Thinking about unmeetings

Stefanie Butland has been writing about unconferences.

In November, she shared six tips for running a successful unconference.

An ‘unconference’ has no schedule set before the event. Participants discuss project ideas online in advance and projects are selected by participant-voting at the start.

Stefanie’s six tips are:

  • Have a code of conduct.
  • Host online discussion of project ideas before the unconference.
  • Have a pre-unconference video-chat with first-time participants
  • Run an effective ice breaker
  • Have a plan to capture content
  • Care about other people’s success

Stefanie notes that Aidan Budd and his colleagues (2015) have a list of ten rules for organising an unconference.

In a second post in December, Stefanie wrote about the value of welcome in preparing new community members for an unconference.

An unconference of 70 participants had 45 people attending their first unconference. Stephanie wrote an introductory email to these 45:

Stephanie used the free Calendly tool to schedule meetings. She sent some questions in advance of the online conversations (appear.in) and used a Google Form questionnaire to compile responses (individually and collectively).

The online conversations enabled Stephanie “to prime people to connect on day-one of the unconference with others with similar interests or from related work sectors”.  She noticed that: immediately after our conversation, first-time participants would join the online discussion of existing project ideas, or they themselves proposed new ideas. My conversations with two first-time participants led directly to their proposing community-focussed projects – a group discussion and a new blog series of interviews!

She added:

An unexpected benefit was that questions people asked me during the video chats led to actions I could take to improve the unconference. For example, when someone wanted to know what previous participants wished they knew beforehand, I asked for and shared example resources. One wise person asked me what my plan was for having project teams report out at the end of the unconference and this led directly to a streamlined plan (See Six tips for running a successful unconference).

I think Stephanie’s posts are great resources for anyone contemplating an unconference or hackathon. Earlier this year, I was involved in a hackathon in Ireland (#abbotsthon17). One of the issues that did arise then was how to connect a community that was emerging.

Stephanie’s introductory, welcome email resonates strongly with my interest in first-in-family initiatives in higher education. It resonates too with Nancy White’s stewardship practices.

From each of these inspirations, I am very clear about the importance of inducting people into a community and supporting them once they have made the decision to engage (or even participate peripherally).

Photo Credits

Stefanie Butland (Twitter)

P1580274 (David Haberthür, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Corresponding to connect a self-organising group

I have just received a letter. It is the third Friday letter from Abbotstown. I like to think of Abbotstown as a place in a James Joyce novel but it is a real place too, in Dublin.

The letter is written by Denise Martin and to my delight she has posted it on Rob Carroll’s website. Link.

In her letter, Denise discusses meeting a coach for the first time as an analyst.

The aim of the Friday letters from Abbotstown is to connect a self-organising group of performance analysts in Ireland. It is an idea I suggested at #abbotsthon17 and is inspired by three drivers.

The first is the joy of receiving a letter that is addressed to you personally. I am old enough to remember waiting on my doorstep for important letters in the mail. In my small town, the postmen and women knew when you were expecting an important letter or card. They delivered it to you personally and often left their normal route to make sure you had it before school. This was in the 1950s and I think everyone in the town was trying to recover from those dreadful moments in the Second World War when a telegram arrived with the worst news about a member of your family you could ever receive.

The second comes from a section of Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity. It is from a section written by Frank Miceli about a teacher he met and whose classroom he observed for five months. He wrote of his observations:

The instructor began a ‘writing’ phase of the program by asking the students to write him a letter dealing with any questions or problems or things they felt strongly about. He told them he would write a letter back to them.
The students did not know how to react to the teacher. One girl raised her hand and asked if the teacher would read the letters aloud in class. He said he would not, that the letters would be personal communications between them, and that he would respond not with short notes, but with detailed replies.
‘Would you tell us in your letter about things that bother you)’ asked one student. The teacher said he would: ‘However, I’ll only write what bothers me if you promise not to correct my spelling.’ The students laughed. ‘Besides, if I write and ask you something, if I have a question for you, will you respond with a letter to me?’ The class laughed again, even louder. They thought he was kidding. Students always think ‘real stuff’ is not serious.

