Tag Archives: events

Opening Space To Talk Power & Politics Before the General Election

Open space gorgeousness #DDiii

TL;DR – I’m going to open as much space as I can, all around the UK, before the General Election to talk about power and politics and us at a much deeper and more practical level than is available online.  There’s a Loomio Group Facebook Group to join if you want to help make it happen but there will be other ways of getting involved emerging quickly.  As usual, this won’t be for everybody, but it should be for anybody who wants it.

Whether we like it or not, we are going to have another national vote on who should be in charge of whatever we want to do next as a country. It will be on the 8th June, which is soon, it’s fifty days time. Fifty days ago was February 28th – do you remember Pancake Day this year? That was fifty days ago today, that’s how long we’ve got.

Yesterday it became clear to me that this was the time to do a thing I’ve had on the back burner for some time. Ever since the surprises of the 2015 general election and even more so after last year’s referendum result, I’ve been thinking about how to get people together for a better sort of political conversation.

My Facebook feed yesterday was full of extremes – glee and despair, hatred and derision of each of the major party leaders. Lots of people saying “This is the only sensible way to vote” and “This is what I’m going to do and I expect you to do so too”. I saw calls for reasonable, collegiate debate (by smug, privileged bastards!) and calls to erect the barricades (by loonies!).

How did it get like this? My simplistic answer is that it’s only really like this when we talk to each other online and face to face we have a different experience – it’s less comfortable, sometimes more confronting and it’s not straightforward to just turn the other person off in the way that you might close down a Facebook tab in your browser, but it actually moves things on somewhat.

I’ve been really reviving my Open Space Technology practice over the last couple of years. It’s the sort of minimal organisation for productive, creative conversations that makes most sense to me. It is a very different experience from other face-to-face gatherings let alone any online argument or the sort of analysis you see in mainstream media. And, of highest importance, it is a form that gives power back to participants to decide what they want to talk about and work on – pretty much every other kind of political event has an agenda set by a party or is about a niche subject or has an angle and there are people in charge and people who mostly sit and listen. That’s not the sort of conversation I want to have either. So this is what I want to spend my time doing for the next seven weeks:

  • Organise and facilitate as many day-long Open Spaces as I can up to Wednesday June 7th.
  • The long form title I’ve got so far is “Having said all that, what are we going to do about the place that we find ourselves in today?” – to break it down:
    • Having said all that – by which I mean all the things that have been said again and again on Facebook, Twitter and social media and regurgitated in mainstream media. So, putting all that aside…
    • What are we going to do about [this] place – I want to do these in large cities all around the UK and I want to root the conversation in a local-ish context – So what are we going to do about Birmingham or Aberdeen or Plymouth or Brighton?
    • [This] Place that we find ourselves in today – So not only is this the physical place but it’s also the political, economic, social or technological place and, even more subtly, it’s the place we find ourselves in metaphorically, we find ourselves by looking at our environment – how do you find yourself, what to you see of yourself reflected in the environment of York or Belfast?
    • So that’s quite rich, I think. A wide and deep field in which to ponder power and how we might change the way power is used and distributed in our society.
    • Or we might just go for “Oh yeah Politics – WTF, right?!?!?”
  • In private conversations I’ve had about this so far, the most audacious target has been thirty events. I think that might be the end of me if I did every one, but it’s a nice juicy target isn’t it?
  • I’m aiming for gatherings of around 100 people (though more if we can get large enough venues – and free/cheap ones at that)
  • I’d like to be able to pay myself for full-time work on this – a minimum of London Living Wage.
  • I’d like to be able to pay others to help, probably 1 full-time equivalent, not necessarily one person perhaps one person per location or whatever.
  • The other main expense will be travel (by train wherever possible) – let’s have fun tweaking the timetable to minimise these costs!
  • I will be looking for accommodation when needed with local friendly folks wherever possible (it’s always possible)
  • We should raise money for this and other costs through a mix of sponsorship, crowdfunding and donations on the door. If there’s a surplus at the end we’ll have a democratic way of deciding what to do with it.
  • There should be an easy to use blog/CMS for people to write reports of their sessions.
  • And the whole process should be specced simply but tightly enough for others to be able to pick up the format and do it locally if I can’t get to where they are or need to work on a smaller scale.

I need your help with organising: crafting an invitation; working out a timetable; sourcing free venues; getting sponsors; thinking about the money and other logistics. I’m giving myself a few days to work on things before doing the first event before the Bank Holiday on May Day (yes, the next couple of weeks).

