Facilitating Games for Innovation

This Friday I am going to be co-facilitating a day of learning and exchange about Innovation, Design and Serious Games Exchange this Friday in San Francisco. I would like to invite you all to participate. It will be an open space style unconference – with attendees creating the agenda – it is open to all.

Last September I took a training with the founder of Innovation Games Luke Hohmann (to be a game facilitator) and it was amazing set of fun “games” to play with the users/customers of one’s products. Quite different then a focus group in terms of the kind of information that you get about how to shape/design your products. (wikipedia article – details all 12 games and information about selecting the appropriate game)

I know what you are asking how is playing games going to help with my products, workplace or process. I wondered this too….here is a simple example.

I explained one of them (Buy a Feature) this way at the Online Community Unconference – say you have a next generation set of features to build for your product – you have 10 potential features but only time to build a few of them – how do you prioritize/decide about which ones to put in the next release?

Buy a Feature is a game you can play to do this (and it is both online and face to face)

You bring in 10 current customers together and give them each $200 of play money. You give each of your features a cost totaling $3000-$4000 (one might be $100 (really easy to build) $500 (harder/more time) etc.) They must amongst themselves figure out how to spend their $2000 to buy a limited set of the 10 features. You could play this with several sets of customers and then gather information about what they want. It helps you make decisions about what to build AND it is fun for them to play the game of “buying” the features they want.

The conference is not limited to “just” innovation games but also includes other design and “serious” games.

  • Design games: Offering collaborative design activities within a game format improves idea generation and communication among stakeholders. By shifting focus to the game, power relations and other factors that might hamper idea generation, are downplayed
  • Serious games: Ranging from theater improvisation to interactive games technology within non-entertainment sectors, serious games have uses in education, government, health, military, science, corporate training, first responders, and social change

You don’t have to be an expert to attend – if you are just exploring these things we invite you along.

There have been a few companies in the identity space that have used these tools – I just can’t say who.

I am also happy to talk with folks if they are interested in using games to innovate and do better product design in the identity and social web space.

Here is the book if you are interested in learning more.

“Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play” (Luke Hohmann)

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If the agenda is pre-set it isn’t an unconference!

I think I have said this before but need to speak out about it again. If you set the entirety of your agenda ahead of time whether via wiki or via mailing list – it is NOT an unconference. The magic of an unconference – the “UN” part is the created live on site part where attendees together create the breakout sessions (hopefully using open space technology)

I am not saying you can’t “pre-plan anything” or be “unorganized”.
* You could have a keynote speaker to open or close your day that is planned ahead. (like the closing of the first day of Mashup Camp 1 had Peter Hirshburg give the BEST speech ever on the history of computer marketing – it was educational and very funny)
* You could know you are going to do a world cafe to close a day about a certain topic.
* You should have some onramp material with several speakers to open your multi-day event about a technical topic (as we do at the Internet Identity Workshop).
* You can decide your speed geeking is going to happen after lunch on the 2nd day.
* You can ask everyone who registers what they want to present about or hope to learn about and then post all of that back to potential attendees.

In short, lots of your conference can get outlined in advance – that is “organized”. If you are actually putting people into an agenda with times and spaces and speaking slots, THEN YOU ARE DOING A REGULAR CONFERENCE – so don’t call it an unconference.

PodCamp “the new media community unconference” has a cultural practice of setting the agenda ahead of time and calls itself – IT just disqualified itself by doing an agenda.

Why do organizers do this? I have heard from organizers like those doing Sex 2.0 that they have to have the agenda planned months in advance so that the people coming from far away “know what they are getting”. This logic is patently false.

The Internet Identity Workshop that I facilitate has professional technical people get on airplanes from both Europe and Asia just to attend – the attraction is the live, made there that day agenda.

At the unmoney convergence that I convened and facilitated we were expecting mostly a west coast crowd – we were stunned that many people from across the country – some as far as Newfoundland, Canada came. Four came from overseas, Japan, Austraila, Germany and the UK specifically for the conference (They didn’t tag coming to our event with some other reason they happened to be here). They came BECAUSE it was created by the people attending live. This in itself is appealing to people. I hope that organizers can begin to understand this more.

