Purposeful discussion in geoscience

Regular readers will remember the Unsolved Problems Unsession at the GeoConvention in Calgary last May. We think these experiments in collaboration are one possible way to get people more involved in progressing geoscience at conferences, and having something to show for it. We plan to do more — and are here to support you if you'd like to try one in your community.

Last Thursday was the 2014 CSEG Symposium. The organizers asked me for a short video to sum up what happened at the unsession for the crowd, and to help get them in the mood for some discussion. I hope it helped...

Getting better

Conferences seem so crammed with talks these days. No time for good conversation, in or out of the sessions. The only decent discussion I remember recently (apart from the unsession, obvsly) was at EAGE in 2012, when a talk finished early and the space filled with a fascinating discussion between two compressed sensing clever-clogs.

I think there are a few ways to get better at it:

  • Make more time for it, preferably at least 40 minutes.
  • Get people into smaller groups, about 4–12 people is good.
  • Facilitate with some ground rules, provocative questions, and conversation management.
  • Capture what was said, preferably in real time and using the participants' own words.
  • Use lots of methods: drawing, sticky notes, tweets, video, and so on.
  • Reflect the conversation back at the participants, and let them respond.
  • Read up on open space, knowledge café, charrettes, and other methods.
  • Don't shut it down with "I guess we're out of time..." — review or sum up first.

Think about when you have been part of a really good conversation. How it feels, how it flows, and how you remember it for days afterwards, and mention it to others later. I think we can have more of those about our work, and conferences are a great place to help them happen.

Stay tuned for details of the next unsession — again, at the Calgary GeoConvention.