Re: community building at conferences
- To add to John Smith's question yesterday "Anybody have any particularly
positive or negative experience with small conferences as community-building
events?", we are always looking for ways to add value, networking, and a
sense of community at our conference programs. I welcome any suggestions
for how we can do so. It's hard to know sometimes what the proper balance
should be regarding connecting people v. providing information.
Conference Director, IIR
(Miriam I'm glad you enjoyed it!)
Connect conference alumni via a web-conferencing system.
- gives folks a chance to cement contacts made during the conference
- allows for longer contact between participants and conference
- gives an opportunity for asking questions and interaction with
- provides a medium for feedback, critique, brainsorming,
suggestions and for the next conference.
- a space for building loyaly and relationships between participants
and the conference organizers
- delivers a 'capitive' audience for post conference seminars and
online learning workshops (revenue generation)
A mix on f2f and on-line web conference with ability to annotate and
process comments from other particiants extends the retention and the
learning, adding value far beyond personal notes scribbled in the
margins of a hard copy.
The greatest value comes from the opportunity to reflect in the
comany of cohorts that were there, that shared the same experience
and heard the same words. PowerPoint presentations in 30 minutes does
not do a whole lot of good for learning, it increases awareness,
presents information but does not allow for construction of new
knowledge, that comes from practice and discourse.
After all is said and done at a conference, the real value that
remains lies almost entirely in the relationships formed, not in the
short half-life of the hard copy content.
- Our experience -- at events such as RealTime, Community@Work (the CoF
leadership summit), and Women.future -- has been that adding online
community tools to an event (per Denham's suggestion) has mixed results. In
most cases, online community aspects to conferences works in terms of onsite
participant profiling, onsite email, and self-scheduling and message boards.
After-event community tools such as mailing lists and discussion areas often
don't attract a critical mass of participants -- or an inspiring call to
action for ongoing connection and collaboration.
In the case of Community@Work, which gathered a group of people who were
already pretty well connected online, the mailing list was quite active
initially but became inactive pretty quickly once the energy of the event
waned. In the case of RealTime's online community platform, the pre-event
stuff didn't attract too many people (most folks don't really think about a
conference until just before they go), but the onsite stuff worked really
well and helped foster all sorts of post-event back-channel connections. And
the Women.future discussions, which we helped design and facilitate,
attracted next to no one.
My take is that the more you can do in terms of connecting people one-to-one
-- via participant profiles, attendee directories and email lists, etc. --
the more people will connect on an ongoing basis after an event... but on
the back-channel. Our experience with post-event online communities that are
centralized shows that they might not be worth hosting unless the event
catalyzes ongoing work... or is frequent enough and attracts a similar
enough group of people (perhaps repeat attendees)... to serve as productive
punctuation for online community-based interaction.
Heath Row | Social Capitalist | Fast Company
77 N. Washington St. | Boston, MA 02114 | USA
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- Fair comments, Chris. Some additional context below...
> I feel that there's a difference in contextI would agree. What's your connection with someone who's gone to Comdex or
> between a commercial conference provider, how and who they
> get turning up to a conference , what the costs/ motives to contributing
> to the store of practice knowledge are etc
another large trade show or conference? Not much. And this might be the root
of our difference of perspective. I'm thinking conferences. Less so
grassroots-organized retreats of pre-existing communities of practice that
already use CoP language, etc. Com-prac was sparked by a CoP conference.
(Although it's interesting that IIR doesn't provide participant directories
for its events.) The CoF Summit mailing list was quite active right after
the event and did good work to keep people connected -- although I'd argue
that the participant directory and profiles did more. And we've seen small
pockets of people who've connected through our RealTime events organize
their own ongoing communities. F^3, which was born of the first RealTime in
Monterey, Calif., back in 1997 continues to this day and meets regularly for
face-to-face retreats around the world.
> In this second context, being able to maximise both the valueI think this fits into my idea of events as punctuation for otherwise
> of your pilgrimage-practice at the Retreat and post-Retreat is
> huge to all who participate. ( Shame if we haven't found
> ways of keeping that alive online)
ongoing community organizing work. And I agree that this hybrid has hella
potential. Your use of the word "pilgrimage" is interesting. These events
could also be celebrations, agenda-setting summits, ways to share best
practices amongst the CoPs, bridges between disparate groups, etc.
> Another issue is that Fast Company seems is pretty indeliblyI'm not going to shoulder the burden of proof on this, but I'd offer that
> organised around local cells not focused practice cells - now that
> may be all the difference in the world unless you've got proof
> that it isn't
the CoF is a global community of interest and action centering on a set of
ideas and ideals -- that has a hefty local focus. The CoF isn't the
strongest online community yet, so the local cells are the most visible
representation of its activities. People can connect based on industry and
interest -- and soon, skill -- as well as locality. And the cell gatherings
could be viewed as localized punctuation events that cascade up to our
occasional CoF summits and Roadshows... which cascade up to RealTime, etc.
As the online community matures, the CoF's local focus will change, I am
sure, even though people will continue to hunger for F2F connections in
their home towns.
My challenge on this is as follows: If you're organizing a CoP within an
organization, are you only focusing on one practice? Or are you organizing
multiple CoP's within that organization? (This seems to me to be the wisest
course of action. Why shut out the other practices?) And if you are doing
this, why not connect those CoP's to foster idea-sharing, collaboration, and
other interaction? The best ideas can often come from outside your domain.
If you're only focusing on practice-specific lessons within your CoP, you
might be limiting the potential of that group's development.