Although comments here are welcome, there’s a Facebook Group to join, come and join in, please and thankyou.

Working quickly and alone for now so please forgive (but alert me to) any clumsiness, excessive vagueness or gross mistakes, thankyou.

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Come collaborate with me at @WorkHubs

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From this Monday, I’m going to be hanging out (as full-time as I ever do such a thing) and working in the Euston co-working space atworkhubs with the lovely Philip Dodson and Bernie Mitchell.

I’ve been to a couple of Blog Clubs on Wednesday morning and there’s also a Write Club on Thursday mornings (short planning session, get into writing for an hour and a half, quick group review). And I think Art Club too but I can’t find a link for that!

It’s a nice convenient space, right next to Euston and Euston Square stations with just the right balance of people – not too mad noisy, not too dead quiet.

They have an affordable and flexible range of membership options including day passes so if you’re looking for somewhere straight off the train at Euston, it’s a real goody.

Anyway I’ll be there and it would be good to see you too.  Ping me if you’re nearby and up for a coffee or something.

At the moment, I’m expecting to see some 1:1 clients there; run some workshops; hold some evening or breakfast events etc., but I’m open to suggestions, let me know if there’s something you think I should be using the space for.

First #neweconomics event with @johnmcdonnellmp

A couple of weeks ago, John McDonnell MP, the shadow chancellor, announced that he’d be organising a series of events on New Economics to “broaden the debate around economics in Britain.”

I booked up for the first four in London straight away. The first lecture was last night at the Royal Institution. It was good, I heartily recommend you getting along to others in the series if you can. I had a few reactions to it that might be expected by regular readers here.

  1. I’m not very good at lectures. Mariana Mazzucato was a great speaker in that unstoppable Italian-American way. And I stuck it to the end, but it was a hard exercise in concentration for me. That aside, I’m left wondering if it was worth it – one person talking for an hour, even jumping around her slides, is something I can watch on YouTube and I get to pause it to have a cup of tea and a think half way through.

  2. I’m not very good at Economics. I spent a good deal of my second year at University rebelling against having to do Economics 101 and I’m very glad to say that last night had no mention of inelastic pricing, but I was on my guard for long explanations of this model versus that model. I’m glad I got to hear what she had to say (big takeaway: don’t forget that all of Silicon Valley’s invention is built on the foundations from large publicly-funded programmes [DARPA, NASA, CERN etc]) but I had to work hard for it (probably a good thing).

  3. I’m really not good at post-lecture Q&A. There may be some people who enjoy it, who get to hear things they didn’t hear before, but I don’t think that justifies the mic-hogging and mansplaining and all of us having to sit through another half (if we’re lucky) hour of one person speaking at a time.

I came away really wanting to know who else was in the room (other than Jeremy Corbyn) and what they thought. And what all of this was doing to “broaden the debate”. I may just be being impatient. Let’s see what the next one (on Tech & the Future of Work) is like. I’d much rather have some Open Space/Unconference events where people really get to talk about this stuff and we all have an experience we couldn’t have had through a screen.

Which ties in conveniently with two evening events I’m doing in February at WeWork on the Southbank! After the Future of Work spaces we did before Christmas, I wanted to continue the conversation but with a more practical angle. So rather than talking broadly about new technologies, I’m asking “What are we actually going to do?”

You can book on Eventbrite:

Future of Work: What are we going to do about Artificial Intelligence?

and

Future of Work: What are we going to do about The Internet of Things?

See you there if not before!

 

TwitterBot-ageddon

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been at #commscamp13 and #ukgc13 – at each there where plenty of people at the event and away from it who were tweeting using the hashtags – this sort of backchannel has become an important part of the event experience since the early days when people started appearing in conference halls with internet devices, a way to say “hello, I’m here” and “I just spoke to X – she’s amazing!” or “what Y just said reminded me of http://…” etc.  it also lets people “outside the room” join in to an extent.

On both of these recent occasions the channel has been disrupted by an invasion of spambots, to the point that the stream became unusable temporarily for those actually interested in the topic.

These bots latch onto the trending hashtag, saying something inane like “I can’t believe this!” plus a spammy link and flood the stream.

