Emergent reflections

A space where I can digest some thinking through the writing process - liminal, emergent and reflective.

Conference planning: reflections on process and participation

Margaret.OCONNELL's picture

**crossposted from Ross' blog... I made these comments over at Ross' blog and thought I'd repost here so I can continue to reflect on our conference planning at CIT, over the next few months... Di also makes some valid points from her own conference experiences...

Your thoughts on previous
conferences, Di, remind me of my experiences in Adelaide last year. I
felt 'freer' at this conference as I had not planned to present
anything (in fact I had not planned to go until the last minute!), so
felt I could 'drift' between sessions, conversations and workshops, as
they appealed to me. However, in so doing, I was not quite as
'committed' - or perhaps invested is a better word... and thus apart
from one or two sessions that peaked my interest, I probably didn't get
out of it as much as if I was engaged in a diferent role (or
something). Still there is much power in observation I think, and it
did give me an insight into the operations of a conference.

In saying this, I am also reminded on a 'conference tour'
I did in NZ, in September of 2006, whereby a core group of educators
(especially interested in flexible/networked learning) toured both
islands, stopping into institutions and communitiies to discuss and
share teaching and learning issues. It was initially called an
UNconference - and meant that the themes, delegates, sessions and
organising processes were emergent by choice. I attended an education
conference at the same time as the UNcnference which gave me a
wonderful insight into the tensions between the two.

wear and tear

Some observations

1. The conference,
being large and well-planned from go to woe, meant everyone knew where
they were going, what was coming up next and when they would get
coffee/lunch, etc.

2. The conference 'presentations' were timed, the process of
presenting and attending presentations was 'known' (thus, as Di says,
most were 'listened to'), and each was chaired to adhere to this
process. However, not much was 'discussed' around the presentations.

With 1 and 2 I note that the focus is on the conference process rather than the content and/or participation...

3. I co-facilitated a workshop
at this conference and my co-facilitator and I were rearranging the
room prior to our workshop as it had initially been set up with lines
of chairs. As we rearranged the space, we discussed the UNconference
happening 'next door' and the irony with which we were sensing in
'deconstructing' the space we were in. This was a lovely reflection
time for us both and I blogged about this, later that evening with my co-facilitator.

4. After our workshop I attended the UNconference 'space'. There was an
untidyness to the large room they were occupying. There were about 4
small groups interacting in different areas around the room - a number
of data projectors in action with different elements being shown and
explained to those interested. There was a sense of it being a
"workshop" - like a mechanics workshop, or a busy kitchen - things were
happening and it affected all of your senses enough to make you refocus
quickly on each and every action taking place - quite an involved thing
to do! Very stimulating.

5. I wandered around the room, not quite sure where to begin, or
'who was in charge', catching glimpses of conversations, until I came
to a small group of 4 who were looking at internet ads on a projected
image on the wall. They were debating the efficacy of the ad and its
content. Then, one of the participants 'took over' the laptop to show
others an ad they had also seen, inspired obviously by the one they
were viewing.

6. I moved on to another group (taking one of the participants from
the previous group with me) to a group playing with lego-type objects
on the floor. We sat down with them an observed the action until I got
a sense of what was happening. I having video footage of this
interaction which I have edited into a piece I find meaningful to me
and have had some follow up conversations with others who were involved
at the time.

Overall, the UNconference had a messiness to it that was stimulating
(after a time I felt over-stimulated, which is a normal response for someone reflective like myself :o), but was entirely generated from
and propelled on by the interest of those participating. The sessions
ended when groups started to disperse and someone mentioned going for a
drink in town! The only expectation I felt from others there was that I
participate in some way (active listening was highly encouraged and
acknowledged as participation). At no time did anyone say anything
about 'rules' or process, except to reflect on previous sessions and
how they had gone, and what was useful (what they had taken away) from
those sessions.

Our initial discussions earlier this March about the 2008 conference
touched on this UNconference experience, as we wondered how we could
create spaces for participation with delegates who perhaps are less
familiar/comfortable with the more 'academic' approach to conferencing.

