Making Events Better

Most meetings and events suck.  I’m lucky enough to know lots of folks trying to make this better.  Recently Civic Media hosted Gunner from Aspiration Tech for a training on how to create and facilitate  participatory events. Afterwards I was inspired to reflect more on my own approach to facilitating the workshops and events I run. A key reflection for me was that I put a strong emphasis on the process of collaboratively making of things. Our Data Therapy workshops and events are “think with your hands” events.  Almost every topic is tied to a hands-on activity where you make something with your peers.  This is how we invite participants to engage in the material – through the process of making things.
our Data Therapy "Data Sculpture" invitation to make
our Data Therapy “Data Sculpture” invitation to make
A key role of the facilitator in any event, meeting, or workshop is get people engaged. As facilitators, we use a variety of techniques and tools to do this – creating many invitations for a diversity of participants.  I think about this as three categories of invitations: invitations to speak, invitations to move, and invitations to make.
We have various ways that we invite people to speak and listen.  Two examples:
  • we can “read” the room and invite comments from those that have been silent for a while
  • we can set ground rules about argumentation and debate, personal attacks, etc (Aspiration Tech notes on ground rules)

Other invitations rely on physical movement to engage those that otherwise might not speak.  Three examples:

  • we can do brainstorms that get people up and moving around Post-It notes on a big wall
  • we can change the physical dynamic by breaking a larger group into smaller ones
  • we can offer movement by running a spectrogram to gauge diversity of opinions on a controversial topic (Aspiration Tech spectrogram notes, P2PU-course spectrogram notes)
from Heather Leson
photo by Heather Leson
I’m proposing we think harder abut this third type of invitation, where we invite participants to make something.  Two examples:
  • we can offer the construction of a collaborative object that symbolizes the theme and is an output of the meeting or workshop
  • we can create short opportunities to make something small that explores a topic, coupled with a short window to share what was made with peers (we do this a lot in our Data Therapy workshops)
I think the invitation to make is underused in facilitation and workshops.
That said, there are a number of people I see offering this invitation in a variety of ways. Here are some of the inspirations I’m drawing from:
  • The “Maker” movement – Obviously these folks are using the process of making and sharing to build community.
  • Tactical Technology Collective – Their events invariably have hands on components with an artistic approach, but at the InfoActivism Camp 2014 I found it to be on the periphery.
  • Discotechs – I’ve recently learned more abut this model from my colleague Sasha Costanza-Chock. I understand they historically integrate the collaborative construction of a disco ball as a centerpiece activity, and their philosophy looks like it centrally integrates creative activities where you make things.
  • IISC -The facilitative leadership training I attended included a short hands-on “challenge” involving cardboard tubes, tape, etc. It was integrated well into the topic of the training, and fun.  The reflective discussion they led afterwards connected to many themes of the training.
  • Connection Lab – My wife and Data Therapy collaborator Emily does amazing work offering collaborative arts activities as a community building activity for those working the world of public health.
  • Team building – There is a large market of team building activities sold to businesses trying to focus on internal community; many of these involve creative activities.
  • Arts therapy – I understand that the world of arts therapy uses the creative act to surface underlying issues and start difficult conversations

I’m looking forward to exploring these ideas more with people here at Civic Media, and if you’re interested let me know!  Are “Making” events better?  When we provide more invitations to make, are we making events better?

Notes: This is cross-posted to the Civic Media blog.

One thought on “Making Events Better

  1. Very useful and sensible recommendations and techniques. Can use many of them in my work. Thanks .

Comments are closed.