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#GFS2015: Capturing and Disseminating Key Messages at Conferences through Young Professionals


The 2nd International Conference on Global Food Security  recently convened at Cornell University’s campus in Ithaca, NY from October 11-14, 2015, gathered over 660 participants from over 60 countries. Jointly organized by Columbia University’s Cheryl Palm and Cornell University’s Christopher B. Barrett, the conference focused on promoting research in agronomy, economics, nutrition, and other disciplines addressing key challenges affecting global food security.


During the preparation phases of the conference, the dissemination of key messages and themes arising from the rich multi-disciplinary conference discussion became a primary objective of the organizing committee. To promote the presentations, posters, and speeches made during the sessions, the conference organizers had an idea to gather a group of emerging leaders interested in food security to capture and report on overarching themes and potential future research topics addressed by the conference participants, primarily via social media.

The idea of a Junior Research Task Force (JRTF) was born. The JRTF was initiated not only to promote the conference through social media, but also to engage more young people in food security research.

The inclusion of the JRTF catalyzed a new generation of researchers involved in some facet of food security work to engage with more established professionals active in their field. The responsibilities of the 22-member team was to capture the key messages from the conference, report on paper presentations and speeches in real time (via Twitter), critically synthesize the research presented on the theme they followed in a short blog post, and also connect their own research interests to the conference themes. 


The real-time social media efforts of the team generated thousands of tweets, photos, and videos from the conference all filed under one conference hashtag (#gfs2015) connecting the presenters to other streams of research shown in the diagram below:

Overall, the social media efforts resulted in 3,000 tweets using the #gfs2015 hashtag from 267 contributors. The real-time following of conference presentations across all themes enabled the JRTF to pull together a quick synthesis of main ideas discussed at the conference, delivered in under 15 minutes as the final plenary session at the conference.

Another major outcome is blog post summaries of research presented under each of the conference themes written by each pair of JRTF members. These posts are being published on the Economics That Really Matters blog run by graduate students and other early career researchers within the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University and cross-posted at other blogs where JRTF members have affiliations. These posts enable individuals who were unable to attend the conference to know what transpired on key topics of interest and to have a lasting account of important research presented.

Furthermore, recognized academic experts and researchers leading current food security research contributed to conference outreach by joining in and creating Twitter accounts during the conference, including conference co-chair Chris Barrett (@cbb2cornell).

How to replicate

To engage young people in conferences and presentations, follow these steps:

  • Include plans for recruiting a task force early on to ensure that the individuals selected have a strong background in the conference’s subject matter and relevant social media and communications skills. Recruit far and wide… use social media as a tool!
  • Include a science communications training just before the conference begins to develop and refine the skills necessary for an effective task force. Where task force members are already active on social media, this time can be both a training and a discussion on best practices.
  • Have periodic check-ins to make sure that all the task force members are benefitting from lessons learned from their team members.
  • Ask conference organizers to actively promote and acknowledge the use of the conference hashtag so that the online discussion becomes more lively and not confined to the task force members.
  • Make sure the names and affiliations of task force members are included in any messaging. This should be a way to help promote their own contributions and good work too.
  • Use the social media and other networks already established by task force members as a way to get your messages out before, during, and after the conference. Your reach and impact will be much larger this way.

Finally, follow the  Economics That Really Matters  social media platforms , that is, the blog  and  Twitter  to be updated on the campus happenings. To create your own visualization of social media activity, visit here:

This blogpost was co-authored by  Michelle DeFreese a Mickey Leland International Hunger Fellow and Megan Sheahan a Research Support Specialist in Cornell’s Dyson School.