It’s been a fantastic two days at Global Melt, and boy is my mind liquid. In a room filled with talented community instigators and caretakers, we hacked on tools and strategies to boost community health during events, to get things done IRL, and to most importantly enjoy what you’re doing and make a difference.
The event kicked off with facilitation by the masterful “Don’t get me started on panels and Powerpoint” Allen Gunn. There was a post-it note mosh pit where we scoped pressing questions about how global, peer-driven communities benefit from live events (many thanks to SJ for transcribing nearly a hundred notes). We asked some tough questions, but there was one fundamental thing to tackle:
Global Melt focused on the role of events for three reasons: 1) we’re prototyping this type of workshop, so it’s better to start with some concrete; 2) events are a microcosm of a community, so the dynamics manifested in them reflect the organization as a whole (think governance, funding, interactions among members, etc); 3) furthermore, all of the participating groups run events — some small, some large, and certainly many confronted with deep questions about purpose and impact.
With so much time and energy invested in events, isn’t it worthwhile to take some time to define why we run events in the first place?
Value proposition to participant
Often as event organizers we neglect or inadequately address the question: what does a participant get out of an event? In the trenches of logistics and operations, it sometimes feels like there’s not enough time to frame the Why. During Global Melt, we dedicated a round of discussion to defining several value propositions to participants on one hand and to the organizers on the other.
By identifying and articulating what someone gets out of an event, some issues around promotion, engagement, and the Caring Problem are resolved. So, for example, rather than saying you’re hosting a meet-up for web developers, which is very general and hard to gauge the relevance, you could invite experienced developers from news organizations to design HTML5 applications for visualizing raw data sources. Through clearer definitions of the target audience and the event’s purpose, you increase the probability of getting engaged participants who know why they’re there and what they will achieve.
On the first day, even before the planned tool sprint, we had our first beta release. Have you ever been to an event where you end up in a really interesting conversation with someone, exchange business cards and promise to be in touch, only to return home with a fistful of email addresses and numbers, unable to track why you’re supposed to talk with whom? Enter Sparklez, an analog interaction reminder conceived and prototyped by Asaf and others at Global Melt. It works like this: the event organizer hangs a piece of paper on the wall, aka the Sparklez interface:
Whenever participants make a connection with someone during the event and want to follow up on the conversation, they write their names on the paper with a brief note about what they want to talk about. After the event, the onus of following up with these interactions lies with the event organizer. The organizer must contact each listed person and confirm whether they have been in touch as indicated. Sparklez is a lightweight and fun way to ensure that people get the most out of networking and conversations at the event and that social ties are revisited and reaffirmed after the event is over.
Event documentation is another task that often withers on the vine because it’s tough and time-consuming. But we thought about how documenting an event could be more fun and engaging. Together with Alek and SJ, we conceptualized a Rapporteur Bounty. The game creates external incentives for attendees to document and talk about what they did and learned at an event.
For example, the organizers of the next Wikimania could offer a bounty for a Global Melt participant to speak at the conference about workshop or to send a write-up about certain sessions or topics. The bounty would vary depending on the people, the resources, etc., but you could think of fun ways to encourage groups to share outcomes and talk about what what achieved. It could also work for participants who couldn’t make it but were keen to attend. They could offer something symbolic or funny to incentivize someone to create more documentation about the event they missed.
Entertainment as an Organizing Principle
Having fun is an incredibly strong motivator. And especially when working with volunteer contributors, it’s paramount to ensure that people have a good time. But usually, entertainment is an afterthought and not strictly productive, such as a party following a workshop or an outing to Cirque du Soleil. But what about ways to leverage our drive for fun into positive contributions? Gamification is a horrible buzz word, yet the approach can be useful.
One prototype we produced plays with the concept of a totem and an evolving documentation monument. A data totem is a storage device such as a USB that is passed on from event to event. It contains curated content from the event, such as videos, photos, and summaries of sessions. The object serves both as a reminder to the recipient that they should add information and hand off the totem to the next event organizer.
For example, there are CC Salons all over the world. What if an organizer in Guatemala City copied the creative works showcased at his event and then passed on the USB to a salon organized in Warsaw? The totem evolves and takes on more information as it travels. Plus, you have increased interaction among the event organizers, since they can discuss the data on the device as well as chat about how their event went, etc. Moreover, the effort to compile a curate folder for the USB also means that it easy to copy the file and share it elsewhere.
I hope to continue working with Alek to iterate on the Global Melt Event Totem below. I’ll post the file for Global Melt soon. Who will get the totem next?
Leadership is a behavior not a person
Many participants noted that fatigue is a huge concern facing many event organizers and attendees is fatigue. There’s too much going on, too much of the same same, too much pointless blather, too many expectations and no replacements or fresh blood.
Jay offered the great insight that leadership is a behavior, not a person. That means the role of a community leader isn’t tied to a person as such but is instead a role adopted and adapted. If an organizer, for example, no longer has the capacity to do something like host a regular meet up or plan big annual event, it doesn’t mean that the project dies. Rather, by indicating that leadership is a way to act, and not the individual that fills it, there are ways to empower and inspire others to adopt leadership behavior. Are there projects that you’re involved with where leadership in this manner could be framed anew?
Relatedly, Charlie mentioned that communities are healthier when each member knows it can leave at any time. By having a clear exit, every moment someone stays is an autonomous decision to be there. This is deeply important is combating fatigue (sometimes people feel obligated to stay or that there’s no way out).
Talk about Events as Events
We all attend and many of us organizer lots of events. It’s incredibly helpful to be deliberate about why one participates at an event, and even more, to discuss this question with others. One tip for organizers is to offer a session or feedback round at an event to provide feedback but also to talk about why one holds an event in the first place, what it achieves and doesn’t, and how formats and other factors can be tweaked to reach goals.
What I also find useful, especially at an event where you’re highly involved, is to plan in the time immediately afterward to document, say thanks, and collect feedback. Even building in time during the event, while energy is high and everyone is sitting in a room, can be very effective. Or bake an extra few hours on the following day to digest and write-up meaningful summaries and thoughts. On-the-fly stuff is great, but a planned decompression can have even more impact.
Speaking of wrap-ups, this turned out to be quite a long summary. ^^ But, there are a few places I’d encourage you to look if you want more info. We’ve got a lot of documentation growing on the wiki, including an excellent survey of available communication and collaboration tools for events. There’s also a forthcoming list on 10 Ways to Make Your Event Not Suck, some helpful threads for an local organizer’s handbook and some event toolkits, plus some microevent formats and other ideas.
Importantly, we’d love to hear feedback and ideas to improve. And there’s a list of actionable next steps — like blog about Global Melt in your language or sign up for the discussion list to learn more.
Thanks everyone for coming. A super special thank you to Alina and Gunner, to Mark, to Alek and Joanna, and to all the participants and to studio70. Meeeeeeeeeeeelt!