What I did at RebootBritain

060720091694I enjoyed myself at rebootbritain this week (it was a bit of a bastard child of 2gether08 and Innovation Edge) I think I’d have preferred if it had more genetic code from barcamp and opentech but I’m fussy like that. I don’t think it was ever going to be a real “doing” place. More thinking, talking and connecting, all of which are still very important things to do, if we want to move on to “doing stuff”.

And I believe that we need to practice this a bit more if we’re going to get good at collaborating in spaces like this – it’s one thing to have a difference of opinion in a conversation about how someone’s project should engage online. It’s quite another if the group you are in is trying to actually make that happen there and then. It’s not that the doing is more difficult necessarily but I think collaborative doing is easier and goes better when people are well practiced in talking with each other in a small group. It’s yet another thing I’ve learned from growing tuttle from a small seedling and then going out doing consulting with people from the network.

Back to what actually happened on Monday. I see two basic models of how people can talk to each other at events like this. There are conference rooms where the speaker to listener ratio is between 1:50 and 1:700 (not including those watching live on the web) and the other “Coffee Track” mode of people speaking in pairs, joined by a third which gives the opportunity for one of the original pair to slip away and for a new pair to get talking. Of course there are other mutations and variations that spring up around the place but they don’t live for long, the ecosystem keeps returning to two dominant, parallel states, the very large and the very small. The flavour of discussion in each of these is markedly different. In large scale meetings, the speakers often speak about what “we” are doing – sometims that is a specific group of people, but often it’s a more slippery “public policy we”, or “we in society” it’s a Global we. Q&A where allowed gets dominated by those with something to sell (if it’s me, it’s usually my own cleverness!). Meanwhile in the corridors the conversations are led by the question “So what are you doing?” or if you don’t know them already “So what do you do?”.

This means there’s a very high level global conversation going on, and a very personal (but rarely intimate) conversation going on, but nothing in between.

So, encouraged by others to do something to reboot rebootbritain I sought out Steve Moore and got permission to use one of the rooms that was shown as empty on the schedule. Then I thought more about what I wanted to do. I wanted to create something tuttle-ish but more structured, so I plumped for conversation circles and added in a rule or two: 7 +/- 2 people popped into my head, whatever that really meant, I worked it out later – and remembered the reference. An another ‘rule’: you can talk about whatever you want. Then I wandered around pitching it to people in their twosomes and tweeted the time, location and basic form.

As I talked about it to my chums around the place, of course the pitch and my idea of what we were going to do evolved and I am an unreliable reporter of the exact sequence – just remember this is my post-hoc rationalisation, it was (even) messier than this…

So I let as many people as I could, know that we were doing “something”. Found that the start clashed ith sessions that people wanted to go to: “Is the Web Female” and the Social by Social launch – but then it had to clash with something. Only one person, noticed that I was interrupting their conversation to invite them to something which, on the face of it, sounded quite similar to what they were already doing.

060720091696I went up to the room at 2pm to find that the group occupying it had been told they could carry on for a bit but we soon managed to be turning the seats around from their parallel ranks into circles. Three or four people from this previous session asked what we were doing and on hearing, joined in enthusiastically. In fact, they were among those who eventually stayed the full three hours. And so, the conversations began. Two groups to start. I noticed quickly that there were a couple of other rules to add. Firstly an exhortation to come in, sit down and join in. And then another to encourage people not to interview each other but rather to focus on sharing their own experience. Interview-style conversations can easily slip into Q&A which is replicating the dynamic of the Global conversations, just with fewer people taking part. Oh yes, and I introduced the law of two feet although very few exercised their rights under this law.

Overall several people stayed for the three hours before Steve came and ushered us downstairs to listen to Howard Rheingold. Many others came and stayed for half an hour or so and then moved on. In the tradition of tuttle, I had no attachment to “success” or “outcome” and therefore there could be no failure.

Many people said to me on the day or since that it was the best bit of the day for them. There was even a brief flurry of tweeting suggesting that I should be gifted money by NESTA for instigating it. It’s a practice of mine never to say no to money, but it was interesting when this subject came up in one of the conversations on the day how difficult we all found to talk about it.

