We've all been offered access to so many tools, so many valuable connections, so many committed people. What an opportunity.
What should we do about it?
I suggest starting to experiment with our conferences. There are so many tools: unconferences, idea jams, hackdays, wikithons, and other participative activities. Anything to break up sitting in the dark watching 16 lectures a day, slamming coffee and cramming posters in between. Anything to get people not just talking and drinking, but working together. What a way to build collaborations, friendships, and trust. Connecting with humans, not business cards.
Unconvinced? consider which of these groups of people looks like they're learning, being productive, and having fun:
- Speaker 'office hours' during the breaks so you can find them and ask questions.
- Self-selected topical discussion tables at lunch.
- Actual time for actual discussion after talks (no, really!).
- Cool giveaways: tattoos and stickers, funky notebooks, useful mobile apps, books, scientific toys.
- A chance to sit down and work with others — hackathons, co-writing, idea jams, and so on.
- Engaged, relevant, grounded social media presence, not more marketing.
- An art gallery, including graphics captured during sessions.
- No posters! Those things epitomize the churn of one-way communication.
Come to our experiment!
Clearly there's no shortage of things to try. Converting a session here, a workshop there — it's easy to do something in a sandbox, alongside the traditional. And by 'easy', I mean uncertain, risky and uncomfortable. It will require a new kind of openness. I'm not certain of the outcome, but I am certain that it's worth doing.
On this note, a wonderful thing happened to us recently. We were — and still are — planning an unconference of our own (stay tuned for that). Then, quite unprovoked, Carmen Dumitrescu asked Evan if we'd like to chair a session at the Canada GeoConvention in May. And she invited us to 'do something different'. Perfect timing!
So — mark your calendar! GeoConvention, Calgary, May 2013. Something different.
The photo of the lecture, from the depressing point of view of the speaker, is licensed CC-BY-SA by Flickr user Pierre-Alain Dorange. The one of the unconference is licensed CC-BY-SA-NC by Flickr user aforgrave.