I recently wrote about Killing Your Board - inviting groups to get over board of directors worship and get on with the actual mission of their organizations.
Last week, APLN Seattle and Modus Cooperandi hosted the APLN Leadership Summit in Seattle. It was great! It was a fantastic success!
I will never ever do it again.
It was, seriously, one of the best conferences I've ever been associated with. We had great discussions, people got a lot out of it, we removed it from the speaker-focused world of conferences and moved it into the participatory world of open-space. The conversations were deep, detailed and people left smarter than when they entered.
I will never ever do it again.
Here is why: Conferences (even good ones) involve massive overhead that burns out the most dedicated participants and ultimately harm volunteer organizations. Informal gatherings can achieve the same benefits with a tiny tiny tiny fraction of the overhead.
Here is a normal conference dedicated to having people come talk to you about cool stuff:
Now ... in contrast ... here is a monthly gathering of people who care about stuff and want to talk about it:
Which do you think has less overhead?
And, why does this work now and didn't work before?
Because Informal gatherings are energizing points for conversations.
Regular thematic face to face meetings in pubs and coffee shops provide very necessary social stimulus to conversations that can then move to the digital realm. Wikis, blogs, e-mail, tagging can all be employed to leverage live conversations.
Consider that a weekly meeting about anything will attract only a subsection of the people available and you get another key and perhaps unappreciated benefit. Loudmouths don't always show up. After a while, everyone gets to participate, to cross-pollinate.
Next, informal gatherings allow topics to move with popular demand and remain extremely current. Waiting 6 months for the next conference won't do any more. People want to talk about things today.
Regular informal meetings may make it easier to skip some meetings, but they also remove the problems of having to make a specific one as well. You no longer have to schedule out a week of your time to fly somewhere and meet with a bunch of people. Plus, if these are going on everywhere - you can meet with people in a given area simply because you are in town.
What does an organization do in a world where they aren't worshipped as the conference promoter?
They focus on actually being an organization. The organization can set the culture. They base activities on their mission. They define the groups infrastructure.
For culture, the organization promotes the recording of the good ideas discussed at the informal gatherings, they encourage their members to network, they promote the advancement of the state-of-the-art. This is what every organization is supposed to do.
They base this culture on their mission. Some missions will be very specific, some more broad. Some missions call for direct action (fundraising, evangelism, moonwalking, whatever). The events will need to reflect this.
Infrastructure is also what is needed for the group. A group whose mission is to create the world's most active softball league is going to have different infrastructure than a group promoting Intelligent Transportation Systems. Defining and realizing appropriate infrastructure is a requirement for an organization.
In a few weeks, there is a major conference in Toronto that will attract many people I'd like to meet. I am expected to pay over $2,000 just to attend, then travel, lodging, food, etc. While meeting up with all these people was a great opportunity, I was unclear why I had to pay the organizers that much money for it. How many people would I not meet because the cost was prohibitive.
In the end I decided not to attend and promote the idea that such gatherings are beneficial. I'll go to the informal gatherings where the conversations are deeper and the pace slower.
Maybe this is part of Slow Community?