Saturday, May 10, 2014

My unconference reflection

I am grateful to #ResponsiveOrg for inviting me to the first London event on 10 May. It was a Saturday and over 150 people self select to spend one full day to discuss and exchange ideas on changing the way we work and creating a movement to build responsive organizations. It was the first time I participated in a full day unconference with no predefined agenda and speakers. The closest I have had similar experience was my hosting of a World cafe in Berlin last year Oct (Social Business Collaboration 2013 )

Coming out and feeling a bit overwhelmed at the end of the day, I ask myself what have I learned? How would I evaluate my own experience of a full day unconference?

What I like:
1. The novelty effect of allowing agenda to emerge and no pre-defined agenda
2. Setting interaction protocol at the beginning so participants understand they can "vote with their feet" and can move from one discussion group to another. This also set the expectation to the speakers that don't be hurt if people leave the session you host half-way into the discussion.
3. Some great discussions and ideas came out from the participants (some are thought leaders / prolific blogger in the field which I did not recognize initially; others are enthusiastic and have interesting point of view even though they have much less experience). Everyone is treated equal.

What I struggle with:
1. The ideas emerging are very similar. Many of the ideas are not new, they are common sense. (Perhaps I have already been reading their work on the Internet. Perhaps we are all converts and influence by the same authors).  I was hoping to hear more radical ideas and join in debate. Overall, there is not a lot of disagreement or controversial discussion. Everyone seems to be nice and polite.
2. How each session is conducted depends solely on the style of the facilitator. In certain sessions, some people talked a lot, others were quiet. I wonder how could we make the best use of the 1 hour+ facetime to have deeper dialogue, to listen to one another and give time for reflection on how the ideas relate to myself and my work.
3. There is a lot of talk, and it is not clear (nor it is the expectation at the beginning) that one need to identify actions to take. I guess a lot of participants leave with "So what? Now what? What is next?"

Wearing my practitioner's hat, I like some of the concepts and some of the experience I have had today. I wonder how I can bring some of the unconference concepts back to work to create/nurture/energize a global champions network to promote a new way of working (including promoting the usage of an enterprise social networking platform). My colleagues are busy and hardly can spend time to attend a full day training. I think they are going to find unconference too unstructured, too fluffy, too abstract, and lack of specific outcomes.

I think I need to tweak the approach, perhaps by considering the following:
1. Allowing emergence happen before the face to face event. E.g. Could the participants propose the discussion topic online prior to the unconference event?
2. Could the participants who put a discussion idea forward post a 1 min video prior the event to promote their discussion topics?
3. Could the discussion be facilitated with a more structured communication protocol. Eg Ensure everyone have a voice, provide a note taking form to encourage participants to jot down what they agree, disagree and actions they can take back to their workplace, people they want to follow up with.
(Note: my view is informed by Dr Brenda Dervin's Sense Making Methodology, for those who would    like to dig deeper, here is an article:

Is that just me who have the above thoughts? I wonder what other participants think?

I certainly have had a great experience today, and glad to meet so many Tweeter avatars face-to-face. Thank you to the organizer for giving me this experience!

I wonder what other participants think?


Unknown said...

I had similar thoughts to yours. I would love a more practical problem solving exercises (come with a business problem or initiative in your organisation and we'll try to figure out how you can inject some responsive ways of working into the situation). Or stories: this is what I did in my organisation/my client.

There's one thing (elephant in the room?) that wasn't really addressed at the conference. Quite a few people were consultants. How do consultants feel about sharing information with potential competitors? Just wondering.

Unknown said...

Hi Bonnie
I liked the spontaneity and I can understand why a first event under this "brand" needed to have more of a feelgood than a critical focus. By mid-afternoon I did feel slightly overloaded and agree that I would have liked to have taken more time to dig deeper into certain topics. That may have been easier in a smaller group. In my specific session (public sector) we did end up with a high proportion of consultants and so I think it could have done with more balance. Overall it was a really good day and I think there has to be some responsibility for individuals to convert the day into actions. I did have an idea for a slightly more radical session that I could have set out online in advance. Next time! Was great to meet you. Good luck with your action plan :-)