(photo by James Burke)
After each BlogWalk, in looking back, I not only feel the need to reflect on the theme and the conversations, but also on the format.
All BlogWalk sessions are in a free format for most of the day, with a walk around town after lunch.
To be able to keep the format as open as possible we need to arrange a number of things up front, so that the space we create during the session itself feels ‘safe’ and comfortable to move around in.
The first prerequisite is making sure everybody can know who is coming to the session. Therefore BlogWalks are by invitation only.
Another important part is the dinner on the evening before. It allows people to already get to know eachother a bit better, to establish context and a notion of shared understanding and language.
For those that missed the welcoming dinner it takes a bit more time to get an overview of the group during the day itself. Lilia felt this I think when she proposed an introduction round at the start of the morning, where I thought that would only keep us from diving into the ‘real thing’ immediately.

Morning session (photo by Elmine)
The expectations participants bring with them are important too. Some are not used to a meeting with no predefined agenda or desired outcome, though I think most immediately take to it. It only becomes a problem if participants do not really feel that it is their own responsibility to make the day worthwile for themselves.
I as an organizer don’t feel responsible for the success of the session itself (whatever the shape or form success has for each participant). I do feel responsibility being host to the event, and in making sure all is set for the social part of the event. So that participants may feel at home quickly. Getting something out of the day, and helping others to do the same is not my task as a facilitator, but it is part of my role as a participant.

Lunch: long tables (photo by Elmine)
Riina in her reflections on the BlogWalk session mentioned that she did not care much for the seating arrangement during lunch, and for the length of the group discussion in the afternoon.
She, like me, I think prefers 1 on 1 conversation to group sessions. At the same time I have seen in previous BlogWalks people generally feel the need to do a group discussion in the afternoon. Might be they implicitly think that that is the only way to make sure you don’t miss anything from the conversations, or it may be it is needed as part of the group-forming process. Another, simple explanation, is that people simply want to sit for a while after the walk through town, and need some time to rest.
However it is up to Riina and me as participants to change the situation if we feel it is not useful for us anymore. Which begs the question why Riina and I did not end up in a private conversation in a corner of the room e.g. Were we not attuned enough to the other(s)?
Also talking about the long benches which were difficult to get out of, my first reaction is that it’s ones’own responsibility to break out of situations you do not feel comfortable in. I moved around quite a bit during lunch. As an organizer, the lesson I take from this, is that next time I will discuss seating arrangements (multiple tables, easy to move) with the places we go to. The same was true for the dinner on Friday night.

Afternoon group discussion (photo by Elmine)
My general conclusion, based on suggestions Johnnie Moore gave, and discussion afterwards with Sebastian, is to fiercely resist the urge to add more structure during the day itself. I think we need to do less in terms of structure and guidance during the day. We do need to do more up front and afterwards, in managing expectations, helping people get acquainted quickly, setting the scope of the theme, and offering a space to continue the exchanges after the event. Because this time around we had, in contrast with the first BlogWalk sessions, a number of participants with no fitting on-line space available to do that for themselves. So we need to play host to the group of participants longer than the session itself.
So my list for next time:

  • Manage expectations and self-responsibility better
  • Keep a steady communication going in the weeks before the session, feeding info piece-meal and building energy
  • Invite everybody to explore the theme up front and write about it, as well as exporing the on-line spaces of other participants
  • Try to get as many participants as possible to the pre-BlogWalk dinner on the night before
  • Add a conversational space to the BlogWalk.eu platform in which closed group conversation can take place before and after the event
  • Do less structure during the day itself
  • Take physical surroundings for meals and during the session in to account
  • Build a rough template/script for all this

Continueing conversations on the tram (photo by Elmine)
Summary: Create the open space (physical, mental and timewise) for BlogWalk by adding more structure to the preparations, and taking structure out of the day itself.

3 reactions on “BlogWalk: Thoughts on the Format

  1. Hi Ton,
    I think the creation/limitations of the physical place/space is important. you know, to have a place to have that watter cooler conversation.
    You live and learn – I appreciated the happening and was glad to be part of it.
    Thanks for you, Seb and Lilia for organising it!

  2. I guess I have to clarify – my proposal in the morning was not that much about introduction of people, but an introduction on topics in a way that could be easily associated with people (what we did sometimes before – “I want to talk about X – you can join me in that corner”). I think there should be mechanisms (pre-BW reading/dinner are some of them) to create awareness of “who are the people to talk about what”.
    I actually went through the links that people had in BW list – it didn’t help much. Dinner – yes it would add – but mainly to social “knowing the face behind the person”, rather than knowing people topic-wise.
    Your list at the end is pretty much going in that direction (however I really wonder if/how one-space conversation at blogwalk.eu is going to work).
    Going to blog a bit more on it 🙂

  3. Thanks for both your comments.
    @Riina. I agree that physical space is important as it influences behaviour of those in that space. I noted is as a point to take care of next time. At the same time I also believe people have to make the best of a given situation, regardless whether they find themselves in optimal surroundings or not.
    @Lilia. The topic-wise introduction certainly can be useful. In hind-sight I think I have cut you of to soon, without asking what kind of introduction you had in mind. I guess what triggered it was the fact that, due to circumstance, I organized most of this session on my own, in stead of the three of us, and I may have felt ‘protective’ of ‘my’ event.
    Managing expectations and information flow before the event is an important issue. Especially now more people do not have a long history of on-line traces, as most of the earlier participants had.
    The addition of a conversational space at BlogWalk.eu I think is just an attempt to provide those with no suitable on-line presence to express themselves with a place to share their thoughts and observations.

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