You can let the people make the agenda live and still have a conference where people come from far away.
* If you write a compelling invitation – a reason to come together, articulate key thematic areas that will be covered,
* if you ask people what they want to talk about and hope to hear about and post this,
* if you list attendees who have signed up.
* if you have a few – VERY few speakers set ahead of time that is less then 1/4 of the conference time.

People want the space to have critical conversations about key things they care about. This is what makes unconferences so powerful. I ask organizers to please consider and respect this about them and NOT use the word unconference to describe events that make their agendas in advance.

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Unconferences Cover article of Convene Magazine

For those of you who have never heard of Convene magazine it is for the “Professional Convention Management Association” The cover says “Lights! Content! Action! : The unconference, the virtually boundless meeting and other scenes from the content revolution p.46” It has a picture of a stylized business man and woman putting lightbulbs into a bigger light bulb – like building the light bulb. It kinda makes sense.

I am quoted several times in The Power of UN article.

Plus, they’re inevitable. It’s simply a given that the increased interactivity of the workplace will show up in the conference space, said Kaliya Hamlin, who in November was named to Fast Company’s list of the 13 most influential women in Web 2.0. Hamlin, “chief process officer” of Process Geeks, has facilitated more than 50 unconferences over the last three years, in high-tech as well as more traditional settings. She expects that interactive methods such as the unconference will disrupt the “groove that meeting planners have been in forever” of scheduling speakers and presentations six to nine months out, and creating meetings where the real work actually gets done during coffee breaks. Hamlin is a critic of traditional conferences – not because she discounts the value of meetings, but because she believes passionately in their potential to solve problems.

“I think there is a lot of uncertainty on the part of conference organizers who feel they have to have a preplanned agenda,” Hamlin said, “so that people will invest their time” in traveling to a conference. But it’s a mistake to think that keynotes are what bring people to a conference. “What is really valuable is the face time for conversations about critical issues and emerging developments,” Hamlin said. “Community is what brings people together. Supporting community interactivity is what gives conferences value.”

Interactive methods will work for anybody, Hamlin said, but they “must map to the way that professional communities interact with each other.” It’s a matter of trusting the facilitator or meeting designer to meet a community where it is culturally, she said.

In instances where Hamlin helps organizations incorporate unconference methods where they are unfamiliar, she often suggests that one traditional day of programming be followed by a day in which participants organize the content. Her clients often love the open-space day and find that experiencing them lessens their appetites for traditional conferences. “They like them a lot less,” Hamlin said, “and consider them to be ineffective.”

Open space is an awesome tool to use to deal with complexity, she said. “Magic happens in terms of collective understanding and breakthoughs.”

What is kind of amazing about this coverage is that I also was highlighted this month in Fast Company as one of the Most Influential Women in Technology for my other career in Identity. I wrote this article for them about the women working in user-centric digital identity with me.

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On unconferences and money

I haven’t written that much about unconferences and money – for the upcoming She’s Geeky Conference for women in technology, we were getting a some push back about the event costing $118 for two days at the regular registration price. This is from this post on the She’s Geeky Blog “It costs money? I thought this was an unconference.”

The camp movement has been a really inspiring one and in some ways quite utopian. “Just throw it together and it will happen”. Unconferences, just like conferences, require work in the form of time to put on and resources in the form of money to provide for them.

Events are not Free
I don’t believe in “free” events because if an event costs nothing to sign up for it costs nothing to not show to. In the past several “camps” that I was involved with facilitating have had upwards of 50% no-show rates. It is almost impossible to buy food and provision space if you don’t know how many people are coming to an event. The cost should be very reasonable and in paying a fee the attendee makes a contract with the organizer to actually attend. Via the transaction, the organizer makes a contract with the attendee to provide food, physical space and good organization/facilitation.

I like to think of unconferences as basically 10x cheaper then regular technology conferences and 10x better.

