Last year I attended 20 conferences. This year will not be much different. This means I get to think about conferences regularly, and sometimes I wonder, “Shouldn’t we do this differently?”
con·fer·ence [kon-fer-uhns, -fruhns]
- a meeting for consultation or discussion.
- an interchange of views.
- a meeting to settle disagreements.
The word conference originates from the Latin word cnferentia which means to bring together.
So I am wondering…
Are We Really Having Conferences?
Is it really a conference when a “chair” or “committee” evaluates sessions on behalf of the attendees, who then only get to see a finalized program? Should we not delegate the selection of topics to self-organizing participants?
Is it really a conference when the program is full of unidirectional talks by speakers addressing attendees? Don’t we all know that consultation, interchanging views, settling agreements, and other discussions require bidirectional communication?
Is it really a conference when we convene in boring air-conditioned hotels? Don’t we all know that social systems are influenced by their environment? Isn’t it true we all enjoy better interaction in restaurants, bars, art cafés, and coffee houses?
And finally, is it really a conference when organizers estimate the number of participants, select one central venue, and then turn away last-minute participants because “the venue is full”? Shouldn’t we interact with the ones who are most valuable, instead of the ones who are earlier?
Did I Attend 20 Conferences? Or 20 Speaker Shows?
With the Stoos Stampede in Amsterdam, on 6+7 July, I hope things will be different. Of course, I’m just one person. There will be other organizers too. (BTW, the “call for organizers” is still open.) But I hope I can convince the others there should be a better way to organize a real conference.
And don’t tell me “open space” is the solution. Because it’s not.
Is It Open Space? Or Open Opinions?
Open space solves some of the issues mentioned above, but not all. And it adds its own problems too. For example, as a participant I want to know before a conference what we’re going to discuss and exchange views on. Discussions have more value when people can prepare their views.
I’ve been on many open space sessions with a lot of opinion and very little substance.
I hope, someday, to be part of a conference that is not merely a show of well-prepared speakers. And also not a gathering of uninformed enthusiasts.
I’d like something in between, whatever that may be…