suggested, the event promised to critically scrutinize the concept.
One of the organizers of the conference, Dr. Aarti Gupta, asked students during a lecture who would be interested to volunteer during the conference. A total of 11 students responded, of which 4 were part of SDD: Laura Schröder, Loris, Amy and I (Roy).
The week before the conference, all volunteers were invited to a meeting to get to know both each other and the organizers. Nila Kamil, a PhD student at the ENP group, led the meeting and told us what we could expect during the conference. Afterwards I think that everybody was looking forward to making the conference a success!
At the first day of the conference, all volunteers of the day came to Hotel De Wageningsche Berg early in the morning to help prepare the conference rooms for the beginning of the event. The hotel is very nicely located on the top of the “Wageningen mountain” and also the conference rooms looked good. The ENP chair group had done their best to make this an impactful event with important participants from our university – such as rector magnificus Arthur Mol; the chair of the FNP group Bas Arts; and chair of the ENP group Simon Bush – but also from abroad. In total there were 117 participants, coming from 28 different countries.
From 8:00-9:00 a.m. all the participants arrived, which were welcomed and registered by us volunteers. This was a busy moment, but it went very smoothly. After this, there was a plenary opening followed by the start of smaller sessions. For two days, plenary sessions in the big room were alternated with smaller panel sessions in several other rooms. The themes that were covered were:
- Transparency, accountability and empowerment in global environmental governance
- Transparency and traceability in commodity chains
- Citizen-generated and citizen-centered transparency
A schedule was made by Nila to inform us where we needed to be. At all sessions there had to be at least one volunteer present to assist in preparing the room and solve any problems with powerpoints. The volunteers also served as an appreciated point of contact for all participants and hotel staff.
Thanks to Nila’s flexibility there were also opportunities to switch among each other if you wanted to attend a specific session. The wide variety of topics led to surprising insights on the issue of transparency and made sure that everybody found sufficient sessions of his or her interest.
One of the highlights of the conference for me was the dinner we all enjoyed at the hotel on Friday night, and the lively discussions that followed afterwards. Special thanks also to Graham Smith, who enjoyed many remaining volunteers with his funny jokes, alternated with more serious stories about the Brexit that had just been announced that day.
Looking back, I think it has been a very valuable experience for me to volunteer at this conference. Not only did I broaden my knowledge on the topic of transparency, but I also gained a behind-the-scenes experience about what it all entails to organize a scientific conference. All in all, I had a lot of fun with all the volunteers and participants!