Designing for Participation
After an event I facilitated recently, someone reached out to learn more about how they might go about creating a conference event to bring a particular group of people together. He was intrigued about the idea of an unconference and ways to invite more participation into the event.
My first question to him was “who else cares about this – so it isn't just you trying to hold the flame?” It's find a co-conspirator or two that are equally passionate about this idea.
Then for that small nucleus of people to sit down together to explore some key questions on the need, purpose, principles and people. This is where I usually enter the picture to support the process, using the Chaordic Stepping Stones. So the idea isn't to carve it in stone but to begin to bring a bit of clarity to the endeavour, and start testing it out with others in little informal conversations.
Next would be to create an organizing group (what I call a ‘core team') that reflects the system – as the more a core team includes the mix of people you want to engage the more equipped you are to invite them to participate. The core team is like an inner concentric circle, and you'll have other folks on the next ring out helping with other aspects of the event. I've written a little bit about roles on a core planning team here.
The core team comes together to reflect on the initial thinking of the need, purpose, principles and people and iterates it further. And then the design process continues, exploring the harvest – what we want to have in our hearts and our hands at the end of the gathering. We talk about the invitation process, possible process/format of the event, and the business model (free? need sponsors?). So we don't start by planning an unconfernece or Open Space Technology. After the need, process, principles, people and harvest are clearer then we can select from the right processes or mix of processes to create the event experience. And onwards in the planning…. venue, invitation process, etc.
He also asked about any reading he could do and I gave the following suggestions:
- If you are interested in the idea of unconferences, then reading Harrison Owen's Open Space Technology – A Users Guide, would be very worthwhile. Here is a link to a brief, free online version.
- Peter Blocks' Community: The Structure of Belonging is excellent reading for those interested in the lands of participatory process.
- Peggy Holman's Engaging Emergence is another good one.
- Peggy is a talented and very well respected member of the Open Space community. She wrote a lovely series of blog posts last year on how we can better design for community (great reading for conference organizers):
I'm excited to hear how these resources and participatory planning approach help shape his event.