13 September 2008

Thoughts on how to Make Meeting Events Interesting, Engaging and Productive

Most of us enjoy the opportunity to go to meetings and conferences where we can meet up with peers, develop our professional network, and exchange ideas. But how often does all the "good stuff" occur in the hallways outside the meeting rooms, at coffee break or a conference dinner - instead of in the actual meeting event itself?!

Reading this week's comments of my colleagues in the KS2 workshop I know this is a shared frustration. So I would like to share one concept for addressing this problem and would be very interested in learning more about the experience of others. The idea itself is not our own, but it seems to be novel in the settings we are working in (given the feedback I've gotten). While it's focused on face-to-face events, the particular example I will give also has virtual elements.

Charlotte Masiello, the dynamo behind the e-Agriculture initiative, and I started working with a new strategy in preparation for last year's e-Agricutlure panel "Continuing Dialogue to Action" at GK3 that we call the "talk show format". The key elements are as follows:
  • There is a panel of distinguished experts (4 or 5 seems ideal, more is unwieldy, less is not as dynamic).
  • No presentations are allowed! this is made very clear to the panel in advance (and it does take some convincing with some individuals).
  • There is a host/facilitator who has the personality to keep the event lively and can be pleasant but firm in keeping the conversation on track, which may involve dealing with an expert panelist who wants to monologue through the whole event (think Oprah here).
  • Before the event the panelists and host informally prepare two points:
  1. very short introductions, just sufficient to link expertise to topic at hand (it helps to reassure the panelists that their expertise is such that they are already well known and it is not necessary to present their entire CV);
  2. the host discusses with each panelist an initial question they will receive to pique the audience's interest, demonstrate some of the panelist's expertise, and get the ball rolling...
  • Concise, brief background information of some sort (e.g. a flyer) is distributed to audience as they come in to the event with information about the subject.
  • Then the host (or better yet an assistant) takes a mic out to the audience and asks not only for questions but their own thoughts/ideas ... again the key is to let the audience know that long monologs are not allowed.
  • It's the host's job then to "repackage" a set of audience interventions and direct them back to the panel, either as answers to questions or to expound upon an insightful audience comment.
We had a very good experience at GK3, with a lot of positive feedback after the event from people in the audience, some even telling us it was the best single event they attended (in what was otherwise a really excellent 4 day event).

So we have continued this tactic, most recently through my involvement in two events at eIndia 2008 and last month at IAALD-WCCA-AFITA World Congress. Each event has been an experience, and the dynamics have changed depending on the audience size and cultural make up, but each has been a success by following the steps above.

Not only do we continue to get good feedback from both the audience and panelists, but we are getting useful and actionable outputs to work on after the event.

As an example of this, there is an important issue in Asia about the role of public-private partnerships in e-Agriculture, which was identified at GK3. We decided to attack this topic though an online forum hosted on the e-Agriculture.org platform. The outcomes of that were summarized in a 2 page brief, which provided the background document for a face-to-face event, a panel discussion on the same topic at eIndia. The outputs of the eIndia panel were summarized and disseminated by e-Agrigulture and GKP. This was then briefly reviewed by one expert as one part of a larger e-Agriculture panel event at IAALD-AFITA-WCCA, and through the audience discussion that followed we have extended the key issues further. At the moment I've just revising the policy brief to improve it based on all the interventions (it's not posted yet, but I'll link it here as soon as it is).

FUNDING for Research on ICT and Society in Asia!

From my colleague Clare comes good news for anyone interested in expanding our knowledge of ICT4D issues in Asia, particularly ICT's impact on society, through rigorous academic research.

IDRC and Singapore's Nanyang Technological University SiRC (Strengthening ICT4D Research Capacity in Asia) have joined together and announced their first call for grant proposals under the new initiative SIRCA. Grants of up to SGD33,000 are available.

For information about SIRCA see www.ntu.edu.sg/sci/sirc/sirca

Clare also says that anyone interested in ICT4D in Asia can contact Clint Rogers at clint.rogers2008@gmail.com as he is trying to get together a group of people interested in submitting a joint proposal for SiRCA.

Thanks to Clare for the information. Funds for ICT4D research! What a great thing! Please let me know if you apply so I can follow your research, learn from it and share with others.

The learning never stops!

09 September 2008

Ambient Awareness - brining a small town feel back to the global village

"Ambient awareness" I just learned this term yesterday in a fascinating IHT article by Clive Thompson. Googling the term there seems to be very little out there, not even a rough new Wikipedia entry...

Ambient awareness is the product of micro-blogging with such applications as Twitter or the status bar on Facebook.

