THATCamp Canberra was a blast of interestingness, like a triple-shot ideas-espresso. I loved the chaotic opennness of the freeform approach to a gathering of great mind-body-spirits, and found it both inspiring and invigorating. I wrote an account of the session I hosted here. In this post, I wanted to share some procedural ideas for the next Australian THATCamp.
Personally, I think I ran too far with the ‘un’ part of the conference. Ordinarily, at a conference, I would create fairly well-organised notes, for myself but also for potential sharing or reporting. At THATCamp I barely took any notes, and those I did are not labelled with the session name or anything else. My excuse is that I was in a state of technological confusion about how to participate in and record my takeaways from this conference. I had a brand new iPhone – my first, so operating it was a challenge in itself – and a laptop that couldn’t connect to the wireless network (this was a problem common to many campers), but which I could use for digital notetaking. So should I try to bring up a website, tweet, or write myself a note? And in any case, should I use the phone, the laptop or a pen and paper? And what was that that that person just said? In short: tricky!
Beyond confessing to my own private conundrum, and despite the fact that we had some great groundrules, I thought it worth sharing this post about the art of provoking serendipity. The art is presented in four points that could usefully be applied to THATCamp and any other unconference. I list them here (but really, it’s worth reading the whole post for the juice):
- Gather requisite diversity.
- Nurture a sharing, evolutionary culture.
- Weave the network together.
- Issue a provocation.
At THATCamp Canberra, we had plenty of diversity in terms of the ‘field’ (if I can call it that) of digital humanities, and Tim and all the Bootcamp leaders did a great job of making the less tech-y people feel welcome. There was a wonderful spirit of openness and generosity. And informally I’d say there was plenty of provocation. But as Dan said, the campers were noticeably not representative of the diversity of the population. And certainly, we might have inspired even more awesomeness if we had attended more to the network-weaving part of the process.
With all of the above in mind, I offer these suggestions to unconference organisers, session hosts and participants:
- If it’s at all possible, arrange a backup internet connection.
- Support session proposers to plan an effective session. You might not be able to say if their session will occur, but you could let them know as early as possible how long the sessions will be. Invite them to identify an intended outcome, and to consider how best to achieve that. Is it an opening-up-style discussion? Do you want to reach a consensus on something? Is the purpose to trade coding tools, techniques and tricks? To sketch a plan for an application?
- Session hosts could nominate a scribe and a Googler / laptop driver as appropriate. Encourage everyone to share the responsibility – the facilitator can’t do it all. (And even keen uncon peeps can slip into passivity.) Also consider breaking big groups up for smaller-group discussion so everyone gets a say. And if you are facilitating a session, consciously seek out contributions from quieter people.
- Participants – be conscious of how we can each help make the event fly. Would the organisers appreciate it if you emptied that overflowing garbage bin? Does this session need a scribe or someone to drive the projected-laptop? Is that person wanting to say something but too shy to claim the space?