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One of Harrison Owen’s principles for Open Space (on which most unconferences are based) is “Whoever comes is the right people”. It’s there to remind us that we don’t need the boss or experts to have a useful conversation, we just need people who care enough to show up.
I’ve found that one of my jobs as a facilitator is to remind people that the event is about the people in the room, not those who couldn’t or wouldn’t make it. The draw to give power away to people outside the room is strong, it’s expected in lots of meetings where we’re essentially delegates for the rest of our team or organisation.
Here are 5 ways in which I’ve seen us (me included) do that:
1. Working on the agenda beforehand
Open Space and unconferences start with no initial agenda, just a purpose, a common interest that we want to talk about and a bunch of people who have something to contribute. It’s tempting to make the day “more efficient” by having lots of conversations online setting out your stall for what you want to talk about, getting feedback, but it inadvertently gives power to people who aren’t in the room. It sets an expectation, at least for those who have a look at this “prep work” that these are the things we’ll talk about. It leaves the door open to people who want to influence the agenda without committing to a day in the room, because we tend to fall in with what’s already there. If I come late to the online conversation, especially if I’m not terribly au fait with the subject area, I will look to see what norms have been established about subjects so that I can fit in well. I don’t want to propose something that has people looking at me in a funny way.
It also gives disproportionate power to those who have, for whatever reason, more time to spend on preparation in the run up to the event than others do. I think it probably also affects the number of people who show up ready to be “spectators”. I can see that there are plenty of clever people with a much stronger grasp of the subject than I so I think I’ll just keep my silly little idea to myself.
2. Trying to represent your team’s wishes
They’re not here. You are. You’re one of the right people to be here. They’re not (because they’re not here!) Stop worrying about what so-and-so would say if they were here and say what you want to say. This goes too for paying too much attention to people who manage large departments or organisations. The fact that they lead programmes employing hundreds of people costing millions of pounds doesn’t mean that they know any more about the problem in hand than you do. They may well know less.
3. Going to sessions because “you should”
I know. It’s really hard. There are 10 sessions all going on at once and you want to go to three of them but you ought to go to one of the others and stay there because it’s directly related to your job – what will your manager say if she sees that this was on the agenda and you didn’t go? I think the best way to deal with this is to remember, for today, that your job is to learn and to contribute. Pop into the “should” session to see whether you missed anything but otherwise, keep using the law of two feet to find the places where you can best learn and/or contribute.
4. Letting technology get in the way
It’s great to have an audio or video record of a session. It’s really cool to have a live-stream so that people who couldn’t make it can watch along in real-time. It’s really useful to the whole community if people can live-tweet and live-blog sessions. But. All of these things have the possibility of becoming more important than the conversation we’re actually having. Common adverse effects are people unconsciously censoring what they say because they know they’re being reported or recorded or people saying things deliberately to make sure that they are on record. The other difficulty arises when the interactivity of twitter and live-streaming take over. This can take the form of trolling from outside or something as apparently benign as people outside asking that people speak more clearly for them to hear on the stream.
5. Thinking too much about the future
In this case, the “people not in the room” are “future me” and/or “future other people”. I worry about what future me will think of what I’m saying. I worry that future me will be somehow disadvantaged because I say something stupid. And then I worry about what future other people will think when they get home and they reflect on the day and “oh my god what was that dickhead, Lloyd, saying???” They’re not here, they’re not real, they don’t get to decide what gets said in the room.
PS I generally don’t like writing list-based posts but today I’ve done two – my thinking may be becoming dangerously structured!
These are some the things that are rolling round in my head as a result. Not all of them come directly from experiences at CommsCamp13, they may be things I’ve wanted to rant about for some time, and now seems to be as good a time as any. Some of these may turn into longer pieces, although it’s more likely that they’ll just sit here taunting me, saying “Why don’t you explain what you really mean there Lloyd?”
0. People are amazing. Groups of people are amazinger. Groups of people allowed and encouraged to talk about the things that they really care about are the amazingest.
1. Lloyd! Stop trying to be right. I find it really hard, but I try to keep following the golden rule: “Be prepared to be wrong, even when you’re right”. Having said that, many of the following points read as pompous declarations of my unshakable will. Prepare your pinch of salt.
2. If you don’t like this thing, start your own thing. Nobody is gripping onto this “brand identity” nearly as hard as you imagine. If you don’t like the fact that there’s only one UKGovCamp a year and the same 200 people always seem to go, set up your own (you might even get a grant to help). If you want a #jelly or some tweetup in your town or region, do your own. Use #wewillgather for smaller things if it helps.
