Tag Archives: unconference

Unschooling and the Self-unemployed #unschool13

I spent a day last week at #unschool13 an unconference called by  Simon Gough to “explore learning outside school together”.  I qualified both as a parent of two young people who’ve had unconventional school experiences and as a witness to the learning powers of unconferences and gatherings like Everything Unplugged and of course #tuttle.

All were welcome and the right people were the ones who came.  It was a really interesting and at times challenging experience.  Just when I thought I was used to the uncertainty of the unconference format (after all, even the most wacky groups have a limited range of social interactions and odd ideas) we go and try doing one … with kids!  I appreciated it being small enough to remain one conversation for most of the day.

The thing that struck me most was the similarity between the conversations we were having about unschooling families engaging with schools and education authorities; and those we have at other times about self-unemployed people engaging with corporate entities.

In both conversations, the people know that they’re doing something useful and valuable in working in a different way.  Both sets of people believe that others would enjoy and prosper from following their way of life if they knew that it was an option.

The conversation went round in a few circles.  Substitute the word “school” with “corporate” and you’ll see what I mean: “What should our relationship with schools be ?  Should we be going in and using their facilities?  What value might schools get from having us visit and work there?  How do we do what we know is right and at the same time make enough money to pay our bills?  If we don’t engage with schools but form groups of families to learn specialist things together, then aren’t we just becoming a school?”

So it got me thinking about what social aspects of my self-unemployed life map across.  I don’t know, you tell me.

#tuttle-like meetups – I think that most home-schoolers do this kind of thing, getting together in a coffee shop and annoying the staff by sitting there all day.

#jelly and co-working – I’m not sure how much this happens, the equivalent would be people working on their own learning but having others nearby to help out, perhaps now and then co-operating on joint-learning projects.  I think it would be interesting to create a C4CC-like space for unschoolers, but would that just be like a Summerhill-y kind of school?

unconferences – of course these start to bridge the gap between the employed and the self-unemployed – it would be good to see some young(er) people at unconferences in some other role than prodigy or  hack-cannon-fodder.  I’d also be interested to see an unconference that just was under-eighteens only.

consulting – the things we’re learning by being outside the system *are* valuable to those inside, but it’s sometimes difficult to quantify that value and to set up a contractual arrangement to exchange value that suits both parties well enough.  I think we started to get there, especially with the first round of the Tuttle Consulting work.  It’s more about knowledge-sharing perhaps.



On Channels and Combinations #ukgc13 #commscamp13 #tuttle

Sitting in groups of traditional marketers or comms people I often groan.  The most likely trigger is hearing words like: “Social media is just another channel”

Yes, you can see social media as a channel, but if you treat it like the other “channels” that you’ve had in the past (TV, radio, press) you’re missing out on the secret magic.

What’s importantly different about social media is that they encourage many-to-many connections rather than one-to-one or one-to-many connections.  The counting that goes on is all 1:1 or 1:M – how many followers do you have, how many people saw this tweet/ad/page/article/video.  But what really counts, what really makes a difference is relationship, including the relationships that you foster with your media but aren’t part of yourself.   This is social object territory – make stuff that other people use to connect with each other.  Most traditional comms efforts are still focused on creating a relationship between the creator and their audience whereas the real value for the community as a whole is the potential for connection between members of the audience and that’s what the internet and social media unlock.

This is the magic of unconferences and #tuttle-like meetings too.  They are designed to create connections between participants rather than building a dependent relationship between participants and the organiser.  Traditional conferences want you to sit and listen and know how brilliant the organisers are so that you will buy subscriptions to their publication or pony up to come to the next event.  They grudgingly give you more networking time because you are connected people who understand the value of having many, diverse, connections and you understand the power of conversation.  But there’s a payoff in this for organisers – they want you to have just enough networking time to have your conversation-hunger satisfied, but not so much that you start to think that you can do without them and omniscience.

At an unconference or #tuttle though the whole point is about making connections and building relationships.  Most newbies, when you ask them, think that they’re coming for information, but by the end, most know (even if they can’t articulate it) that what they  really got was the benefit of conversation with fellow human beings and the potential for new actions that arise from the new connection.

Just quickly a bit of maths – In any group, the number of potential pairings is n(n-1)/2

(check it if  you’re not used to this sort of numberwork – If I’m in a room  containing n people, I can make n-1 pairs with others and there are n of us who can all do that. My pairing with, say, @danslee is the same as @danslee’s pairing with me, so divide by two)

At #commscamp13 there were 135 people – in traditional terms this would be quite a small gathering because we’d only be able to get our message to 135 people.  But by focusing on connections and the relationships that result from that, we get (135 x 134)/2 = 9,045 – nine thousand potential connections being nurtured feels a lot more valuable than 135  people receiving the message through the channel, doesn’t it? Is it surprising that from those nine thousand pairs some amazing conversations happened?  And that’s not even taking into account the three-way or four-way conversations that could have happened too.

That’s  why I spend my time creating spaces where people can connect without being told what to talk about or when to talk and when to listen.


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! 🙂

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…