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Rio '92 Feedback - An Analysis of the Responses to a Questionnaire

Volume 2 Number 2 - July 1993

Etelka Leadlay

Rio '92 Feedback - An analysis of the responses to a questionnaire on the 3rd International Botanic Gardens Conservation Congress

The 3rd International Botanic Gardens Conservation Congress was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in October 1992, hosted by the Jardim Botƒnico do Rio de Janeiro and organized with Botanic Gardens Conservation International. It was attended by almost 500 delegates from many institutions worldwide, mostly botanic gardens. The Congress was a great success and was probably the largest international gathering of botanic garden personnel ever held. A detailed report on the Congress was published in the previous issue of this magazine (No. 2(1). The summary reports of the workshop meetings held during the Congress are also published, included in this issue of Botanic Gardens Conservation News.

Following the Congress, a questionnaire was sent to all the participants who attended. We are very grateful to all those who responded (over one-third of the participants replied). Their evaluations, comments and suggestions are very useful. We have now analysed the responses from the overseas participants but the questionnaires sent to the Brazilian delegates are still being received. They were sent out later as they required the covering letter be translated into Portuguese.

Some of the major findings were:

  • Over half of the respondents came to the Congress with the objective of making contacts and having informal discussions with other participants.
  • Over 60% said that this interaction with other people was the most valuable part of the Congress.
  • Other stated objectives of delegates were to learn (38%), identify strategies and seek out new ideas (31%).
  • About a quarter of the respondents specifically mentioned having an interest in South or Latin America.
  • Other objectives included visiting Brazil, supporting BGCI, learning about CITES and learning about the planning and organization of botanic garden conferences.

Most people indicated that they had met all their objectives in attending and found the learning (40%) and the workshops valuable (17%). Other valuable aspects mentioned were the creation or development of botanic garden policies and the strengthening of BGCI.

The pie-charts (Figures 1 & 2) shows that interaction with other participants - meeting people, making contacts and discussions - is the most valuable aspect of a congress. All the participants wanted to discuss the overall strategies and how that translated into practical solutions and how their work would be relevant. This was borne out by the interest in identifying strategies for plant conservation and the interest in the workshops.

The suggestions and comments received will be extremely useful in helping prerare for the 4th Congress. The suggestions included:

  • Those to do with the programme and the Congress administration, such as more invited speakers, an intensive poster session and earlier dispatch of the circulars
  • Those to do with publicity and public relations, such as advanced preparation for more fund-raising and name tags with institutions and
  • Those of a more theoretical or policy-based nature, such as participants needing resolutions they can follow or implement, a desire to reduce the divide between the 1st and 3rd worlds and the attendance of more delegates from Europe, Asia, Africa and U.S.A.

Happily, most delegates felt that the Congress organisation was generally acceptable, but many wishes to receive circulars earlier. The greatest disatisfaction was with the organisation of the post-congress tours, although the tour to the Amazon, fortunately, turned out to be excellent.

Concerning the scientific programme of the Congress, the first four general sessions were well received, particularly "Botanic gardens and plant resource conservation" and "National and regional botanic garden strategies for plant conservation". "Developing botanic garden seed banks" and "Botanic Gardens and practical horticulture" were of perceived as of less general interest to the participants but nevertheless their importance for botanic gardens was stressed. There was a call for more technical and research papers and more speakers from botanic gardens in these subjects. This is clearly an important point - we need more specific practical projects in botanic gardens which can be reported at the next congress to act as models for other institutions to follow.

"Education and environmental awareness", "Plant re-introduction and habitat restoration" and "Botanic Gardens and in situ conservation" generated a lot of interest. Several participants suggested that the session on "Plant records and documentation" provided a good overview on the subject and was very important, especially for those starting a botanic garden.

Several delegates thought the open discussion forum after the final Congress session was very interesting and helpful. It was suggested that there could be a round table with panellists which have been given questions earlier to consider. This view was supported by another suggestion that there should be more discussions and more workshop meetings.

Most participants greatly enjoyed the day spent visiting the Rio de Janeiro Botanic Garden. Tours were arranged for the delegates to see the Garden, public exhibits, the library, herbarium and laboratories. Demonstrations given at the Garden included ones on seed cleaning and storage and the conditions necessary for growing lichens.

At the Congress there were seven workshops, some of them running simultaneously. While there were criticisms of the workshops and their organization, most people found them worthwhile. 17% of the delegates thought they were one of the most valuable aspects of the Congress. It was suggested that workshops should have a definite aim and be more integral with the aims of the Congress. It was also noted that there needed to be preliminary meetings before the workshops to agree on the objectives and if necessary have more workshops. Undoubtedly the development of workshops as a forum for discussions will be carefully planned and explored for the 4th International Botanic Gardens Conservation Congress in Western Australia in 1995.