Buzz Meeting: Convening the MH Field

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The first phase of the Maternal Health Task Force ends officially October 31st at its birthplace, EngenderHealth, and the second phase begins November 1st 2011 at its new home, the Harvard School of Public Health. (A six-month extension of the first phase has been built in to facilitate a smooth transition between the MHTF@EH and the MHTF@HSPH.)

Given that the core mandate of the MHTF is to convene the maternal health field and catalyze efforts, we decided to do away with the traditional end-of-project meeting format, and instead bring together experts and partners to examine the state of the maternal health field and debate ways to hasten progress. The MHTF “Buzz” Meeting was conceived as an extension to the highly popular MHTF Buzz emails that we have been distributing to an ever-growing listserv over the past 3 years (register here). Those emails have profiled important new knowledge and stimulated new thinking, much of which has been expanded upon in the daily MHTF Blog.

As its first 3 years winds down, the MHTF found that the time is ripe to consider new ways of sustaining and accelerating existing momentum toward eradicating preventable maternal death and disability in our lifetimes. This Buzz Meeting was designed to foster out-of-the-box thinking on those goals among established MH experts; a new cohort of committed young professionals; and leaders from allied fields like transportation, mobile-health, and family planning. (See who was there, here)

We set up a 2½ day think-tank retreat at a conference center just outside of New York City. We invited 4 colleagues to pose 4 burning questions; the 5th question was brainstormed through the course of the meeting and debated on the last day. We labeled our questioning colleagues provocateurs, rather than presenters; instead of presenting data and findings, they were asked to provoke discussion and debate around a series of questions. (See the meeting agenda, here)

Throughout the provocateurs’ 3-hour sessions, leaders of the projects that the MHTF has supported were on hand to ground the provocateurs’ provocations in practical realties. They presented the challenges their projects’ started out to address, and the solutions they found along the way.

We anticipated that the outputs of the Buzz Meeting could be new strategies and action plans. Or, maybe, better questions. Either would constitute success for us. Our intention was not to re-invent the maternal health field in 2½ days. Rather, we were aiming to push envelopes and stimulate new thinking.

The MHTF will synthesize and analyze the discussions in a paper, which will be widely distributed in the next few months. Meanwhile, we encourage you to review the provocateurs‘ provocations (available soon), the background reading they suggested (below), and flip through the photos that capture the interest and commitment all of the Buzz Meeting participants demonstrated in their time with us.

Background reading suggested by the MHTF Buzz Meeting provocateurs: