Tag Archives: rant

Some things from my head following #commscamp13

View from the front #commscamp13I’m grateful to have been asked to facilitate CommsCamp13 which was organised by @annkempster @danslee and @darrencaveney in Birmingham the other day.

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…

Facebook misuse of “via”

This has been bothering me for a while but I only really understood it when I just used it (Life Lesson #348).

Facebook has a kind of retweeting function so if you see something that someone else has linked to and you want to share it, the person whose feed you saw it in gets some automatic credit. Good.

I’ve only seen it so far in other people’s streams as Monkey McNutz via Chicken Crazoffsky: OMG this video makes me pee in my pants!

When both parties are a friend of mine then it can be confusing (if you don’t know the form). Who saw it first? Who’s refacebooking whom?

Then I saw it a few times where Monkey McNutz was clearly retweeting people who aren’t in my friends list people I’ve never heard of like Duckface Dibble.

So here’s the problem: I read “Monkey McNutz via Chicken Crazoffsky: OMG! ” as “Monkey says, by way of Chicken … OMG etc.” which doesn’t really make sense. It’s like Monkey is using Chicken as a ventriloquists dummy – whereas actually it’s the other way round. This message is coming to you from Chicken via Monkey (cos you might not know Chicken at all)

I think it’s something about the placement of the via clause – if it were at the end of the link (or whatever is being shared) then it would make sense, because it’s more obviously an attribution – but having it in the Name field drives me McNutz.

See? You don’t see, do you, it’s just me, isn’t it…? sorry.

Let’s Fix the World! A 21st Century Parlour Game

Here’s a game that’s become popular among those of my acquaintance in recent years.

“Let’s do something to fix the world!” requires 3 or more players. Otherwise it risks descending into “Two boring gits mouthing off in the pub.” 20-30 folk make for a really good game.

The players are gathered out of business hours in a conference suite of a leading company or a government department. In the foyer, they are given mineral water, orange juice (occasionally cranberry), tea and coffee. Sometimes there are peanuts and kettle crisps. Gamesmasters who introduce alcohol at this stage are asking for trouble. The players are left to mingle. Most huddle in corners with their old pals. One or two, not knowing the etiquette, pursue other players around the room trying to press business cards into their hands while describing their highly valuable services.

After this warm-up period, the players are led into a meeting room which may contain tables and chairs arranged cabaret style or just chairs randomly scattered or, in the Owen variation, there may be little or no furniture at all.

The gamesmaster/mistress announces the theme for the evening, the “Big Question of the Night” or BQN (once hilariously, but mistakenly referred to as “the bacon” – ie “If we can please just get back to the bacon”). If any mild excitement has already emerged s/he will dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd by reading the contents of a long and detailed Powerpoint presentation. The theme is usually a confusingly worded question. Those devising the BQN should ensure that it covers a very wide subject area – it needs to be BIG, man, really BIIIIG. Squash out any specificity and introduce as much ambiguity in the question as possible. To add spice you may wish to declare that supposedly well-defined and well-understood terms are up for re-definition in this context.

Players are now grouped by a method of the gamesmasters choice, though “Boys v Girls” and distinctions based on social class or ethnic background are generally frowned upon in today’s politically correct dystopia. Don’t worry, the socially capable can get on with anyone and those who look a bit lost can be shepherded up into a “Nerds” group.

Now the “conversation” starts. There are a number of recognised opening gambits: “There’s nothing new under the sun”, “We must firmly lay the blame at the feet of the last government”, “I’m alright, Jack” etc. are played as a dummy to make sure that any new players don’t have a clue about what’s really going on. Then the real play starts. Players take it in turns to offer their solution to the BQN.

You may find the following observations on play to be useful:

1. If you are there to sell a commercial service that might at a stretch be a solution to the BQN, you must not refer to that service by name, nor may you reveal (except in a whispered aside to a trusted co-player) to the group this happy coincidence.

2. If you know or suspect that a co-player is trying to sell such a service, it’s considered bad form to declare this outright. However, you might make some knowing remark which makes your co-player blanch while the rest of the team remain unaware.

