10 (OK 11) things about #bigpix #bigpictureday

The first Big Picture Day happened on Saturday at the LimeWharf space in Vyner Street – it was an unconference/hackday/jam to work through stuff about improving unconferences/hackdays/jams.

0. This is a pattern that’s grown out of the #ukgovcamp community – write a blog post on the day after or as soon as you can, just getting the key things for you out of your head, rather than trying to write up everything “perfectly”

1. I had to leave way earlier than I wanted to, but probably later than I should, because I was overtaken by what started as a tickly throat but by lunchtime had made me a sniffly, headachy mess.

2. I’m still not 100% and the following may read as overly negative because I’m generally feeling down in the dumps. Forgive me if I sound whiney in anything that follows. Take what you like and leave the rest.

3. So first of all, majorly, wow! I didn’t expect as many people, I was thrilled to see people who’d travelled a very long way to be there. It felt really good to connect several communities that I feel part of and to meet some new people as well. Thank you for coming and sharing your experience. I hope everyone got something useful out of the day. I wish I’d seen Studio 45, the pictures look amazing. Big kudos to Vinay and Tom for co-curating and hosting. Big thanks to Tam for sorting everything else out.

4. I boobed with my talk big time. I hadn’t really thought through 10 minutes and ended up talking too much about what I was doing years ago (mostly #tuttle) rather than the interesting things that I’m working on now – #wewillgather, #hackthebarbican, #ukgovcamp and its many spinoffs.

5. The folk at LimeWharf have made a great space but…

  • I find East London, well that bit of Hackney especially, depressing. This is about me, not about Hackney…
  • I am not inspired by big, open, flat-walled, bare, concrete space. My idea of conviviality (and I suggest that conviviality is *vital* to these sorts of gatherings) is soft furnishings, warmth, small spaces for intimate conversations. I also don’t get on well with standing up while conversing.
  • There was something weird about being served tea and coffee through the hatch. It’s lovely to be served and I get and appreciate the care that’s being offered, but it felt difficult to just help myself when I needed it. There’s a thing in OST about no coffee breaks but easy access to refreshment and beverages. That please.

6. I think we had too many different experiences of different kinds of gathering to say anything useful to all of them. I also think that while it’s useful to get these things together, a hackday is different from a tech unconference is different from a public service unconference is different from a cash mob is different from a self-organising festival. I felt sometimes like we disagreed about stuff because we were talking about different things without knowing it. I think some people were “feeling different parts of the elephant” than I was.

7. I think we tried to do too much by having the conversation and not settling on a methodology up front. I’m not so attached to open space technology that I can’t do anything else, but I think that opening up the conversation we did the equivalent of trying to rewrite the kernel while applications were running, or put another way, trying to redesign and rebuild the engine of a car while driving along the M4.

8. I think that trying to merge sessions as a group is a bad idea. In my view, a few individuals took control of the agenda to suit them. I heard people say “nine sessions in two hours is too many” I don’t believe this is true. I do believe that trying to collapse everything into two or three groups makes for too general a conversation. But I didn’t get to stick around long enough to properly find out. It probably worked out marvellously and I’m being an idiot.

9. Measuring complex human systems is a slippery slope – the kind of measurement we default to means assuming that the human system is like a machine that has measurable inputs and outputs – it’s a way of dealing with complexity by pretending it doesn’t exist. I just haven’t seen that work for anyone other than people who like measuring things or who make judgements without having skin in the game. It’s a distraction and it leads to people gaming the measurement system to look good. People told me this when I was part of the effort to introduce performance measurement to public services. I didn’t believe them. I was wrong about this then, they were right, I don’t think anything’s fundamentally changed.

10. We need to keep practicing this stuff. We’re actually really crap at having real conversations of any kind – people who’ve avoided having this beaten out of them through a combination of school, work and corporatised media are very very rare. But we are getting better and it’s really good to do it, it’s really powerful. Let’s keep doing it.