Get this stuff out of my head.

Doing Homework for an Unconference

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I attended localgovcamp this weekend and once again I found it exciting, invigorating, and enlightening, but mostly I found it exhausting.  It is difficult to maintain that level of thinking and participation for an entire day, let alone beyond that.

Of the many sessions (35 in total) I mostly enjoyed the ones led by Catherine Howe (@curiousc).  Her first was around establishing and maintaining online identities that can then be used to develop authority and trust. Catherine’s main questions seem to be about whether we can have meaningful online democratic engagement without some structure around identity (although I may not have understood the premise completely).

Catherine’s second session was about the re-application of Agile software methodology to other areas of activity in local authorities (or similar institutions).  Catherine masterfully steered the conversation around the predictable traps of blaming the issues on the usual suspects of lack of leadership/vision and corporate IT policies.  She guided us towards finding tools, techniques and approaches we can use to solving the problems.  By the end, she had a general consensus that we needed to build a body of evidence to show how more iterative approaches to projects can work.

I was very impressed.  However, I was more impressed at reading Catherine’s comments about *camp/unconference events in general in her post Epic Localgovcamp.  My thoughts were heading in exactly that direction.  I love the opportunity to get together at these kind of events (this was my first localgovcamp but not my first unconference) with passionate and knowledgeable people that challenge and stretch my thinking and understanding.  But I do find that some of the discussions cover the same ground over and over again. This is particularly true of the open data movement, where the activists are still fighting to convince, cajole and convert people to their cause.

So I can see a conflict between building our combined understanding and moving our thinking and actions forward while still remaining open and inclusive. How do we begin to develop common language without it turning into off-putting jargon?  How do we discuss complex issues that practitioners encounter or edge cases that need to be generalised?

I have a suggestion.  I have no idea whether it goes against everything that is good and holy about the unconference way, but I will put it out there anyway.

Why don’t we pre-announce what we would like to discuss at some unconference sessions?  Just for a few sessions per event, we can set some pre-reading or a list of videos to watch, perhaps even propose a theory to be debated or discussed.  Basically, we could do some homework before we get there.  This, of course should be done in public where anybody can participate, and we would need to make it clear to participants on the day that the session did require some preparation so may be a bit tough to follow for the unprepared.  But, hell, I’d certainly attend any session that promised to expose that level of thinking with my ears open and my notebook ready.