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)

Forums and Agency

A photograph taken of a sign advertising Australia's largest living hedge maze in Bright, Victoria.

I have had a number of conversations in the last month about how online communities share ideas and practices.

My thoughts about sharing responsibility in online communities were forged in my experiences of the open, online course CCK08 and extended by the publication of Digital Habitats (2009).

In Digital Habitats, Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John Smith discuss technology stewardship and propose this definition:

Technology stewards are people with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs and enough experience with or interest in technology to take leadership in addressing those needs. Stewarding typically includes selecting and configuring technology as well as supporting its use in the practice of the community. (2009:25)

The keyword for me in this definition is ‘leadership’. I have tried to provide this leadership in a number of open, online courses I have facilitated. My aim has been to create an invitational environment that inducts participants into open sharing. I understand that this open sharing is not for everyone but the role of stewarding and driving a community is too important to be left to chance.

My current interests in online communities is being extended by a University’s use of Basecamp and a group of sport coaches using Edufii. Both communities appear to be flourishing with a wide range of contributors and sensitive responses to others. Both groups have peripheral participants who benefit from these exchanges.

One of the topics for conversation about forums in the last month has involved two separate organisations who point to the limited number of volunteers available to act as stewards and drivers in their online communities.

These conversations were brought into focus today in a Stephen Downes alert to a revision to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on shared agency.

The entry starts with these lines:

Sometimes individuals act together, and sometimes they act independently of one another. It’s a distinction that matters. You are likely to make more headway in a difficult task working with others; and even if little progress is made, there’s at least the comfort and solidarity that comes with a collective undertaking.

I think this relates to ideas and practices as well as tasks.

The Stanford entry encouraged me to think about shared responsibilities in forums and how an energised community might develop a ‘plural self-awareness’ that “is and is not analogous to the self-awareness each of us as individuals exhibit”.

CCK08 helped me to understand that an unequivocal commitment to a community’s flourishing is a cooperative enterprise. This commitment can be intense and needs to be shared.

I do try to contribute to community forums and believe that each of us can model a practice of engagement that peripheral participants might find appealing. I sense that stewardship is a profoundly nurturing activity that can encourage others to accept leadership as well as followership.

Each of us who has made that first step in an online community understands just how big a step it is. I am keen to promote those first steps to a ‘plural self-awareness’.

Photo Credit

The Maze (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

Postscript

Heather Hankinson has alerted me to the SWARM Conference at the University of Sydney on 30 and 31 August 2017. Link. (“Australia’s only online community management conference connects established experts with new talent for a jam packed gathering of ideas, inspiration, insights, best practices, networking and collaboration.”)

Blogging, Sharing, Sociabilty

I have been blogging with WordPress since 3 June 2008.

Since that time I have written 350 posts on topics linked to learning, teaching and performing.

Many of these topics are stimulated by links shared by Stephen Downes through OLDaily and were given impetus by a remarkable group of participants in CCK08.

A few days ago (10 March) Stephen posted about blogging and followed up the next day with a link to the self-organising social mind. I was mulling over both these posts when Kent Anderson posted about Kevin Kelly.

All three posts arrived at a time when I was completing an open tender on Wikiversity, making some plans for a visit by Nancy White, and reflecting on an observation by Graham Attwell about “the existence of multiple information and knowledge flows” through the ability of anyone to publish.

Stephen’s link to Luis Suarez’s post Making Business Sense of Social Media and Social Networking – Is Blogging Dead? and Luis’ link to Scott Monty’s Blogging is Dead exemplify the power of blogging to me. Kent Anderson’s post about Kevin Kelly and his link to Kevin’s presentation at the O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference provides an interesting context for the vibrant bloggingscape.

In his talk, Kevin points to six verbs that characterise how we interact with information, how we make and present information:

  • Screen
  • Interact
  • Share
  • Access
  • Flow
  • Generate

George Theiner’s review of John Bolander’s book The Self-Organizing Social Mind starts:

Sociability is one of the most fascinating traits of our species. As human beings, we create and participate in complex social structures with a flexibility of group membership which is unparalleled in the animal kingdom, and we are capable of entertaining a seemingly endless variety of social relationships. What if underneath our dappled social world lies a deeper kind of simplicity, which can be explained by the physics of symmetry and its breakings, akin to the processes which are at work in the formation of a snowflake or a spiral galaxy? In his insightful new book, John Bolender argues that such a view is indeed suggested by contemporary science rather than a figment of social romanticism.

I like the idea of sociability and simplicity. Blogging is a part of this relationship and I have seen it from the outset as a purely volitional activity on the part of the author and reader.

I post to share information and explore wayfinding. From early on I saw blogging as a way of developing a cloud presence that used WordPress as a vehicle for Kevin’s six verbs. I had not anticipated that anyone would read my posts.

I was delighted recently when my daughter Beth started blogging. I read her posts avidly. I have an immense amount of paternal pride and an overwhelming admiration for her desire to share information and experience. I think she has the essence of blogging that Stephen, Kevin, Luis and Scott point to.  I see Beth’s posts as another example of the resilience and relevance of blogging.