Behind the Theme Catching Scenes

I mentioned in my previous post that I wore the hat of Master Theme Weaver at the recent Western Cities Conference. Sharing more of the background on the role and how it came together…

The idea of working with a group of Theme Catchers was one I got from Tenneson Woolf and his work with the University of Saskatchewan’s 2011 Leadership Conference. I’m so grateful for those in my communities who write and share what they are doing – such inspiration for me in my hosting and facilitation practice. I borrowed and borrowed and borrowed some more from Tenneson’s ideas!

The core planning team identified a number of volunteers from their conference volunteer roster of BCIT students who would be Theme Catchers. I had prepared a Theme Catcher Volunteer Role document to help the core planning team identify volunteers. Erwin, from the core planning team, worked out a Theme Catcher schedule; as busy students it wasn’t possible to have a core small group theme catching the whole conference.

I had a welcome document for Theme Catchers and we met the week before the conference to get to know each other and chat about the role. I had some printouts of our graphic recorder Avril Orloff’s work so they could see some examples of harvesting in a bigger picture, more visual way rather than taking lines and lines of copious notes. Avril would be part of our theme catching huddles so this was a nice way to introduce her to the group without her physically attending our meeting.

During the conference the Theme Catchers (and me) used the Theme Catcher Worksheets. One fun element of creating these Worksheets was incorporating four hand-drawn pictures Avril had created for the conference program. This provided a nice little thread between the program, the Worksheets, and Avril’s live graphic recording at the conference. We also provided copies of the Worksheets on all the tables (hat tip to Chris Corrigan for sparking this idea) and I invited all the conference delegates to catch themes and share them on the graffiti wall and through Conversation Alley .

At the end of the first day the Theme Catchers, Avril and I huddled to harvest the themes from Day 1, which we called The Big Picture. And then from all the Theme Catcher’s Worksheets (here is a great example from our Theme Catchers), I created a Wordle. Adding in some screen shots of the Storify from the tweets from Day 1 and we had a lovely reflection piece “Theme Weaving from Day 1” that I shared in my introduction on the second day of the conference.

We didn’t do a Big Picture from Day 2 as the day was mostly concurrent break-out sessions however the Theme Catcher Worksheets were helpful for me to share out tidbits on Twitter which added to the Day 2’s Storify.

For the last day we started with a gallery walk of Avril’s charts. Then after our final two keynotes we began the closing ritual. We had started the conference with an invitation from me to create a big circle, alphabetically by first name (which was followed by all kinds of get-to-know-who-is-here-questions and turn-to-each-other to share the questions you carried into the conference). To close it felt right to go back to how we started; but this time creating a circle by our birthday (month and date). And then to turn to each other and chat about the seed they are taking away from the conference and what their first, next step might be when they leave.

Then offering my dialogue poem, a way of harvesting the threads from the conference in some master theme weaving.

I echo Tenneson’s words:

I’m admiring the creativity and courage that the conference committee is showing to innovate their conference and the way that large conferences are convened.

Gratitude to Joanne, Jordan and Erwin for welcoming this innovative element and creating a different, active kind of sense-making for the conference participants. What fun! Oh – and here is the last day’s Storify. I can’t wait to see how all of these harvest pieces take shape in the post-conference Memory Book. I promise to post it when it is ready.

Speech balloon Marc Wathieu via Compfight