Reflections on organising the 2022 International Population Data Linkage Network Conference

Categories: IPDLN, Blogs, Public engagement, Events

15 December 2022

The IPDLN is a global network formed of institutions and individuals involved with population health research using linked data, spanning academia and government across the world. Initially focussed on health research, it has since expanded to cover many other areas of research about populations across the world, including crime and justice, education, income, and much more. The directorship changes hands every two years and culminates in an international conference held in the second year. Long-standing member organisations are eligible for standing for election to direct the network.

In 2019, ADR UK submitted a successful application to take on the directorship, with Emma and Chris serving as co-directors. The 2022 conference was held in Edinburgh from 5 - 7 September.

The conference was a huge success, with over 550 delegates from 14 countries attending. The experience was equal parts exciting and intimidating – and we wanted to share our thoughts about it.

To kick off, Emma Gordon will share her experiences of running the IPDLN, followed by Chris Dibben’s thoughts on the end results.

Emma Gordon – The biggest surprise from running an international conference

When I went to large academic conferences as a PhD student and early career researcher, I think I always assumed that it was just in people’s job descriptions to organise these events. What I hadn’t realised was that they also happen because people step up and volunteer to lead on behalf of their communities.

Don’t get me wrong; this is not an entirely selfless act. For Chris and I, we volunteered to take on the Directorship of IPDLN as a way of raising the profile of the ADR UK programme with an international audience. We were also keen to learn from international speakers doing similar things in other countries.

We were supported in this endeavour by a fantastic team of people within our organisations, but it also couldn’t have happened without people volunteering to help in a range of ways – such as:

  • being a member of the Scientific Committee
  • being a member of the Organising Committee
  • contributing to the organisation of a conference workshop
  • reviewing abstracts
  • helping with the logistics of running the conference for an entire week in Edinburgh.  

Chris Dibben – The satisfaction of a job well done

What I hadn’t realised is that there is an immense amount of satisfaction from setting up and running a conference like the IPDLN. This led me to reflect that many of the most satisfying parts of all the jobs I have ever done have been the things that you don’t get paid to do; it is the things you get involved in because you are enthusiastic about them. It’s the interests which you make time for in amongst your ‘day’ job.

I realise taking on too many voluntary tasks is not a good thing, because they can quickly become overwhelming. But I am advocating for people, with the support of their line managers, finding time to support the activities that bring groups together either within or outside the organisation you work in.

Often, this is the glue that keeps communities of like-minded professionals together. Without this we would be working in ever-smaller silos, with ever-narrower views of our roles and the wider world.

Our biggest takeaway from the 2020-2022 IPDLN directorship

Large-scale events don’t happen without an army of people stepping up behind the scenes, and networks such as the IPDLN only become greater than the sum of their parts when people proactively get involved. As we look to hand IPDLN directorship over to the incoming directorship, we encourage you to give something like this a go. There are many ways to become involved – from writing a blog to raise the profile of your work and share insights across a global network, to helping to run the 2023 conference in some way. Contributing doesn’t need to be a huge time commitment either, and you never know, it may be the most personally satisfying and joyful thing to do next year! 


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