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The Difference between “Traditional Conferences” and “Anti-Conferences”.

pmcamp-logo-dornbirnI understand more and more clearly that learning is a social activity. Formerly, I believed that I had learned a lot from individual persons and teachers. Now I notice that this is only partly true. Mostly, my teaches – even though I certainly learned a lot from them, too – were only the catalytic converters, initiating the contact between me and others, as well as communication.

If you see it under this light, then my life and learning was a continuing meeting with many people. Sometimes the meetings were rather intense, sometimes superfluous. But I always received some knowledge and experience, and probably also gave some in return. In all instances, we learned from each other and “impressed” something on the other party. Once in a while, we also rubbed against each other using different constructs. That, too, was helpful.

Experience, competence, knowledge, wisdom and prudence are often considered individual achievements. But this is not true. In fact, they are always the result of communication and collective socializing.

Seen under this light, anti-conferences are nothing but a tool for socialization. They enable you to promote intense and symmetrical communication through participation and thus to make the learning process considerably more dynamic. As opposed to traditional conferences that, to me, seem so much more strict and one-sided. Where the majority of attendants are forced to remain passive and consequently do not have as much fun.

A barcamp or an OpenSpace must under no circumstances become a conference, not even anything near it. Consequently, when organizing a barcamp, you should not overdo it by planning and preparing too much.

Two factors define an anti-conference: the session planning and the sessions. The planning of sessions is done together. It must consider the here and now and cannot come as a matter of routine. The same is true for the sessions: they must remain open. Yet they can be upgraded if all those wonderful formats like debate, Honest Consensus (Art of Hosting), Fish Bowl, Story Telling, Games, “prototyping” and much more are used more often.

Impulse presentations can be useful if they give mental incentive on the topic/motto, provided there is a topic or motto. Basically, this is not necessary. It is just as well if there is a good introduction making the people open up and thus creating the awareness for the requirements to be met if you want good communication, such as considerateness, respect, esteem, appreciation – that is: they make communication at eye-level possible.

About the Danger of Generating Bubbles.

Once in a while, people talk about the danger – also in the wake of the Dornbirn PM Camp – that “bubbles” might develop during a barcamp. The participants might get isolated from the rest of the world or become inbreeding.

To me, this seems quite possible. Because whenever humans meet in intense communication, they can easily lose their objective view of reality. Thus, a bubble can develop and, due to all those shared ideas, a group can establish itself (see: class reunion) or technological inbreeding (see: exclusion) can happen.

This is quite logical, because, naturally, similar-minded persons will tend to maintain their prejudices, rather than talk each other out of same prejudices. To be sure, I see only a minimum danger that is not a threat to good results. But here, too, you can try and counteract by trying to promote the desired pluralism through newbies. Because if the new recruits have the same mental concepts as the old ones, then change will be hard to achieve.

However, I think there is an easy way to counteract the development of “bubbles” in open movements. It is openness as such, which must be demanded and supported. And you should always take care that the participants have different sex and age, as well as social and technological background and also that otherwise a huge variety is promoted. This is only possible if your invitations are simple and transparent, thus appealing to all groups and classes.

(Translated by EG)

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