3. Run sessions your way. This is a development of the previous point – nobody has decreed, nor do they have the right to decree, that all sessions at a camp have to be sitting round in a circle having a therapy session. We can do whatever we like – some of the best sessions I’ve been to at other camps have been “I know nothing about X, please come and enlighten me” or “Let’s make a Y in 45 minutes”.
4. No spectators. I felt that we’d lost this a bit – it’s much harder in a one-day event and using traditional conference venues but we had 25-35 potential sessions and 140 people attending, so even with every session leader doubling up we’d only have half of the group able to lead even if they wanted to. The no spectator rule is there, imho, to ensure that we don’t get into an us and them situation – encouraging everyone to have something even in their back pocket is an important part of pre-camp that we forget. We saw a special case of this on Tuesday which was a lack of women pitching for sessions in the first round, fortunately there were some brave enough to point it out and I think we fixed it, but still, I think it would help to make it clearer that there’s an expectation that you bring something to talk about, that it’s just part of the process.
5. We’re all just folk here. This is hard at UKGovCamp, but it was even harder this week – leave the corporate ego at the door – remember that everyone else is in the same boat as you, no-one has all the answers, we all have an equal responsibility for the success of the event. Some people are effectively paying to be there, not everyone has a job that either treats this as part of your development or paid leave.
6. I love “Fuck it” moments. One of the best stories I heard was from Rae Watson talking about her experience of doing the right thing once she’d heard she was being made redundant. Lovely, nothing to lose attitude which inspired me to call for a rolling programme of redundancies across the public sector
7. “The future is …not very evenly distributed.” You think? This may come under the heading of “stop trying to be right” but really, the world *has* changed, hyperlinks really do subvert hierarchies, this is what is going on here, the institutions we work in are struggling and collapsing because the network crosses their boundaries without permission and with great ease. I heard way more people than I expected to still talking about messaging and selling social media to senior execs. Keep the focus off technologies and put it on power and service structures.
8. A camp is not about information dissemination. It probably will happen as a by-product, but the purpose of the day is to encourage conversation and the resultant building of relationships. These are vital elements of the networked world – the ability to have good conversation and the richness of relationship that emerges therefrom. This is where the value is, both to us as participants and to the organisations we’re part of.
9. It’s your process. I know I’ve got it right when you don’t credit me and you say “we did this”. It’s one of my favourite bits of the Tao Te Ching – Chapter 17
“The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words.
When his task is accomplished and things have been completed,
All the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’”
10. It’s a 3-day commitment for me. There’s very little traditional prep and follow-up but I need a good half-day before to warm-up and clear out the rest of the world and then a full day afterwards to recover. I need to reflect this in my diary-planning and in my fees.
11. We *will* break your wifi. John Popham has already summed up the connectivity issue for most conference venues. Related: spambots may break your hashtag…
12. The view from the front. That’s the title I gave the picture above. It shouldn’t be like this. There’s no reason to put everyone else face-front: we embrace circles when we go into sessions, we should do the same in plenary. I think it would do a lot to reduce the sense of us-and-them.
13. Stop trying to please everyone. Media folk in public service have to juggle the goodwill of elected representatives, organisational managers, journalists and the public. You can’t please all of these groups all of the time. If you have to pick one, pick the public.
Turns out there’s thirteen, which is good since I’ve noticed many events this year have 13 in the title for some reason…
Yes, on 15th February five years ago, the London Social Media Cafe which was soon to become better known as The Tuttle Club held the first regular meetup at the Coach & Horses in Greek Street and we’ve done the same thing (more or less) somewhere or other every week (give or take) since then.
A bunch of lovely folk turned up this morning to do the same lovely thing as ever: talk, drink coffee, laugh, talk, meet new people, have a moan, whatever it is that you all do, I don’t know, I just wander around grinning inanely.
First thing this morning, Rob O’Callaghan showed his appreciation for #tuttle (which inspired his Tunbridge Wells group: (#twuttle and its various spin-offs) by treating me to breakfast at the top of the Gherkin in the City. Because it was something he could do. It was great. I’ve never been up in any of these super-tall structures before and the 40th floor with it’s 360-degree view is amazing. Thanks to Rob and Phil Macleod who hosted us.
Back down at the RFH #tuttle buzzed its way through three hours (at least). I was asked, by people who’d been around for a while and new people too, what I got out of doing it. It’s a question that obsessed me at the beginning, but the answers aren’t what I expected back then.
It hasn’t made me rich or particularly famous. I’m skint most of the time and I have been for five years, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been and anyone who wants to tell me that it’s all a failure because it doesn’t make money is missing the point of life, in my opinion.
About six months in, I decided that I would commit to just showing up and welcoming new people and I knew then that I wasn’t ever going to make money directly from #tuttle and that it wouldn’t thrive for long if I made it all about me and used it as a vehicle to get well-known and cash-in from there. And I wanted it to thrive for a long time. I still do.
