Open Space and the Pre-Programmed Conference

Arron Fulkerson has a belated blog post up about DefragCon. He says this:

The Open Space sessions really didn’t work at DefragCon. If only Kaliya were there.

The thing is I was asked early on by Eric to participate in facilitating the event. I said yes tentatively. I lost interest when I learned that it had basically been fully designed by Eric already and that the Open Space would be interspersed with programmed sessions. I said up front I didn’t think this design would work. It ended up being like one hour a day too – way to small an amount of time to ‘have it work’.

I have a good instinct about conference design and how to weave open space with pre-schedulled sessions. This is why people pay me to help them do this well. The conference I ran last week in NY for technology managers at independent schools – I had many folks say it was the best conference they had ever been to.

My advice is to keep the pre-programmed sessions to a minimum. Under 1/4 – 1/5 of a conference total time. These pre-programmed times need to happen before the open space time. So you go from more structured to less structured. DeFrag was maybe 10% open space – not enough time for the energy to emerge and bubble up. There is such a strong temptation to enclose open space with pre-defined speakers and topics so ‘bosses will know what will be said ahead of time’ so they will feel ‘safe’ sending their staff there. I guess this is true when you have a price point well over $1000.

COMMENT FROM ARRON:
Don’t get me wrong. I thought the event was great. The problem with the OpenSpace sessions was there just wasn’t enough time. It would have helped if someone was more actively involved in facilitating and summarizing too. I thought the DataSharingSummit was great b/c you did an excellent summary and you were very active in eliciting participation. Let it be known that I thought Eric did an amazing job at putting this conference together and was working the crowd to get more people involved. DefragCon was wonderful. More only comments are: the OpenSpace sessions could have been allotted more time and I think because it was so spread it out was hard to get the same level of interactivity. Moreover, they could have used more active facilitation to summarize, etc.

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