Jan 06 2010

Unique conversations

Published by at 8:33 pm under Communities of practice,Event design

A perennial question in supporting a community is how to focus conversations.  How to dig deeper into a topic, explore new perspectives, or move a conversation forward over time.  Those are questions that a community insider may be able to answer but may not be answerable by people who are not members, not involved in the conversation, not “initiated,” not “hip.”  The bottom line, of course, is whether people participate and learn from the conversations in the community.  And of course you never really know in advance.

But I think that “uniqueness” is a good proxy for working purposes.  In other words: could (or should) a conversation we’re proposing for your community be happening elsewhere?   Why here?  Why now?

I’ve admired CHI-FOO because its programs have been thought through a year at a time.  That takes a lot of work and a lot of focus.  That kind of planning is likely to force a community to ask those questions about uniqueness.  But have a look at this bit of the 2010 program description:

The 2010 CHIFOO program series will arm you with fundamental design leadership skills and inspire you to flirt with the edges of possibility. In monthly presentations throughout the year, experienced practitioners and speakers will explore how you can:

  • Navigate through power structures and create momentum for interaction design initiatives
  • Ensure that your message reaches a broad audience and produces a sense of urgency
  • Take calculated risks that will further the discipline of human-computer interaction
  • Stir positive change in the world through design thinking

Couldn’t you insert accountants, administrators or anthropologists into that statement without changing it much?

Some other warning flags:

  • I know it’s a much honored practice, but when community announcements state “at the end of this talk you will know” x, or “you will be able to y,”  I get skeptical.
  • When a topic is someone’s book, like tonight at CHIFOO, take a careful look at whether the presentation is more serving the community or the speaker’s needs. The fact that I could catch that speaker at Powell’s tomorrow night or watch him on TV (or on a video of his TV appearance) does not suggest that I’ll learn much about human computer interaction at tonight’s session on “Confessions of a public speaker.”

Maybe I should flirt with Toastmasters instead?

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Unique conversations”

  1. I've not been to a Toastmasters meeting for years, but I gather the cultures of different groups vary, and you might run into similar frustrations.

    Reading between the lines, I suspect you are questioning some fundamentals. As you know, the roots of traditional training development processes go back to behaviourism, cognitive psychology etc. The process is mechanistic and if you don't have the "you will be able to do y" then you can't be a very competent designer or trainer. At least we don't often see the postscripts of "19 times out of 20 without errors while sitting in a classroom…"

    We could all dig up evidence that certain kinds of "speaking" get good reviews or have impacts such as "creating a sense of urgency," which we know is one of the eight things needed for change. But I sometimes wonder if that's a bit like saying 'Special K and four ounces of milk is a good dietary source of protein.' Maybe cardboard and milk would be, too. Maybe chicken, or rice and tofu would be a lot better.

    What about the people who don't say anything in the Toastmaster's or other meeting when a dynamic speaker is praised and they felt he was pretentious or bombastic or just plain difficult to relate to? What about the people who are impressed and inspired, as well as unempowered by comparing their own style to that of the speaker? What about all the white people who left the auditorium at the first break when a brilliant Indigenous presenter had begun what could have been a life-changing walk through European and North American pre-contact history to set the stage for some of our big social justice issues? (OK, granted, she didn't have PowerPoint). What if someone's "authentic" is strong on insights and devoid of performance? Are they supposed to work on a better authentic? Why are there so many learn-to-speak offerings and so few learn-to-listen ones?

    • smithjd8 says:

      Thanks for the fun response, Alice. You make me wonder, why not just advertise, "this will be fun?" As it happened within a few hours of your comment I got a newsletter from Bernie DeKoven ( http://www.deepfun.com ), where he says in part:

      "After the lecture, we had a little time for some questions. One of the questions I was asked was about how to make educational games more fun. I explained that the problem with educational games is that they are designed to compensate for a system that has already taken the fun out of learning, and then to hope that educational games will somehow magically put the fun back. Talk to any experienced mathematician or writer or scientist and they will tell you about the joy that they find in their work. To make a good educational game, you have to go to the discipline before education got hold of it, find the fun that keeps people engaged in it, and make that accessible to kids. Unfortunately in all likelihood educators will not think it sufficiently educational, but for the kids who get to play the games, the experience could very well help them discover the fun that is central to the exploration of science, art, mathematics, language."


      I guess the subtext of my diatribe is: how unfortunate if lively communities like CHIFOO are coopted by a no-fun behavioral model!

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