3. Wherever possible your contributions should refer to solutions that stress certainty, incentivisation, efficiency, driving out redundancy and duplication and the well-known fact that all human-based systems tend toward equillibrium. Phrases such as “it’s human nature”, “survival of the fittest”, “no pain, no gain” are all splendid signs that the game is going well.

4. Points are available for telling a story you once read in a book. With a bonus if you manage to get the title of the book and the name of the author completely wrong. Extra bonus if you actually heard the author speak but still get her name wrong.

5. Points are sometimes awarded for inventive use of diversionary tactics such as arguing definitions, restating the important differences between the public and private sectors, drawing pyramid-shaped diagrams on the back of a napkin. However, most conoisseurs will recognise these as the hallmark of the newcomer or amateur.

6. At the discretion of the gamesmaster, a “plenary” session may follow where those players with inflated egos get to repeat everything they said and ignore what the rest of their group offered. If these people are particularly self-important, you may wish to provide “scribes” to make a glowing record of their wise words on flipchart paper. Then it’s off down the pub.

Disciplinary notes:
1. People who try to point out that this is just a stupid game that we play and it never gets us anywhere except salving our consciences, and it’s always the same old faces and god, what are we doing here? may be pronounced “A Bore” and sent to the corner to think about their wicked ways (mostly though they are simply ignored).

2. Anyone trying to start a real human conversation based on individual, personal experience, that isn’t about selling anything, or making people look wrong, or making ourselves look good is given one chance to try again and a withering look of pity. If they start up again they will be escorted from the premises immediately.

The winner is anyone with a vested interest in their little bit of the world staying exactly the same as it is, thank you very much.

Deconstructing Panel Sessions

nudgonomics debate at demosI spent a lot of time (well not that much actually, but it *felt* like a lot) in panel sessions at SXSWi and today I attended a debate (two person panel) at DEMOS.

It seems to me that there are always a few things going on in such a session and that sometimes these things are in conflict with each other. Initially I got narked about the use of “questions in threes” but I think there’s more to it than that.

So one way to pull it apart is to look at the motivations of each player. Who’s there? In any panel session let’s say there’s a moderator, a bunch of panelists and audience members – there are different kinds of audience members too – those who want to contribute, those who want to only listen – also perhaps those who are part of the organisation holding the event and those who are from “outside”.

Moderator – The moderator opens up, introduces the speakers and manages any question and answer process. What do they want? A smooth running event, which people remember. Presumably they also want people to remember that the moderator was really good and maybe they might like to hire them to do something else. They want to please as many people in the audience as possible by giving them the opportunity to ask loads of questions or have lots of questions answered.

Panelists – usually have something to sell, maybe it’s a book, or strategic advice, or consulting services or maybe they’re looking for more speaking gigs. They want to show off their erudition and quick wittedness by answering questions eruditely and wittily. They want to be right.

The audience – want to learn something, want to be seen by their peers, want to see who else has come, want other people to hear what they have to say on the subject, want to be associated with the panellists, or disassociated from them. If they are part of the host organisation, they may want to impress their boss and other colleagues or else push the company line. If they are from the outside they may want to impress prospective clients or intimidate competitors with their superior intellect. They might just want to hear an intelligent, flowing conversation about the subject and make their own minds up about things. They might have come to collect ideas for a blog post or something else that they’re writing.

We all (well most of us, in this country) like to pretend that we’re not selling ourselves all the time, but the reality is that we are, especially those of us who are freelance, whether we’re doing it consciously or explicitly or not.

Questions in threes is a technique where the moderator takes three (sometimes more!) questions and lets the panelists answer them all together. It’s presented as a way to get more questions in and to give panelists more time to think about their answer, but it actually only serves the moderator’s desire to look good by letting lots of people in and getting things done quickly. Patrick Hadfield summed it up in a tweet to me this afternoon:

“…all that happens is that the first question gets ignored, or if it is answered, the rest of the audience has forgotten it!”

Exactly that happened in the session today. The panelist is also panicking because they’ve got another random question coming at them while they’re still thinking about the first one. And the audience is not sure which question is being answered. The moderator however is achieving the goal of getting through lots of q&a swiftly without any regard to whether the questions are being answered sensibly.

I’m getting tired, and I’ve written more than I initially intended, so I’m probably wrong. Let me know in the morning.