Ideas, Insights and Inspirations for the next generation of conferences and meetings
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
PCMA Disney Presentation
The Greater Midwest Chapter of PCMA held a fantastic "Hybrid Meeting" on September 29 in which they engaged both a face-to-face audience and a large virtual audience in a very interactive session with Sharon Pleggenkuhl of the Disney Institute. Below are the IdeaBoards created live during the webinar and posted during Mike McCurry's photo montage!
Click on the image to view a larger version!
I will fill in these notes with some more narrative in the next day or so, but I wanted to get the raw notes published for you quickly!
Mike McCurry (@MichaelMcCurry on Twitter) launched a great discussion about hybrid meetings (meetings that include both in-person and virtual audiences). I got so excited I opened my big mouth and shared some thoughts. Well, wouldn't you know it, Mike asked me to develop my ideas a little further in a guest post on his blog:
Summary: If all virtual conference attendees are watching through their computer screens, they will expect the same kind of rich informational experience that they get with every other application they use. Simulations and more visual displays of information can create a virtual conference experience that is much more engaging and valuable.
Thanks, Mike, for a great opportunity to explore some new terrain!
Jeff Hurt is a meeting planner and social media maven that I've recently had the good fortune to encounter in the #eventprofs chat on Twitter. His background in educational design shapes his entire approach to planning events.
"5. As you plan your schedule, include some adult white space for attendees to digest information, network and learn from others. Just as in Twitter, it’s not about how many followers you have, conference planning is not about how many speakers you can cram into a day. It’s about the quality of your speaker’s presentations and the quality of the connections one can make."
"8. Unconference organizers should remember that people today are learning in new ways that are collective, egalitarian and participatory. The best conference learning occurs when there are varieties of ways people can learn from passive listening to collaborative round-table discussions to small group exercise. Retention and learning decreases the more attendees sit and passively listen, especially for eight-to-ten hours a day...
"While trying to have a single-experience for the entire audience is admirable, it is not possible. Nor does it really happen. Everyone brings their own set of learnings, skills and perspectives to an event. Each person leaves with their own takeaways and views. The Internet has turned learning on its head and no one person enters, follows or leaves the social space in a same way."
Events must be valuable for all of your participants and stakeholders, but each of these people will have their own criteria for defining value. This is Jamie McDonough's "Value of One" principle. Our events must create personalized value for every attendee. It is critical first to understand what your different stakeholders want and need, and then you must design an approach to your meeting that allows for this wide range of unique experiences to unfold.
How have you seen this be successful at events? Share your "massively unique" event stories in the comments section!
"What’s interesting is it really has changed the culture. It’s changed the way people share documents. They don’t do all that email, you know, email the PowerPoint deck, or email the PDF file, or email the 16 documents for the presentation. They all join a connect session and have the opportunity collaboratively to engage in that conversation. That kind of brings me to what I think the kernel is: you need to do collaboration around some event or activity. It’s more than just hold a meeting, it’s more than: "Let’s just throw up a site and let people throw content at it." It’s about, "What is the work product and the activity you’re trying to accomplish?"
I have yet to find a toolset to magnificently support the virtual collaboration process that I described in a previous post. The easiest and most adequate tool for the moment is a wiki, but that requires the participants to provide a fair number of tools themselves for creating graphics, images and models to post to the wiki. Any ideas for great modeling tools?
Ever find yourself driving in a strange town, passing a large, heavily-fenced structure and wondering to yourself, "Is that a prison or a school?" It turns out that the traditional models for schools, prisons, armies and hospitals were all developed around the same time. Michel Foucault wrote a great book called Discipline and Punish that I was compelled to read in college. It told a fascinating story of how society thinks of the relationship between body and soul. The basic idea is that people who "behave badly" must have a fundamental flaw in their soul. If we can rigidly train the body into a wholesome and productive pattern of behavior, then the defect in the soul will be corrected.
It's not too difficult to find the flaws in this argument, and it actually has some profound implications on our society at large. But this basic argument was used to create schools (create patterns of behavior in young people), prisons (correct defects by keeping them on a rigid schedule), and hospitals (treat the body like a machine). It's all very rational, but it's all very flawed as well.
