Whatever the folks at home may think an IUCN Congress is not a holiday! If we take biomimicry seriously, we may ask what other animal gathers in large numbers, away from natural light and air for much of the time, to indulge in a great deal of chatter and word-smithing with little by way of tangible result at the end? Bats in a cave perhaps? No doubt our chiroptera colleagues will advise us that bats are doing something far more productive.

Nevertheless around thirty brave members of the SULi community are heading Jeju-wards this September and this not too serious guide is dedicated above all to them. Those who have been attending such events since they left the nursery can stop reading here.

Most people will have booked flights and hotels already. If not, it is worth thinking about dates, locations and what your buddies have in mind before you make your choices. While the overall dates of the Congress are 6-15 September and the opening ceremonies occupy the 6th, the rest of the get-together is more or less divided into two very different parts: the Forum from the 7th to the 11th and the Members’ Assembly from the 12th to the morning of the 15th (except that during the ‘Forum Days’ 8th-11th there will be Members’ Assembly segments from 8 or 8.30am devoted to thematic parts of the IUCN Programme, Forum reports and related motions – to an old hand this looks unpromising in so far as it will be like combining chalk, cheese and raspberries in an unpredictable way.)  If you want the full picture go to http://portals.iucn.org/docs/2012congress/docs_april/en/WCC-2012-1-2%20Agenda%20Overview.pdf for a useful schematic overview of each day’s timetable.

The Forum is devoted to an array of workshops, lectures and presentations  about cutting-edge conservation science and its application, while the Members’ Assembly is the governing organ of IUCN, dealing with reports, holding elections and considering motions which relate either to IUCN itself or the wider world.

So date-wise you need to decide if you want to cover both the Forum and the Assembly or just the Forum. More or less anyone can register for the Forum and attend any of the events taking place on an à la carte basis. To be able to speak and vote in the Assembly you have to belong to a Member organisation of IUCN and be accredited by it beforehand to take part: there is no casual rolling up and walking in. Just to be clear, a Member organisation (IUCN has about 1,000) is a government, government agency, international or national NGO. IUCN Commissions and their constituent parts do NOT have votes or places in the Members’ Assembly.

Since the Forum is a take your pick occasion you can stay for as long or short a time as you care to. If you are taking part in a workshop arriving 24 hours ahead of time will be useful to get registered, find out exactly where your event is taking place and give the organiser some assurance that you will actually turn up on the night. On the other hand if you are seriously involved in the Assembly it will be wise to be in Jeju from day 1. Even if not involved in the Assembly you may want to attend a Commission meeting – both SSC and CEESP have meetings on 6th September before the opening ceremony.

As far as concerns hotels, your budget, or that of whoever is paying for you, will be the main determinant, but there may also be a trade off between price and distance from the Congress venue. If you can avoid it, you don’t want to spend an hour in transit at the beginning and the end of what may be quite long days. It is also congenial to stay in the same place as some of your colleagues for that essential unwinding after play – or, if you are totally driven, for breakfast consultations.

Meeting up with people is perhaps the hardest challenge in any huge conference centre. Exchanging mobile numbers beforehand can help. In addition the pavillions assigned to Commissions can be a good place to propose as a rendezvous. They may even have seats!

As mentioned, what you attend in the Forum is a matter of choice. The temptation is to try to do too much, leading to mental indigestion or even extreme fatigue. Among the workshops and more informal “knowledge cafés” you may want to support those discussing sustainable use and livelihood issues, including most definitely the one being run by SULi . It is also worth stepping out of your normal comfort zone on a couple of occasions. Do note too that each day there is a lecture from a top person – at least one of these should be worth a listen. A good way to keep up with what may be of interest is to go to the regular early morning meetings of the informal Sustainable Use Network (SUN) being organised by CIC  .

If you are part of a delegation in the Members’ Assembly, with perhaps 1,000 people in the room (and as in recent years delegations can sit where they choose due to electronic contact between the President (in the chair) and the members), there is a lot to be said for sitting in the front so that the chair can actually see you. This can be useful if the electronics break down or you need to attract the attention of someone on the platform. Part of the business is for the DG and Secretariat to report on what they have been doing since the last Congress to implement the resolutions passed then. Don’t hesitate to ask polite questions about this. It is Members’ only chance and comes once every four years.

When it comes to elections to the IUCN Council – and this includes Commission Chairs – note that only certain places will have more than one candidate, and try through SUN/SULi or otherwise to quiz rival candidates on their position on topics of concern to you. The Assembly also adopts the IUCN programme (in which the Secretariat and Commissions are now involved) and budget for the next four years, but this has been so heavily processed beforehand that it is not realistically open for amendment, so perhaps not an area in which to waste energy.

Finally we have the motions. When passed these govern IUCN policy and, to a degree, what IUCN does or they call on other actors to do things or (more usually) to refrain from doing things. The first category are especially worth watching and include such instruments as the IUCN Policy Statement on Sustainable Use of Wild Living Resources adopted at Amman in 2000. It is just as important to seek to ensure that new motions do not weaken or undermine existing policies that matter to the SULi community as to come forward with new ones unless they genuinely develop understanding and follow-up action.

Some uncontroversial motions are accepted without debate in Plenary but others are referred to contact groups of interested parties. If you are promoting a motion which goes to a contact group, you must be there for it, with amendments prepared in writing to meet criticisms without fundamentally weakening its purpose. Compromise is the essence of making progress in contact groups, but remember that compromise is a two-way street. It is worth a big effort to craft an agreed text to take back to Plenary from a contact group, since if matters are still unresolved at that stage there is a huge risk of uninformed amendments from the floor. If you need advice on procedure or tactics look out for our friend and colleague Dr Wolfgang Burhenne, whose wisdom and experience in these matters are unequalled.

Above all do take it as easy as you can, profit from huge networking opportunities, have fun and get outside into the fresh air. Heaven knows, you might even see some wildlife!

Robin Sharp is a Co-Editor of SULiNews who attended the Buenos Aires General Assembly in 1994 and the first four WCC’s thereafter. robisharp@googlemail.com