Tag Archives: open space

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.

I need a place to work (and it’s more than a desk with power and wifi)

Five years ago, when I decided to go nomadic (and ended up living and working with others around the country for the next twelve months) it was largely because I’d realised that while I needed somewhere to live, the place I was in wasn’t working for me and it seemed that nothing in the market was really for me either. I didn’t want to move out of London for good, but I also didn’t want to stay. I didn’t want to live on my own and I didn’t want to move in with someone else (yet). I didn’t want to get a job and I didn’t want to work on my own. I wanted something else but I found it really difficult to articulate what it was. But I did find it over time. I found stimulation in the variety of people that I worked and lived with. I found rest on the road, knowing each time that I was moving again that new possibilities were opening up.
So now I’m settled, I like where I live, I’m married again, but I’m restless around work. I’m mostly working from the dining room table and sitting in coffee shops (or theatres!) and I’m feeling the need for a workplace that goes beyond the basic needs of desk, power, wifi. I need people and I need space to host in. I think of new invitations for open spaces and unconferences practically every day and they include working through some of the ideas around co-operative knowledge work with #tuttle that I wrote about before I went to America last month. I don’t know whether anything among the current crop of co-working spaces might be close enough – I definitely want to be part of a community rather than just another desk-renter.

I don’t know much more, but I was reminded by a wise friend yesterday that my best work comes when I express as much as I know and let others fill in the last 20% rather than trying to hide away until I have something finished.

So help me fill the gaps in this. Or y’know, put your earbuds back in and get back to what you were doing.

Chat about #Tuttle, Unconferences, Open Space with @zosiaap

Download (34MB)

I spoke this morning with Zosia Poulter who’s studying for an MA in Creative & Cultural Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths (thanks to lovely Sian Prime for the intro). She was interested in hearing more about my approach to gathering people together to talk and do stuff.  I said yes, on the condition that I could record the conversation and publish it.

You might find it interesting if you’ve only had a little experience of self-organising conferences/events or you’ve heard of them but haven’t been able to get to one. I found it interesting to have a forum to join some of the dots for myself.

Some things that I mentioned that might be useful further reading:

Open Space Technology
The First BarCamp
An Early Sign-Up Page for Tuttle
Current Tuttle Facebook Group

Audioblog 160220 – Why So Serious?

Download 5.7MB

I recorded this on Waterloo Station shortly after the Devoted & Disgruntled Vaults Festival Open Space on Saturday. The space was opened to discuss “Let’s stop romanticising depression and marginalising other mental illness” and I called a session called “Why So Serious?” about the issue of taking oneself too seriously, dealing with other people’s expectations, the link between adopting a serious persona and depression or burn-out.

I reported like this mainly because I’d called a session at the previous week’s space but had then spent the whole week not being able to write a report.   It’s reminded me how much I like making this format.  Expect more…

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!

 

And another thing… talking to @davebriggs again

Download 40MB

Lloyd and Dave talk about social capital in the context of unconferences.

5 ways we give power to people outside the room #commscamp13 #ukgc13

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! 🙂