I know nothing about the creation of twitterbots, but I assume the accounts are programmatically created and they sit listening for trending hashtags and then throw themselves into the stream with the hope that from the large number of people taking part, there’ll be one or two who end up clicking on the link or even (yikes!) following the bot themselves.  Today I’ve seen them swarming around the #uksnow hashtag, the other day, when the trumpeter Kenny Ball died, his name was mentioned in spambot tweets.  It’s ridiculous.

At both the events recently, I’ve witnessed the bot tweets have died out over time, during the day, but it’s not clear whether this is simply because the tag became unusable and so stopped trending from non-bot-traffic or because Twitter noticed and did something (but see point 1. below) or because people following the stream reported the bots quickly.  I’m guessing it’s a combination.

So we’re all asking, “What can we do?”

0) Use another platform for the backchannel.  hmm…  any suggestions that have the ease of use and userbase of Twitter?

1) Get Twitter to sort it out.  Good luck with that one.  I’m sceptical of the idea that Twitter are actually able to do anything – the bots are all over the #sxsw stream right now for example.  Surely, if Twitter could kill this sort of thing easily, they would be doing it routinely on the tag associated with the biggest social media event of the year. Twitter also have shown themselves to be repeatedly clueless about what’s really happening on their network.

2) Build better filters – as Twitter increase the amount of metadata associated with tweets, perhaps there’ll be ways of identifying the little monsters quickly and removing them from searches.

3) Start a bot war – fight bots with bots. The most tempting, it’s kind of like point 1, but we do it rather than leave it to Twitter, but who’s the we that’s going to do this?  And like any war, it might remove the present symptoms, but does it just lead to retaliation and escalation?

Sorry, that’s all I’ve got right now.

 

Official Blogging again at LeWeb 09

I’m really pleased that I’ll be going over to Paris in December for this year’s LeWeb as an official blogger – despite the cold, wifi and food problems last year, it really is a great gathering of people and Loic & Geraldine are fabulous hosts.

And as I said in this video that Ande shot last year (when #media140 was just a twinkle in his eye) it really is about the people, not what’s said or shown but the opportunity to look people in the eye (or look at *their* shoes) and make a really human connection.

Naturally I’m looking at some way of getting any tuttlers in town together for a nice cup of tea like we did at SXSWi in March.

If you’re going to come too, let me know – early bird registration closes on November 10th and you can get a 10% discount using the code BLOG09

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.

The long-tail of face-to-face

The gentle end of the Tuttle ClubI don’t know where I’m going with this one, but I’m musing about some attitudes that I see popping up around face-to-face events.

One seems to be: Big is beautiful (or at least successful) ie in order for an event to be considered a success, you have to have loads of people there. I disagree. I look at Tuttle and shudder at the idea of there regularly being 100 people there. I find it’s pushing the format to have more than 50. New people seem to expect me to be disappointed if there are fewer people this week than last week. I keep telling them that it’s OK, I’ve experienced nobody turning up to something I’ve arranged, and it didn’t kill me. I think that I’m going to always represent an extreme of Tuttle attendee, if anyone’s going to make sure they meet everyone in the room then it’s going to be me. And meeting 40 people in 3 hours is a lot, fairly comfortable, but nearing the maximum.

Now that’s not to say that I don’t think big events are any good. I enjoyed Web2.0 and I’m sure I’ll enjoy LeWeb08 which is going to be huge. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think size is a sign of success, it’s just a sign of, well, how big something is…

Another side of this is the feeling that everyone’s got to go to everything. OK, so it’s not that bad, but I do see people feeling like they are seriously missing out by not getting to go to things. And I know that’s how I’ve felt as well. We tell ourselves that we know that no-one can go to everything and surely no-one can be that interested in everything, and if you spent all your time going to things, you wouldn’t get anything done. But still, it would be just my luck that it will be this event that I’m not going to where something brilliant and amazing and paradigm-shifting will happen, something that the attendees will remember for ever and tell their grandchildren about, and level of awesome that will never be repeated in our lifetimes.

I think we’re going to be doing more and more of these meetups, scaling from 4 or 5 right up to the thousands and recognising that we don’t need to go to everything just because it’s there, any more than we can buy, listen to and enjoy every CD available on Amazon.

In fact I’m personally going to be choosing to attend things that are the 4 or 5 right people to talk about a very niche, specific subject – I still love 40 people on a Friday, but next I want to add in some smaller, more focused things. Note, that the “right” people doesn’t necessarily imply the best, brightest, coolest, sexiest, funniest or any of those things. It just means, if anything at all, the most appropriate.