NOTA 2019 Conference Preview

What is the theme of this year’s conference?

I am giving a flavour of this year’s conference on behalf of the whole conference committee (board members, branch representatives, our general manager, and admin team) and I would like to record my thanks to them all for their enthusiasm, focus, hard work and humour!

This year’s conference is based on the theme of “Sexual Abuse in Systems” and responses to this.  This is picked up in some of the keynotes but particularly in the workshops and seminars that are selected. 

As with most of our recent conferences, we try to include content of interest to our members working with people across the developmental spectrum, in direct practice, in academic and training roles, policy and operational disciplines.

 Why was this theme chosen?

Conference themes are chosen by the planning committee to reflect either feedback on the previous year’s conference from members and delegates or issues and concerns that have emerged in our professional community or the media over the last year (and sometimes both of these).

It is hard not to sound like we’re nagging since we know that as well as being great fun, conference attendance can be emotionally and cognitively taxing and it can be a real effort to give written feedback at the end of a session.  However, workshop and keynote presentation evaluation forms are really influential in evaluating what has or has not worked and planning for the next time.  Thanks to all of you who take the time to give us your thoughts and ideas, whether briefly or in more detail.  We do read and consider them all (usually in October after the conference) and it can be quite a challenge to reconcile feedback which often reflects vastly different reactions to the same presentation!

For me, this underlines the essence of what NOTA conference is about – producing a response from our active engagement with information that can either reinforce our existing knowledge and practice or challenge us to think and act differently. Both processes are valid and affirming regardless of our length of experience.  The conference themes try to offer something for both seasoned professionals with established reputations and for those at the early stages of their careers.

Tell us about the selection of keynotes this year

We consider feedback from members attending all of the NOTA conferences (including Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as well as the international conference) and regional training events.  We also “sample” speakers (we never actually steal ideas wholesale of course!) and gather format ideas from other conferences in related areas and professional journals.  We also include those who have had a major contribution to practice in our field and are “back by popular demand” for those who may not have had the opportunity to hear them before. 

This year we have 2 presentations reworked for NOTA based on ATSA keynotes: Professor Karl Hanson, a familiar presenter but this time in a more informal conversation (although if his co-presenter, our own Emeritus Professor Don Grubin, has his way this might be more informal than any of us had planned!).  Please submit your ideas for “Questions for Karl” and send in the questions you’ve been desperate to ask – anonymously or otherwise (  Professor Erick Janssen presents his research on emotion and sexuality, offering much food for thought and quite a few giggles.  

Professor Theresa Gannon, with her recent meta-analysis data, addresses the vexing theme of the effectiveness of the work we do in our intervention systems and the dent in our collective confidence over the last 2 years.

On Friday morning we will be challenged to consider the ways in which our cross-jurisdiction risk management processes might be affected by the current changes in our political systems in a panel discussion involving a range of police representatives (we are not being incompetently obtuse in our lack of programme details; these are withheld for security reasons).  In a great tradition of both challenging our assumptions and minding our humanity, the closing presentation is by Geese Theatre Company (many of you know by now what they say about the front row in a Geese presentation…….).

Finally, keynotes are chosen to showcase excellence in research, practice and policy development in the regions hosting the conference.  Our Thursday presentations include content from both Belfast (Professor Anne-Marie McAlinden offers her compassionate views on sexual behaviour in peer relational systems) and the Republic of Ireland (Carol Carson, Rhonda Turner, and Gareth McGibbon discuss ideas based on extensive experience of working sensitively in systems dealing with children and young people).  We are also particularly grateful to Maria Quinlan for introducing us to the ideas and experiences resulting in the photo exhibition that she is sharing with us during conference.

What is the role and involvement of the regional branches for Conference?

There is a “standing committee” comprising the Conference Chair, NOTA Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect, the General Manager and our absolutely fabulous conference administrators Andi Wightman and Adelle Henson (what these two impressive women don’t know about organisation isn’t worth knowing….). 

However, the conference would not happen each time without the involvement of branches and branch reps as part of the planning committee – from the initial suggestions for the venue to leadership on regional speakers and day chairs, involvement in breakout selections, organisation of the public engagement events and even the choice of sandwich fillings!  I absolutely don’t have “favourites” when it comes to working with branches but my sincere thanks go to Paul Stephenson, Marcella Leonard, Eileen Finnegan and Julie Smyth for making this year’s process a complete joy.  All I can say is that these are the people organising our Thursday evening social event – be there or regret it!

How are breakout presentations selected?

For the programme selection meetings, held in the early part of the year after the submission closing date, in addition to the conference planning committee above, we also include the chairs of the Research and Training committees (Mitch Waterman and Roger Kennington). 

We have been particularly fortunate this year to have had a high number of submissions from which to choose and we have tried to include as many of these as possible with the room numbers available to us.  We have included more joint presentations this year in order to try to include as much content as we can.  We are really grateful to everyone who does send a submission because we know it takes considerable effort, time and bravery in putting your ideas forward.  The reasons for not accepting a submission tend to be around the number of submissions on similar themes and the need to balance each year’s programme as described above. 

We’re very much looking forward to welcoming as many of you as possible to Belfast this year!

Gail McGregor

Conference Committee Chair