But I’d already learned this from blogging – that you get your rewards *because* of the things you do, not *for* the things you do. So what are the things I got?
Well doing this thing changed the whole way I see my life and work and it changed how I am perceived by others. I no longer think of myself as any kind of consultant,(though I will still happily take consulting fees!) I’m an artist, I make beautiful things, and #tuttle is one of them. The biggest thrill I got today was being told by a newcomer that “it was beautiful”.
I’ve been able to do things that I didn’t think possible. I’ve traveled and written and photographed my way coast-to-coast (and friend-to-friend) across the USA twice and then hobo-ed around the UK for a whole year living and working with people I’d met on the internet who’d got to know and trust me because I did #tuttle.
I got to call myself Social Artist in Residence at the Centre for Creative Collaboration and then spend a couple of years really thinking about what the hell that meant.
I got to work with a group of the simultaneously nicest *and* smartest people I’ve ever met on creating a new approach to business consulting, a process that resulted in some fabulous open data and the creation of at least one company.
My recent work on #ourdigitalplanet and #wewillgather (I’m considering amending my bio to say just “I work on hashtags”) has been successful because of this weekly deep experience of organising without an organisation.
And I got to meet you all and share in your journeys. I got to see you grow and be encouraged and build your lives and projects and businesses. I got to listen when you were down and depressed and couldn’t see the light just around the corner. I saw hungry young things take flight and soar and become industry stalwarts. I saw a certain entrepreneur meet hardcore users of his product and get real user insights into the thing he’d later sell for millions. And I got to partake in the multitude of fascinating soap-operas of our intersecting lives, laughing and scheming and crying and dreaming and, conversation by conversation, reaching a far better understanding of this social web thing together than we could ever have done on our own.
Thank you all, everyone who’s been along on a Friday morning, even just the one. Thanks to everyone who picked up the idea and started one in their own town (otherwise how would I have ever known to visit Long Beach?!?) Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions and guidance on making it better. Thanks to the trolls who spewed and stewed and (thankfully) repeatedly went hungry; please, if they wake up, don’t start feeding them now…
OK, that’s all, go back to what you were doing. See you next week.
I had a long period of TV abstinence beginning in about 2004 (I guess it was about when I started writing here – something had to go to make time for it). But Netflix has drawn me back into fairly regular TV watching because it’s totally under my control and it makes a decent fist most of the time of alerting me to things I’d like to see.
Lots has been written about the new House of Cards which is not being shown on regular TV. It’s on Netflix-only, and the 13 episodes were released all in one go last week. Mostly though people are focusing their attention on the novelty of the release rather than the programme itself.
Which is a shame, because it’s very good. I haven’t gone full throttle into TV addiction yet so I haven’t succumbed to the temptation of just watching the whole thing in a 13-hour marathon, but I’ve managed the first three episodes and we’re getting used to the characters and seeing some of the storylines start to firm up.
I was initially disappointed to realise (it came in the first few shots when Kevin Spacey turned and started talking to camera) that it’s the Michael Dobbs/Andrew Davies House of Cards remade in today’s US political scene. Disappointed only because the original was *so* good, so captivating, so of the time and shockingly near to what we suspected the inside of party politics was like, long before The Thick of It. And because Ian Richardson was so compelling: simultaneously adorable and despicable. And because I’m rarely won over by American remakes of British TV. Where I am at the end of episode 3, Spacey hasn’t quite reached Richard III levels of despicability but he’s getting there and I fully believe that he pulls it off by Episode 13 and Robin Wright is an able Lady Macbeth. Part of the draw for me is seeing how the other recognisable characters might turn out – although it’s pretty much a question of how they will meet their various sticky ends rather that whether they do (I hope).
I like the graphic overlays that denote when people are texting each other. It lets the acting continue without cutting away to a close-up of the phone screen. I haven’t seen it done as authentically before.
It’s very interesting to see it transplanted into American politics and the DC village rather than the Westminster one. Though I am wondering why it took 23 years for this story to be acceptable to a US audience. Is American politics in a similar place now to where we were at the end of the Thatcher era? I guess there are similar levels of disillusionment with the system, but has that come about recently? Is it a new thing? If we got any faith in the system back in 1997 we’ve lost it again since.
One thing that does crop up with the all-in-one release thing is that it makes it hard to have an online social experience around it and so it’s hard to write about without some spoilers – it’s neither like a movie (which you’ve either seen or you haven’t) nor like a standard TV series (where you might allow people to be a few episodes behind, but pretty much you expect everyone to be up to date or avoiding any reviews). And of course it’s also a remake.
But do I hate spoilers so I shall wait until a significantly larger number of my friends are admitting to having seen it.