I'd like to record our reflections as we develop the conference, via
blog posts (and hope to encourage others to do this too), so we can
continue to reflect on our learnings beyond the life of the conference

Susan.GOFF's picture

Continuing the reflections on the 08 conference

Greetings Marg, Di and everyone

Your thoughts about an emergent and self organising style of conference are very interesting - and the fact that you have participated in a previous event is a significant knowledge for founding such an idea. I would be very supportive of this kind of approach, and am aware that while they appear lacking in organisation such approaches require a lot of setting up (background research, briefing, resourcing the unpredictable on the day etc)

It may be that we can somehow link it into existing dialogue with members through the visioning strategy - as I think we also discussed with Stephen... that idea of the conference being a dimensional shift of existing threads and relationships which then shift back/on/forward to non conference dimensions after the event...Our puypose being to bring energy and coherence to the L AR field through CIT's focus on whole person learning...

John has forwarded me Romme's design principles as we also discussed in Canberra:

1. Each situation is unique
2. Focus on purpose and ideal solutions
3. Apply systems thinking
4. Provide limited information
5. Use participation for decision making & implementation
6. Use discourse as a medium for intervention
7. Pragmatic experimentation
Romme, A.G.L. 2003. Organization as design. Organization Science, 14 (5): 558-573.


If you like we can work towards the unconference idea using these principles and see if and how members begin to increase in participation to sense out how we play it. We have a few months to sort out logistics and contracts etc... and can probably advertise the event without committing to details too soon...Susan Goff

Dianne.ALLEN's picture

Allocating this blog to somewhere

Hi Marg,

I only know that this conversation is going on because I get email notification.

It looks like this is another feature of our upgrade.

You need to designate your blogs to an audience.  It used to be the default was blog to members group and for members and not administrators with editorial capacities, this might still be the case.

I would like to see this blog item and its conversation open to the membership, to gather in those others who also might have an interest in this issue, and thereby contribute to the thinking and planning.  If you decide to run with a 08Conference SIG, then this coudl be both in that group here, and the members, as I am doing with the blogging about ALARA Visioning

Dianne Allen KIAMA, NSW

Margaret.OCONNELL's picture

Public designation?

Hi all and thanks for your thoughts, I'll work backwards...

1. Di, I always leave my blog posts open to public viewing and commenting - assuming the public option is the auto-default if no other group is selected? If this is not occurring then we'll need to check this setting with Ross and John!

2. Susie, I like Romme's principles and Stephen and I are keen to pursue an unconference 'spirit' and will discuss this shortly (prior to talking with Jeanette and Janet) to formulate our ideas fruther. Your point about the unconference apeparing to have little organisation but is indeed highly organised behidn the scenes in definitiely on the mark! Teh NZ expereince showed me that it pays to have wrap-up conversatiosn from one day (even a fews hours!) to the next to ensure things are progressing, moving in a certain direction, and remains of calue to participants - again Romme's points highlight this too.

I'm looking forward to drawing this out further!

Cheers, Marg :o)

View my activities at
http://edge.edublogs.org/ OR http://www.alarpm.org.au/blog/133

Dianne.ALLEN's picture

Marg, something is not happening as we expect it

The 'public' of the blog has gone missing somewhere - no member of the public is aware of any blogging here

The selection of 'public' doesn't mean that the members get to see this.

I have just had to detective this one down!!!

I am about to check if there are any more of your blogs that I haven't noticed recently

Dianne Allen KIAMA, NSW

Margaret.OCONNELL's picture

More sleuthing!

Di, I've just checked this also via the 'edit' tab on this post.

This message under the groups area is why I haven't selected anything previously...

BUT, just now, on ticking the Members box, I noticed that the Public box itself then becomes available to 'tick'! Whereas before I touched anything, the Public box is 'greyed out' (thus I was assuming it was the default setting, as previously discussed!)

So we think this is not working automatically then?

Cheers, Marg :o)

View my activities at
http://edge.edublogs.org/ OR http://www.alarpm.org.au/blog/133

Email: margoconnell@gmail.com

Margaret.OCONNELL's picture

Public viewing seems active?

Hi again,

I just logged out and then accessed my ALARA blog as a member of the public would (via my blog link), and I can view the blog posts, including the comments too - just can't make comments, unless I log in.

Maybe we need to clarify this set up with John?

Cheers, Marg :o)

View my activities at
http://edge.edublogs.org/ OR http://www.alarpm.org.au/blog/133

Email: margoconnell@gmail.com

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