Frank noted that in the letters exchanged between the teacher and each pupil there was a remarkable flourishing of all pupils’ compositions.

The third driver is a project at Stanford University called The Republic of Letters. I was fascinated by the way the project mapped correspondence between leading thinkers of the Enlightenment and was intrigued by Voltaire’s prolific letter writing. The project notes:

Before email, faculty meetings, international colloquia, and professional associations, the world of scholarship relied on its own networks: networks of correspondence that stretched across countries and continents; the social networks created by scientific academies; and the physical networks brought about by travel. These networks were the lifelines of learning, from the age of Erasmus to the age of Franklin. They facilitated the dissemination and the criticism of ideas, the spread of political news, as well as the circulation of people and objects.

These drivers give me the optimism to believe that in an electronic age, correspondence has an enormous role to play in connecting a self-organising community of practice.

I am looking forward to receiving the fourth Abbotstown letter.

#Abbotsthon17: visualising patterns – Alan, boxing and Sankey

Introduction

During last Thursday’s #Abbotsthon17 conversations, we were discussing pattern recognition. Alan Swanton suggested sharing some of his boxing data to exemplify some of the ideas we were exploring.

I suggested we defer the sharing given the flow of conversation that was occurring. With Alan’s permission, I am sharing two of his slides here that I think make a very important contribution to the wider discussion of how we share data stories with audiences.

The first is a matrix of data:

The second is why I suggested we did not share at the time Alan proposed it.

I think this second visualisation, a Sankey diagram, could have taken us on a fascinating journey that might otherwise have been constrained towards the end of a long day of concentration. It is one I am keen to explore now.

Transforming Data

Alan has been working with the Irish boxing program for some time. He has been very assiduous in his collection of performance data and has been keen to share these data in ways that provide coaches with actionable insights.

I think his Sankey diagram transforms the descriptive data shared in his matrix. I am intrigued by Alan’s choice of this visualisation.

A Sankey diagram is a flow diagram in which the width of the arrows used is shown proportionally to the flow quantity. Perhaps because it is such a powerful way to visualise energy, it is a ‘natural’ way to present energy flows in a combat sport.

I wonder what you think as you compare the two images (repeated again here):

I do not have access to Alan’s original diagram. My attention in visualisation 2 (Sankey) is triggered by the Jab route in successful attack phases. I imagine this has led to very powerful conversations with coaches and athletes.

This embodies for me the role of the analyst in an informatics age: data rich actionable insights shared in an elegant way.

Henri Poincaré wrote of this kind of elegance:

What is it that gives us the feeling of elegance in a solution or a demonstration? It is the harmony of the different parts, their symmetry, and their happy adjustment; it is, in a word, all that introduces order, all that gives them unity, that enables us to obtain a clear comprehension of the whole as well as of the parts. But that is also precisely what causes it to give a large return; and in fact the more we see this whole clearly and at a single glance, the better we shall perceive the analogies with other neighboring objects, and consequently the better chance we shall have of guessing the possible generalizations. Elegance may result from the feeling of surprise caused by the unlooked-for occurrence together of objects not habitually associated. In this, again, it is fruitful, since it thus discloses relations till then unrecognized. It is also fruitful even when it only results from the contrast between the simplicity of the means and the complexity of the problem presented, for it then causes us to reflect on the reason for this contrast, and generally shows us that this reason is not chance, but is to be found in some unsuspected law. Briefly stated, the sentiment of mathematical elegance is nothing but the satisfaction due to some conformity between the solution we wish to discover and the necessities of our mind, and it is on account of this very conformity that the solution can be an instrument for us.

I do hope Alan has forgiven me for not pursuing his data analysis on Thursday. I am delighted that he has now shared his analysis with all thirty attendees at the hackathon.

I do see this as the start of a whole new conversation … that will take us from Irish boxing back to Charles Minard‘s Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812.

Charles Minard's Map

It is a conversation about narratives and how we transform their content into powerful messages.

Photo Credits

Olympic Women’s Boxing (Ian Glover, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Minard’s classic diagram of Napoleon‘s invasion of Russia, using the feature now named after Sankey. (No known copyright restrictions.)