Why 10x cheaper?
Many Technology Conferences cost between $1000 and $2000 to attend. Yep this is a normal price range for a regular ticket at a conference.
* JavaOne – $2,590.00, conference+ | $1,795.00 regular conference
* RSA security conference – $3,995 conference+ | $2,195 regular conference
* Hot Chips Symposium on high performing chips – $815
* ETech – $1690 conference+ | $1390 regular conference
* Web 2.0 – $1745 conference+ |$1445 regular conference

One reason is that many of these these events are for-profit, they are trying to make money and lots of it off convening the event. Another reason is that a coffee break at these events can cost $15 per person to provide and a meal upwards of $60 per person per meal – yes, that bad conference food you ate at your last event cost the organizer that much. These events have costs associated with complimentary passes for speakers, press, analysts etc. These costs are born by the other attendees.

Why 10x Better?
The best part of many conferences are the coffee breaks – they are the interactions with the people. Why pay $1000s of dollars when the best parts are in the lobby? It kinda makes more sense to just make the “way of the lobby” be the way the whole conference works. Open Space Technology -the facilitated method that we use for She’s Geeky- was invented over 20 years ago. It supports the emergence of incredible peer to peer learning opportunities and vibrant discussions. You leave the day full of amazing new ideas and conversations with amazing women. It is totally worth the approximately $10 an hour of conference. I would be very surprised if you don’t come away with knowledge and contacts that are in the long run worth many more times that.

Why any cost at all?
The way of the lobby is not zero cost though – the venue costs multiple thousands of dollars and so does food for 200 women. We also have a coffee barista coming both days so you can have fresh espresso. There is a time cost to organizing and logistics that requires money for compensation.

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MassTLC unConference

I am heading out to Boston next week to facilitate the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council Innovation ’08 Conference.

An article was written in the Boston Globe this week Tech Leaders Hope “unConference” will inspire entrepreneurs I was interviewed by the reporter Rob Weisman on Friday. They did a good job of talking about Open Space Technology – however it came off as if it was all “me”. Sigh.

For the unConference, the Massachusetts technology group has tapped a Berkeley, Calif.-based professional facilitator, Kaliya Hamlin, who has run about 50 similar events worldwide, mostly on the West Coast. Hamlin, known as “Identity Woman” for her work in the movement to enable a single log-on for all websites, promotes gatherings based around “open space technology” with no preset agendas.

“Whoever comes are the right people,” she said, summarizing her philosophy. “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. Whenever it starts is the right time. And whenever it’s over, it’s over.”

Whether such a free-flowing approach can work in tradition-bound Massachusetts remains to be seen. But interest is heavy. Hopcroft said the council is “oversubscribed” on experts and already has fielded 85 applications from entrepreneurs for scholarships.

I shared about the history of the Open Space Technology and how Harrison Owen invented it 20+ years ago and lives in Camden Main. Apparently this blew his whole story line that this was “new” to New England.

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Online Community Unconference – it’s going to be great

I am really excited about the upcoming Online Community Unconference. Registration on Event Brite. The cost is $195 and well worth it.

I really respect the long term engagement that Forum One has had in this space – convening events about online community for over 8 years – yes this was before “Web 2.0” existed. They support a community of professional online community managers and companies who have online communities as part of their businesses coming together that rich and deep one.

This is how they describe the event:

The Online Community Unconference is a gathering of online community practitioners – managers, developers, business people, tool providers, investors – to discuss experience and strategies in the development and growth of online communities.

Those involved in online community development (and social software in general) share many common challenges: community management, tools, marketing, business models, legal issues. As we have found with our past events, the best source of information on all of these challenges is other knowledgeable practitioners.

They have a great unconference FAQ.

I will be facilitating and also convening a session about the emerging identity tools similar to the one that I gave at Net Squared last week along with talking about the proposal being put forward about relationships being nodes not just edges.

If you are a ‘face to face’ facilitator kinda person but want to explore what is going online with people and groups this would be a great friendly place to come and explore.

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Marketplace Covers Unconferences

Last night I got several pings from friends who heard me on the last 5 seconds of Marketplace for the piece airing today on unconferences. I was interviewed by a correspondent of theirs during MacWorld in January. I hope they do a good job of covering the phenomena.
The web changes ‘everything’, including traditional conferences. Why would you go across the country to listen to people present papers, talk on panels, visit trade show booths or watch .ppt presentations when you could do all of that ‘online’?

