Monday, 7 September 2009

Why do we have old style conferences anyway?

Browsing through an old copy of The Psychologist journal (December 2008) which I get as a member of the British Psychological Society, I came across an interview with Emeritus Professor John Sloboda (from Keele University).
He was asked for 'one moment that changed the course of your career'. This is what he said:
Meeting the late Michael J. Howe (of Exeter University) quite by chance at a conference we both found boring. We sloped off to the pub, and by the end of the conference had made decisions that led to the most productive and long-standing research collaboration of my academic life.
I find this thrilling as it shows, yet again, how people given the space can make profound connections and decisions without the need for too much structure - or even any structure at all.
Why do people persist in arranging conferences and events which are dominated by 'expert' speakers whilst the experts in the audience are left to sit passively wondering about what conversations they could be having otherwise? Instead people hope that the busy networking in the coffee breaks and lunchtimes will suffice.
Clearly in Prof. John Sloboda's case it did - fortuitously. But I am left wondering how many conversations have never happened for want of some more (open) space in which they could have occurred. How many opportunities for collaboration, understanding, rapprochement and exploration have been missed over the years by the starchy, constrained and over controlled (but looking very worthy) conferences?
Why not use Open Space instead? Not only is everyone empowered, supported and enabled to have whatever conversations they wish to have - but everyone else gets to know what everyone else is talking about too.
So much more efficient and effective!

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