The model for schools has become the model for our conferences as well. Make expectations clear. Keep to the schedule. Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, and tell 'em what you told 'em. Structure structure structure. There's no room in most conferences for creation to happen, for new ideas to emerge, and if there is room, it's trapped in a tidy little 60-minute breakout round called "Getting Creative!!!" (why the extra punctuation, I don't know).
So it might be helpful to learn a bit more about schools and schooling, yes? This might help us move away from the school-model in our meetings and conferences. Take a peek.
Digging a little further into the Collaborationlabs.net site... Open Space and UNconferences (not the United Nations, I assure you) are becoming more and more popular as techniques for making large-group interactions engaging and productive. They are certainly far more interactive than your traditional conference model.
All you've ever loved and hated about business meetings can be attributed to Michael Doyle and David Strauss. In the 1970s, they published a book called How to Make Meetings Work. This codified the best practices of meeting preparation, defining an agenda, selecting a facilitator, taking notes, etc. Their distinctions between types of meetings (problem-solving vs. decision-making vs. information-sharing) is useful and helpful as far as it goes.
There's been an unfortunate assumption, however, that this is all there is to meetings. We have believed that small groups can have a variety of types of meetings (best managed by the Doyle & Strauss rule-set), but that once the numbers of participants grew too large, the only possible process was the "sit & get" model of interaction -- one talking head lecturing at an audience. Now, there's been tremendous innovation in this style of meeting - from transparencies to PowerPoint to full-on spectacles with pyrotechnics and the whole nine yards. But the model of interaction is the same - one head talking, hundreds of others listening.
The arrival of Open Space is pretty exciting because it breaks that mold. Using this technique, huge groups of people can have dozens of concurrent conversations to explore ideas, test models and make decisions. It's totally uncontrolled and unpredictable, it's wildly productive and engaging, and it scares the pants off of most people who organize events. We tend to like knowing exactly what's going to happen before it happens (seriously, why does anyone hold a press conference anymore when the content is broadcast long before the meeting itself?). Open Space allows people in groups to interact, to mix it up, and for fun, exciting and scary things to emerge from those interactions.
What the conference world is just beginning to wrestle with is how big the universe of conference models really is, and how to select the right model for the right conference? Bryan Coffman has distilled a useful model for understanding meetings. I referred to this framework in my post on Conceiving a Virtual Collaboration Process. The entire CollaborationLabs.net site is an exploration of these different types of collaboration, defined by the two axes of "Facilitator vs. Agent Controlled-Process" and "Amount of Structure Created by Emergent Rules vs. by Design". The orange arrow designates the direction we seem to be heading in.
Based on the inputs described in my last post, here is a possible model for a Virtual Collaboration Process.
1. Assemble a Core Team Instead of gathering 50 or 100 or more participants for a multi-day session, we will start by assembling a Core Team of decision-makers. This might be 10-20 people, and should include some diversity.
2. Define Objectives and Outputs The Core Team will work with us to define their objectives for this collaborative process and the output they want to receive at the end of the project. We will also define with this group the diverse perspectives that we want to explore through this process (stakeholders, time frames, models of solutions, etc.)
3. Distributed Model-Building The Core Team will then distribute model-building assignments to small teams and individuals throughout the organization (and beyond). These teams will be asked to spend a small amount of time to build a model, document their work and send their outputs (models) back to the Core Team. This activity could be assigned to existing project teams or other groups. They could be asked by top management to spend an hour on this task during a regularly-scheduled meeting. We can engage a very large population with very little disruption to normal operations.
4. Processing the Models The Core Team will then have to explore the models that have been created and use them in some way. The Core team would then send out the next round of assignments to the same or different teams throughout the organization. The outputs from these teams is again returned to the Core Team for processing. This process can engage a huge population, but the primary transformation, insights and decision-making will happen in the Core Team. They are the only group that sees all of the divergent models being created. They are the only group exploring the ramifications of these different models. The Core Team will need to get together periodically during this process, but much of their work can be handled remotely as well. This will significantly decrease the client's cost for travel, lodging, etc. compared to large face-to-face meetings while at the same time increasing the breadth of participation and the depth of the exploration of divergent perspectives.
This process looks very different than a traditional face-to-face collaborative experience. But it uses the same core principles to achieve superior results through different tools and methods.
