Get our free book (in Spanish or English) on rainwater now - To Catch the Rain.
Open conference design
"How often do we "meet," without in fact "meeting" one another, mind to mind and heart to heart?" Rosa Zubizarreta
What would truly open source conference design look like?
First and foremost ways of designing conferences, or any real life face to face, group conversations that were not limited in their reuse in any way by copyright. So stuff is reusable, both the actual content of the conference and the design principles (of the gathering) are completely open for everyone to add to and improve. The design stuff - the design principles, and all experiential knowledge that people want to contribute from putting them into practice is share and share alike.
What features could OSCD include?
A focus on the face to face stuff
It can include working with technology but is also about, and has a primary focus on the real life, non-virtual, non-electronic, non-technology stuff. There's a huge amount of stuff on using the technology for collaboration but as far as I can see very little on designing social, real life, fact to face events - so that networks of such events could begin to replicate the sort of collaboration being achieved online.
Ideas, suggestions and guidelines
The proposal here is to develop a set of ideas, principles and suggestions, without any implication that anyone has to accept any sort of whole package approach. The design is about unlocking the potential of gatherings to collaborate, but people come together for a whole variety of reasons, some purely social and there is no implication that gatherings have to be collaborative or collaborative to any particular extent other than that which the gatherings themselves choose.
Open group work
Having said the above there is the opportunity to focus on how to design meetings or gatherings where there is at least some desire to 'get things done' or be 'more than a talk shop' or more than just a social gathering. Implicit in this is that it is not case of either face to face or online but how to design the face to face events when these are as a matter of course complemented by online collaboration.
There may be much better names than OSCD and Open group work. Your suggestions welcome!
What's wrong with traditional style conferences?
Plenty, mostly about missed opportunities to tap into the collective intelligence, the collective wisdom of the crowd.
Tradional style conferences are often about maintaing the status quo, business as usual. This can be reinforced through a variety of means including:
- layout of furniture, who sits where
- opportunites for the the 'Great and the good', to strut their same old stuff
- opportunties for parachuted in 'experts' to out talk valuable local knowledge
- excluding potential contributors through high prices
- excluding people through use of jargon
- choosing inaccessible venues
- Community conference facilities that end up being out of the price range of the communties they are nominally there to serve
- participants with no intention whatsoever of being productive, but actually preferring passivity. This may happen for a variety of reasons including habit, lack of confidence, disillusionment, and the perception, sometimes almost as a sort of social norm, that the real, if mostly unspoken, function of conferences is to provide temporary refuge from over stressful working lives.
"I've been lucky enough to be able to attend many gatherings focused on economic and “new story” change over the last several years. All of them disappointed me in their structure, with hierarchies either implicit or explicit alongside the old trope of “those who know” lecturing to “those who don't know.” This all becomes wearisome, and no matter how enlightened the organizers or the gathered crowd, this old model seems to be dredged up like a comfortable old blanket on a cold night." 
OSCD in more detail
The space below is for setting out a few ideas under what might be the main headings
OSCD ethos and guidelines
Both the actual content of the conference and the design principles (of the gathering) are completely open (including for example not limited in their reuse in any way by copyright) for everyone to add to and improve. The design stuff - the design principles, and all experiential knowledge that people want to contribute from putting them into practice is share and share alike.
In practice this might be achieved by some sort of acknowledgement at the start of any process that all content and design materials are considered to be released under (for example?) the GNU Free Documentation License.
Open involvement and inclusion
Although there may be circumstances when complete openness seems inappropriate, gatherings adopting OSCD will tend to be open and inclusive.
Circumstances when complete openness might seem inappropriate can include providing a sense of security for some participants who might not otherwise contribute or contribute as much, for example if there is any element of conflict resolution in the reasons for the gathering.
There is perhaps a sense in which participants adopting OSCD generally do not see conflict as inevitable.
Because of the presumption of openness OSCD gatherings would be unlikely to be inward looking and generally would be likely to adopt outward looking attitudes.
Preparing for OSCD conferences
For example an agenda can be created through open collaboration on a wiki such as this one. The agenda should be open as soon as possible from when the conference is proposed.
There may be tensions here which need to be worked through. For example objections (to openness) which tend to be of the kind - "people won't come" without certainty over various aspects
- purposes of the conference
- expected outcomes
- key topics
- timing and duration
Listing questions to work on in advance
Questions to work on (including collaboratively for example via a wiki) in advance might come from the original reasons for calling the conference.
Overcoming objections to preparation
- Preparation or work in advance of the conference not about cutting down Agenda options
- Preparation or work in advance of the conference seen as of value in its own right
During OSCD conferences
Sowing the seeds of future collaboration
Sometimes there may not be much actual collaboration at a particular conference, but it may be that there are ways of paving the way for future collaboration.
Post OSCD conference collaboration
Nurturing ongoing collaboration
(to follow - something on striking while the iron's hot - building as soon as possible on post conference enthusiasm)
- Public Participation: Ten Simple Ideas for Better Online/Offline Integration, August 24, 2010 intellitics.com
OSCD in practice
Is it possible to devise or find opportunities to practice OSCD? See also right hand column.
- Citizen centred participation
- Community involvement
- Open involvement
- Towards sustainable conferences
- A-Z of Networks and Networking
- Participatory Conferences, The Gurteen Knowledge Website
- World Café hosting guides
- Conference Connections: Rewiring the Circuit George Siemens, Peter Tittenberger, and Terry Anderson