The Intelligence and National Security Alliance is continuing to offer the thought leadership and networking opportunities for which it has long been known — but in a different way.
As social distancing pushed the prospect of in-person events farther out on the calendar, INSA responded with a lineup of virtual events. They include Wednesday Wisdom, a new series for policy discussions and informal conversation-based programs, as well as Coffee & Conversation, a 45-minute morning program around timely issues impacting the intelligence community.
The organization spent a little more than a week pivoting to a virtual calendar that a strong sponsor system currently allows it to offer gratis. INSA has been drawing participants to the tune of more than 1,600 in some cases.
“Our membership has always been really surprised by what we’re able to deliver with such a small staff,” said INSA President Suzanne Heckenberg. “I’m not surprised that our team was able to do it so quickly and overall fairly seamlessly because that’s what we do with our live events as well.”
INSA operates with 10 full-time staff, six graduate student interns, two senior advisers and one senior fellow. And during these times of social isolation and working from home, they’ve had more opportunities to flex their creativity muscles.
Take, for example, Heckenberg’s studio-office-in-a-closet.
With three students, multiple adults and one dog all vying for space in the same home, Heckenberg found the best place from which to appear on camera is a small bedroom she had previously converted into a large closet. The pop-up INSA backdrop on the screen behind her? It’s actually covering up her clothes.
It’s a setup that has generated some laughs, but it’s also a point of pride, illustrating how innovative the organization can be. Peggy O’Connor, director of communications and policy for INSA, said post-event surveys show the virtual events are being well-received with more than 96% of attendees indicating they’ve met expectations. It’s critical for an organization that has historically been built on the success of its in-person events.
“The feedback has been incredible, people love what we’re doing, and our speakers have been great,” O’Connor said. “We play a really vital role connecting the public sector, the private sector and the academic sector. We come together to share ideas, to figure out what’s going wrong, what needs to be fixed, what’s right, what’s really working in the community and how can we really replicate that in other agencies.
INSA, she said, is all about the people, and one task of the organization is to allow a venue for them to come up with best practices and solutions to help advance the national security mission.
Online events, O’Connor said, are continuing to connect participants. For those who may be feeling a little stagnant and disconnected, participating in an INSA program can help them feel and be part of the community again.
“Feeling connected right now is even more important than it was before the pandemic,” Heckenberg said.
Heckenberg said organizers have worked strategically to reduce schedule conflicts with complementary organizations holding their own events. The next live INSA event is currently scheduled for Aug. 8. The William Oliver Baker Award dinner will honor Sue Gordon and is one of INSA’s premiere events. For more information on upcoming events, visit INSA.