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Re: <nettime> Winter Camp 09: How Would You Organize Your Network?
Shannon Clark on Tue, 17 Feb 2009 12:20:41 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Winter Camp 09: How Would You Organize Your Network?


The schedule and format you have outlined for WinterCamp is very
much in the spirit of an Open Space (though with some modifications)
and in some other ways similar to the ongoing (and very successful &
widespread) BarCamp movement - I suspect from the name you chose this
is not a coincidence.

I've organized, facilitated and otherwise helped out with now dozens
of such events - a few suggestions & observations from one event
organizer to another.

(I'm sending this to nettime as I hope it may help other event
organizers as well)

1. More than any other single factor the absolute most important
part of any event held in Open Space (or similar formats) is the
invitation. Who you invite - either directly or indirectly via a
more open/public invitation - and even more so the frame which you
set for the event - who will be there, what will be expected at the
event, what goals if any are expected after the event etc. As Nina
notes, there is some inherent tension in an event focused on networks
and openness which is itself somewhat private & closed. This isn't
necessarily a bad thing - and indeed it can be a useful tension - but
it should be recognized.

2. I describe all events I facilitate as having an "ebb & flow" -
the goal with any event where people are breaking up into small
group discussions is to as the organizer create an overall structure
and schedule such that people return from those small groups and
intermingle, flow back together as a group and have the shared
experiences which bind a group together (meals are excellent for this
- but likewise shared group activities and experiences).

3. I would caution you about being too rigid with the workshop
breakouts - there are many roles which people play at an Open Space or
BarCamp style event. One is around the formal sessions - some people
run sessions and mostly participate in others. But that is not the
only or even most important role. An equally important role is that of
"Butterflies" who "flit" between group, perhaps spending a few minutes
in one session, then shifting to another, perhaps spending many
sessions in ad hoc conversations in the hallways. These people play a
vital role in weaving together the group - in cross pollinating ideas,
in helping connect with people who find themselves in the hallways
instead of in a session.

Whenever possible I prefer to hold these types of events in a single,
large, open space. (If the weather permits I love holding entire
conferences outside and at least in part in motion). The key aspect
of being all together in a single, large space (ideally with minimal
furniture - and what furniture there is pushed out to the edges) is
that it greatly facilitates people overhearing other discussions,
people migrating between discourses and at a minimum having a
generalized sense of what else is happening - which conversations are
striking a deep chord with the group (and which are not) - and helping
each individual find others at the event with shared passions.

The mistake I see countless events (including most BarCamps) make is
to have lots of small rooms, scattered throughout a venue, and to have
very few shared group experiences so once the event starts everyone
ends up with a personalized experience - moving between rooms - but
has little overall sense of what the group as a whole is experiencing
of thinking about.

I would also highly recommend taking time on the first day to give
everyone present a very visceral sense of who else is there - what
brought them to the space, what backgrounds or perspectives they are
bringing to the event.

I generally do this with a group, physical exercise - plus if the
group is small enough some basic introductions.

One favorite is to pick THREE (no more and no less) broad themes
related to the event.

For WinterCamp this might be "Networks. Art. Politics" (pick
better/more focused ones - but ideally terms which are in tension with
each other)

Then you ask the whole group to form a TRIANGLE where each person
places themselves along an edge which represents what their specific
interests are (i.e. if mostly Art then at that point, if equally Art
& Politics then midway between those two points). The point of the
exercise being threefold.

1. It forces people to choose since you don't allow them to break the
edges - so they can't be equally interested in all three.

2. It gets people physically milling and moving about - which as a
start to an Open Space/BarCamp style event is vital - it breaks people
of the habit of just being passive listeners as they are all to often
at most more typical conferences or events.

3. Once formed it gives people a broad perspective on the interests
of the crowd PLUS an immediate chance to find fellow travelers who
share specific interests (i.e the people immediately around you in
the triangle have just identified themselves as sharing your exact

I generally start an event with an overview of the logistics
(welcoming people, pointing out where facilities are, going over the
broad schedule for the day). Then I give a short background about
the format, the event (sponsors/organizers etc). Then the group
exercise(s). And following that the first day's breakout sessions.
I typically have a grid with eh available spaces for breakouts -
and then ask people to come to the center of the group and identify
themselves and the session they would like to see happen. (and then
select a time for that session - typically only scheduling the first
day - leaving the later days to be filled in later)

What usually happens is that other people in the group share similar
or related interests - and rather than each convening a separate
session usually folks agree to work together on the same session. And
the schedule often shifts are people ask for the bigger spaces (or
spaces with facilities they need for a session such as a projector)
and to balance out the schedule etc.

This process may take some time- but it also serves as a means to
introduce a large portion of the group to each other.

Then we go into the breakout sessions.

I would usually also recommend keeping any formal presentations or
talks to the EDGES of the schedule - in the mornings BEFORE working
sessions or in the late afternoon/evening post-dinner. This allows
people to e stay in a "working session" mode for a concentrated period
of time. It is, however, good to have a shared group lunch - just
don't also have a speaker at or during lunch - instead people will
naturally be continuing conversations started in the workshops and in
the hallways.

It is also usually a really good practice to end the day back together
as a group - and to at the end of each day get a brief report to the
group as a whole about the discussions & progress made in the various
sessions during that day (usually to do this means asking each session
to have at least someone taking some notes - on paper & perhaps on a
wiki) to report back later.

Starting each day as a group and building that day's sessions and
then ending the formal part of the day with reports back to the group
usually dramatically accelerates the progress of the group as a whole.

I think your schedule of evening group experiences and events is a
really good contrast to the working sessions during the days - shared
meals & experiences really help bind people together.

Hope this is helpful and that you have a great and highly productive


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