  • Trade Show Booths – Type your industry niche in Google – visit the websites, do your research
  • Papers – read them beforehand
  • Presentations of Paper – watch them on YouTube
  • PPT Presentations – watch them on Slideshare
  • Get a sense of someone – Read their blog and check out their Flickr stream
  • Panel presentations – read a good blog conversation about the subject you are interested in

Face time with other people IS really valuable, rare and expensive. Having meaningful conversations, getting advice from peers and tackling challenging issues is something that is good use of time. Using methods that are structured but leverage the “wisdom of the crowd” gathered are what unconferences are about.

After attending the Internet Retailer Conference and the Online Community Unconference 2007 last week, I’m really seeing the amazing value that Unconferences offer. They have the right people in the room and I’ve found them to be tremendously valuable as a dialogue of sharing rather than the one-way communication of traditional trade events. It’s very much reflective of Web 2.0. If you haven’t been to one before, try one.
-Web 2.0 business by James Key Lim

When I design, facilitate and produce an unconference 80-90% of the time at the event will be spent in open space and the other 10-20% of the time will be spent with other large group participatory processes that help meet the gathered community meet its goals. These include Fishbowls, Spectrograms, cafe dialogue processes, Appreciative Inquiry, Marketplace of Ideas, Value Network Mapping, Polarity Management, Visual Journalism/Graphic Recording, and shared community maps.

This slide presentation shows both Open Space and other formats and goes with a 4 page PDF describing how Open Space is used in the communities I regularly facilitate. There is another presentation on human interaction design and unconferences. I recently wrote a piece called Unconferencing that describes how to ‘prepare’ to be at one.

I consult with organizations, companies, conference producers and community leaders helping them design effective unconferences. Recently I helped the Gates Foundation plan for an upcoming meeting of their Global Libraries Program. I also facilitate events a range of events that both I and others produce (a list of all my past facilitations is in the sidebar).

I specialize in bringing networks together that over time can innovate in complex environments. I have been leading the convening of the user-centric identity community since its inception. We are working on building the next layer of the internet – the identity layer. Our 6th major event coming up in May.

Since I began leading unconferences in the tech world I have expertise in how to use community web tools to complement the processes both before during and after.
I hope you enjoy the site, please contact me if you have questions about unconference or my consulting services. Kaliya (at) mac (dot) com

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Beyond Traditional Talking Heads

A friend of mine in the facilitation world, Tree Bressen — along with Debby Sugerman and the Sunrise Facilitation collective — has written a paper about the Possibilities for Transformational Conferences.

Let’s assume that you are going to succeed at attracting 50-1000+ motivated, smart people from around the region or country to attend your conference, ok? As the convenor, you now have an amazing opportunity to engage and influence a large number of active and talented folks about an issue that is important to you. Inspiring speeches can energize attendees and spark new ideas, but that alone is not enough. There is nothing like active participation to prepare people to take what they have learned out into the world.

It covers a range of potential ways of including conversation and audience participation within ‘traditional’ conference formats.

Participatory Formats to put at the Middle or End of an informational presentation.

  • Pause for Pairs
  • Small Group Sharing
  • Attendees Interview Each Other
  • Panelist or Participant Fishbowl
  • Panelist Circles

Participatory Formats to Supplement or Replace One-Way Presentations

  • Storytelling
  • World Cafe
  • Representative Fishbowls
  • Kinetic Spectrum (Spectrograom)
  • Speed Dating
  • Project Gallery (Speed Geeking)
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Open Space
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OpenEco Energy Camp

I am really looking forward to this event. I was pulled in at the last minuet to facilitate the open space agenda creation process (I didn’t design the flow of the day). As part of the Planetwork Community I have been aware of Gil Friend’s work in this area for a while so it is nice to see the partnership he made with SUN to form OpenEco.

I am excited for the morning session – should be interesting how that conversation sparks ideas for sessions. I hope there is enough room – with 300 people expected and only 10 spaces for 4 sessions. We shall see.

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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.

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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