Free Culture Research Conference Decompression

With more than a week between us and the recent Free Culture Research Conference (#FCRC) in Berlin, it’s time to stop “recovering” and finally write up some reflections and feedback for this really fun event. Firstly, so many people helped make this conference a reality. Please read our wrap-up post on the official live-blog for a much-deserved round of danke schön to FCRC’s friends and supporters. And be sure to see our other conference documentation, including blog posts from other participants, our Flickr stream, a visualization of retweets at #FCRC, and even a few radio interviews.

In short, there were a great number of fascinating discussions and ideas, and I hope over the next few days to find the time to distill them. In the meantime, I’d like to publish the participant feedback collected during the closing session. Hopefully this is useful information for the next FCRC and for others running similar events.

  • Power, power, power. In a venue full of geeks, you can never have enough power sources. Fortunately, our wifi held(!), but it was a concern from many participants, especially on the first day, that we didn’t have enough powerstrips. Our bad. Hopefully we recovered with a few emergency strips, but still, we could have done that better.
  • Breakout sessions. People seemed to enjoy the breakout sessions, which had groups focusing on Free Culture questions within specific disciplines. They were more discussion-driven than the standard paper sessions and panels. We toyed with the idea of giving report-backs from each breakout, but time didn’t allow for it. However, we will post the proceedings online if the breakout session leaders send them.
  • Participant list. There were a few requests for a directory of attendees, including affiliations and mailing addresses. We emailed each participant post-conference and asked them to opt out of the listing if they wished, and today we sent out the list as a PDF. This is probably something we could prepare next time during registration so that the list is available during the conference.
  • Connections across subjects and groups. We had many lively sessions covering an impressive range of topics. It was a joy to hear that people’s biggest “complaint” was that there was too many interesting things happening at the same time! But we could improve the communication bridges across sessions and do a better job of connecting topics throughout the conference. Perhaps this could occur during scheduled reporting sessions or more visible note-taking tools like etherpads so that participants can add to the conference documentation on the fly. I think this bridging question is a challenge many events face, and it would be interesting to learn how others solve this issue.
  • More outreach to related research circles and conferences. We were so pleased with the event’s turnout, globally and discipline-wise. However, there were a number of key focus areas and research circles that attendees mentioned as missing at FCRC. Most notably, there was a low attendance rate from open access and open law initiatives, which is a major pity considering the substantial overlaps among the research communities. One participant from the open access field commented, “We need better outreach across our networks and conferences. Next week, an important open access conference will take place in Berlin. And we didn’t know enough about FCRC, and you all don’t know enough about our conferences.” So, let’s get better at cross-pollination!

(More after the pics) ^_^

  • Research communication channels. There is also work to be done in keeping communication channels open among Free Culture academics and other supporters of this type of research. The commons-research mailing list is one important place to join the conversation.
  • Another fantastic idea is to create or hook into a bibliographic catalog of publications and related works of Free Culture research. I’ve followed AcaWiki, the “Wikipedia for academic research”, which focuses heavily on Free Culture and Free Software topics. This might be a key community to work with to better document and comment on relevant research.
  • We’d also like to publish the paper abstracts, which was recommended by participants, since it’s harder to parse full papers vs. the time-friendly reading of the extended abstracts. There were also a few requests to draft more concretely what researchers in Free Culture want and hope to achieve. That might presume more affiliation and common(s) vision than the FCRC attendees in fact share, but it could be a contemplative exercise for the next conference.
  • Demand for another FCRC! It was great to hear such positive and constructive feedback for the event. Some tips for the next year include: rearrange seating to in a circle or semicircle to better facilitate discussion; opening the call for abstracts earlier (aiming to settle dates and location for the 4th FCRC by end of the year); consider hosting the conference within the framework of a larger, related event; evaluate the value of holding the conference over three days  instead of two; not to change our party plans midstream (d’oh); and lastly, as with every gathering, ensure the trash cans aren’t too small! ^_^
  • Update: We received  feedback encouraging the use of open space formats. This was something we considered long and hard during the planning of the event, but decided against it due to lack of time in the schedule. We wanted to guarantee the authors, many of whom traveled long distances, a secure spot in the program together with a chair and a commentator. This would have been more difficult to organize in an open space. However, the suggestion to provide flexible workshops and discussions is important, and perhaps next year there is a viable way to integrate an open space into the conference.While it can add to the complexity of arranging spaces and updating schedules, it can also be invaluable for the participants to play a greater hand in forming the event.

Images: FCRC Logo by Christian Dürr, winner of the Open Clipart Logo Design Contest. FCRC Participants (fcrc2010_DSC5719tonysojka),fcrc2010_DSC5802tonysojka, fcrc2010_DSC5750tonysojka, and fcrc2010_DSC5772tonysojka by FCRC10 (Tony Sojka) / CC BY 2.0 Generic

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