Here is a short video explaining the whole process:
There are two possible approaches for exploring "virtual collaboration". The first is to add digital tools to existing processes or to recreate face-to-face experiences digitally. This seems to be the approach of most "collaborative technology" providers -- they want to create digital tools that make it seem like "you're in the same room" with people in other parts of the world. As facilitators of collaborative design, we know that most face to face meetings are highly unstructured and unproductive. Why would anyone want to perpetuate those experiences online in the first place?
The second approach to virtualization is to explore the core principles that makes a face-to-face process effective, and then to apply those core principles to a new, digital environment. The resulting process would leverage the strengths of the new medium rather than faithfully replicating the original face-to-face experience.
So what are the core principles of our face-to-face collaborative design process? What is it that we really do?
Approach to Facilitation and Design First, there is a rather large universe of collaboration processes. Some processes involve a high facilitator presence (controlling the participants from the front of the room), and some involve a low facilitator presence. Some processes are designed in great detail in advance, and some processes allow the design to emerge through the experience. Plotted on a matrix, these two variable define four quadrants of collaboration.
Templates: Workshops Most training and workshops fall into this quadrant with high facilitator presence and lots of design in advance. The agenda is established before the meeting and the facilitator runs the whole show.
Coaching: Doyle and Strauss The traditional facilitation model involves the facilitator as a coach for the group. The group determines the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, and the facilitator focuses on managing the behavior of the participants (ensuring everyone's voice is heard, etc.)
Self-Organizing: Open Space In this quadrant, there is no design and very little facilitator involvement. The group determines what it wants to do and how it will accomplish it. This is the realm of Open Space Technology.
Design-Intensive: Future Search, DesignShops, etc. This is the high-design, low-facilitation quadrant where we have historically played and developed our expertise. The design is structured in great detail in advance, but the assignments facilitate the group's work. The facilitator plays a very light and occasional role in the process.
It is my belief that the core of the collaborative methodology that we use ("Collaborative Sessions", "DesignShops", etc.) is model-building. We ask participants to build models of a solution from a wide variety of perspectives, over and over again throughout our face-to-face sessions. An individual assignment asks the participants to build a model of a solution from their own vantage point. A "metaphor" activity asks participants to build a model of a solution based on a different system (a living system, for example, or another kind of lens). A "take-away" activity asks participants to build a model of a solution that does not include a component that is normally viewed as essential. They build models from the perspectives of different stakeholders. They build models of solutions in different time frames. They build models of solutions as if they were a competitor or a brand new start-up. Each of these models highlights new aspects of a final, workable solution. Our expertise is in identifying the right perspectives for building models and then sequencing those perspectives to explore new ideas and then converge on an excellent and innovative solution.
The Anatomy of a Model-Building Activity Our collaborative sessions are a series of these model-building activities. Each activity is made up of several components. The assignment provides the context, process and instructions for the activity. The team defines the individuals working on the model. The template is the form for the team's final output -- a list, a graph, a flowchart, a diagram, etc. We may provide the team with some resources -- tools, information, materials, etc. Finally, the team does its work in some environment. These five elements combine into the experience of the activity, and the activity produces an ouput - some kind of model.
Types of Activities There are a variety of different types of modeling activities that we can assign to a team. Orientation activities familiarize participants with the context of their work -- the objectives, the market, the landscape, etc. Exploration activities engage participants in learning about new perspectives or new systems. Build activities ask participants to create solutions. Testing activities ask participants to evaluate one or more possible solutions. Incubation activities get participants to think about other things for awhile to allow the problems to simmer. Exchange activities trade a model for some form of value -- a project plan, for example, might be exchanged for resources to fund that project. Again, our expertise is in identifying which types of activities are appropriate for a group and in what sequence.
So if we assume that the core of our face-to-face collaborative design process is "iterative model-building", then how can we create a virtual process to accomplish the same objectives? It may be valuable to learn from other successful processes for distributed, asynchronous change. Appreciative Inquiry is a successful change model that involves mostly one-on-one interviews between people throughout an organization. The process for creating "Implications Wheels" can engage small teams throughout an organization in a one-hour model-building activity that serves as very valuable input into a core team of decision-makers.