I do think that practicing conversation at this scale is important. I like it. I’m going to do more.

13 thoughts on “What I did at RebootBritain”

  1. Hi Lloyd,

    Sorry to miss your ‘intervention’ in many respects, especially simply to understand the format more. I am almost as fascinated by different formats as you.

    One of the more interesting sessions I attended was the ‘open-sourcing food’ one, which put us all in a circle (about 15-20 of us – people came and left). The conversation was guided by experts in the field who laid the groundwork and exposed the issues, but the meat (or veg) was collaborative.

    Like you, I find being engaged in a conversation more stimulating than being talked at, much of the time.

    At the same time, I have a big but.

    But… conversation all the time leaves little time for reflection. And without that time we make poor decisions, I feel. (I have a similar disdain for the people who think Twitter is all we need. No, 140 chars is not enough for nuanced thoughts).

    So ermm yes. Reflection and keeping quiet and being talked at and being in conversations all have their place. And we all have different learning styles, after all.

    As to getting things done. Did you really have that expectation of the day?

  2. Thanks Ian,

    firstly getting things done, no I didn’t have that expectation – I think we need other events at other time for that – I picked up on frustration though that talking about what we have done, in the forms that we’ve talked about them isn’t a very satisfying thing to do.

    I’m sorry I missed the food circle too – but the question is, if one were looking for experiences like this at rebootbritain how would one have known they were there?

    I’m not saying though that everything should be one way or the other, I’m after a diversity of experience to meet the needs of the diverse population that we are. That’s why I spoke of “augmentation” I was trying only to add to, not to replace.

    Yes! reflection and keeping quiet – look out for something even nearer to water next time.

    and thank you for confirming that you have a big but – ha ha!

  3. well observed
    and seems like a must for 7+/-2 groupings

    good point about reflection
    but i spend plenty of time out of busy loops
    and i take it as a vital opportunity when we meet

    once we comprehend the vitality of coming together
    such gathering will release our mutual collective – yet distributed – action

    and yes
    lloyd deserves some money for setting this up 🙂

  4. Excellent posting. This was put on Facebook by a colleague.

    I’m a long-time project manager, working with college students and media professionals. We run boot-camps for students, giving them a sense of the skills they need to land (or keep) a job.
    I read in Fast Company magazine many years ago that in order to facilitate better conversation and (idealistically) better, more effective decision making. Over time we went from a top-down, classroom style set-up to an open space with “managers” sitting in the middle of the room and reporters and producers sitting around them in specified areas. Even when doing presentations, I changed from classroom style to a circular style with me walking around in and out of the circle.
    Now, try and get hotels/cconvention centers to understand this. Still, they only understand “theater style” or “classroom style.” We end up moving stuff around unless the hotel or convention center union objects lol!

    Also, on our training projects…my retired university professor father told me years ago that if we were going to have effective projects, I should shoot for the best teacher/student ratio available 1:1. I started that ratio in 1996 and still do that today. Our learning by doing philosophy and 1:1 teacher/student ratio were key decision to the success of these boot-camps. Time is short (we’re in a newsroom after all) communication is crucial. Changing the layout of the room and design of the boot-camp overall heightened our ability to get the work done. These days in media, companies want more content from the same person. Structured, top-down management is there but I think we have reduced it from being a crutch to an acknowledgement. I’m the leader and still take responsbility. We have designated deputies and sub-managers. But, in each of the six or seven project I do a year across the US, the forum is open and we of experience can see issues coming before they hit because we talk to one another all day in, for the most part, non-structured communication. And, we can bring in professionals who are new to this process because of it’s openness.

    Great read! Thanks for this…

    Doug Mitchell

  5. Having taken part in your session Lloyd I’d agree it was one of the best bits of the day. I spent hardly any time listening to speakers and used the first one to set up my wifi and walked out of the second. The workshop I took part in on a social media charter was worthwhile and I had a blast meeting people in corridors but your “intervention” provided just enough structure to feel productive without being too grown up.

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