It's tiny shards of information about an individual that are often simplistic, even silly on their own. But taken over time, all those tiny bits of information about an individual add up to something much greater! They can reproduce something like the insights into an individual one gets when in close physical proximity to another.

The article points out that this is a very difficult phenomenon to understand until you have experienced it. I concur with this given my recent experimenting with Twitter. There are also potential downsides and misunderstandings, as with any new application.

My friend Edgar Tan has already blogged about this and considers how ambient awareness might be considered at the organizational level.

What's exciting to me about this is that ambient awareness can bring context and human scale back to the digital world. It gives a bit of that "small town feeling" back to the global village. It has the potential to enhance the human social linkages necessary to improve knowledge sharing and information management. And it can bring together a network that improves problem solving. That makes me smile! Something wonderful is about to happen...

Twitter Experiment at IAALD World Congress 2008 a Great Success!

Well, simply put I am now officially a Twitter fan ... is there a term for this? Am I a “Twitterite” or a “Twitteree” or something like that?

You will know if you've read a few of my blog postings from last month that I started experimenting with Twitter, which was an idea that came into my head while taking the CGIAR-FAO Knowledge Sharing workshop earlier this year. Although initially I was quite skeptical that “microblogging” could provide enough information to be truly useful.

As timing would have it (serendipity anyone?) just after I subscribed to Twitter, Nancy White went to New Zealand to attend the Distance Education Association of New Zealand (DEANZ) 2008 Conference and was twittering the event with the tag “DEANZ08”. Suddenly I realized I had insight into a conference that I wasn’t attending and frankly hadn’t even been on my radar. Better yet, even though I didn’t attend the conference through Nancy’s tweets I got some nuggets of interest that I followed up (Googled in fact) to learn more about on my own. Then came the IAALD-AFITA-WCCA World Congress 2008, for which the tag “aginfo8” was coined by Peter Balantyne, and one of the panels I participated in was to discuss the use of cellular telephones in the development setting, and well, I was inspired. This was my chance to run a little experiment of my own to see if Twitter really was worth my time.

I started by twittering the conference. Just putting up one or two “tweets” per session that I attended, highlighting something I thought was key or interesting. I have feedback from people following me on Twitter that this was appreciated: (an example from my Twitter)
  • gervis @mongkolroek thank you Michael for keeping us posted by a #aginfo98 report and thank youu @nancywhite for pointing to the JAALD tweets 11:12 AM August 27, 2008 from web

The third day of the conference was the plenary e-Agriculture panel. So that morning (early Japan time) I asked a question on Twitter about the use of cell phones in the ICT4D area. Guess what? I got replies and I referenced one reply (below) as an example while I was on the panel.
  • Argentina provides a good case of mobilization of farmers supported by mobiles to organize the strike against govn't in food prices crisis 07:29 AM August 27, 2008
This brought together COP, mobile telephony, and the food price crisis all in one inspired moment! I was very pleased, and I am also sold on the value of Twitter and microblogging.

Me Twittering during the panel discussion.
(Photo Credit: Shehzaad Shams

My colleague Gauri was also using Twitter at the conference. When the IAALD web 2.0 team found out about this, they interviewed us and posted the short video clip. (I think the video is a pretty awful image of me – strangely that little camera made me more uncomfortable than a room full of people! But content wise it is pretty good.)

There are some limitations with Twitter, mainly arising from two issues, both of which the Twitter developers are very forthright in addressing on their website/blog. First, the service has gotten popular enough that the servers exceed capacity at times and one has to be a bit patient to get data. Second, there is a limitation on who can receive outgoing SMS based on the country your SIM card is registered in. In Thailand, where I live, we cannot get SMS updates. Those limitations aside, this is a great service, and in time I think (hope!) these limitations will be addressed.

Twitter on!

05 September 2008

Sharing the events of last week's IAALD-AFITA-WCCA World Congress with the tag "aginfo8"

So many interesting things transpired at the World Congress in Japan last week that I have been struggling with what to write about next! With time slipping away as it does, I've suddenly realized the efficient issue is to make sure everyone interested is aware of the tag "aginfo8".

Just search the tag in your favorite search engine, or use it in any of the web2 applications that were used by the organizers and several participants at the event (Flickr, Feedburner, Slideshare, Delicious, etc.) and you'll find loads of great information from presenters' slides to commentary from the audiences.

For those who prefer a more direct approach, here is a list of resources kindly provided by Peter Ballantyne and the Euforic web 2 team:

My congratulations to the three organizations as well as the hosts in Japan for an excellent job in organizing this event and providing an opportunity for sharing and learning. As a final note, the next IAALD meeting will be in Montepellier, France in 2010.