Our event meant bringing together some 45 people. They all know at least one of us two, but mostly don’t know each other. Some type of introduction is therefore useful, but you don’t want to take much time out of the day itself for it, as often intro-rounds are dreary and meaningless exercises that sap energy and of which you don’t remember much immediately after. So we’ve aimed for our events to have a first activity that is also an intro-round, but serves a bigger purpose for the event.

Previously we’ve done 1-on-1 intro conversations that also produced a hand drawn map of connections or of skills and experiences in the group, to be re-used to find the right people for subsequent sessions. We’ve done groups of 5 to 6 to create Personas, as the first step of the design process to make something yourself. This time we settled on an idea of Elmine, to do what can best be described as Anecdote Circles Lite. Anecdote circles are a process to elicit experiences and stories from a group as they reveal implicit knowledge and insights about a certain topic (PDF). You group people together and prompt them with one or more questions that ask about specific occasions that have strong feelings attached to it. Others listen and can write down what stands out for them in the anecdote shared.

The starting point of the unconference theme ‘Smart Stuff That Matters’ was our move to Amersfoort last year. It means getting to know, find your way in, and relate to a new house, a different neighbourhood, a different city. And do that in the light of what you need to fulfill your needs to be at home and feel supported in the new environment. But in a broader light you can use the same questions to take a fresh look at your own environment, and make it ‘smarter’ in being at home and feeling supported. Our opening exercise was shaped to nudge the participants along the same path.

In my opening remarks, after singing a birthday song together for Elmine, I sketched our vision for the event much as in the previous paragraph. Then I asked all participants to find 3 or 4 others that you preferrably do not know, and find a spot in the house or garden (inviting them to explore the house/garden on their own that way too, giving them permission to do so as it were). The question to prompt conversation was “Think back to the last time you moved house, and arrived in a new environment. What was most disappointing to you about your new place/live? What was pleasantly surprising to you about your new place/live?” With those questions and pen & paper everybody was off to their first conversations.


The thoughts and observations resulting from the intro-round

Judging by Peter’s description of it, it went well. It’s quoted here in full as it describes both the motivation for and the layeredness of the experience quite well. I take Peter’s words as proof the process worked as intended.

The second highlight is an event that preceded Oliver’s talk, the “icebreaker” part of the day that led things off. I have always dreaded the “everybody introduce yourself” part of meetings, especially meetings of diverse people whose lives inevitably seem much more interesting than my own; this, thankfully, was dispensed with, and instead we were prompted to gather with people we didn’t yet know and to talk about our best and worst moves in life.

What proceeded from this simple prompt was a rich discussion of what it’s like to live as an expat, how difficult it is to make friends as an adult, and the power of neighbourhood connections. Oliver and I were in a group with Heinz and Elja and Martyn, and we talked for almost an hour. I have no idea what any of the others in our group do for a living, but I know that Martyn mowed his lawn this week in preparation for a neighbourhood party, that Heinz lives in an apartment block where it’s hard to get to know his neighbours, and that Elja has lived in Hungary, the USA and Turkey, and has the most popular Dutch blog post on making friends.

During the event Elja shared her adagio that the best way to get to know people after moving to a new environment is to do something together (as opposed to just sitting down for coffee and conversation). It’s pleasantly recursive to see a statement like that as the result of a process designed to follow that adagio in the first place.

I will transscribe all the post-its and post (some of) it later.

Some images from previous activities-as-intro-rounds we used in previous editions:


Persona creation / Using the hand drawn skills cards

Drawing the Sociogram

Drawing a map of connections, dubbed sociogram, between participants

4 reactions on “Anecdote Circles Lite As Intro-Round

  1. Some people have blogged about their experiences at our birthday unconference “Smart Stuff That Matters” and bbq in honour of Elmine’s birthday.
    Peter wrote about the session his son organised, and about (re)connecting to the other participants in a way that describes the richness of the interaction well: “All the friends I’ve not yet met“, in reference to a sentence uttered at the event.
    Frank described his day, and how he came to give a presentation himself in “The unconference is still the best format“. Original is in Dutch, here’s a machine translation to English.
    Elja wrote a great post about the ‘oh sh*t’ moment where you think no-one will be interested in your story. The original is in Dutch too, so you may want to use the machine translation.
    Iskander mentions how he adapted a workshop he regularly organises to facilitate a group to make a robot with the help of the mobile FabLab, Frysklab parked in the courtyard.
    Heinz wrote a great essay describing and reflecting on the event. There’s a lot to unpack in his posting, which he also ties to the history and character of my connection with Heinz.
    Elmine, the host and birthday girl herself, is still reeling from all the interaction, and in awe of all the efforts people made to attend. A feeling I completely share.
    I wrote a few things myself as well. Do you have any diodes? about the day, and some notes on the process in Anecdote circles lite. And the video of the closing ceremony, made by Jeroen de Boer, of course! All my postings concerning the event are tagged STM18
    When more postings appear online I will add them here.


  2. At the Smart Stuff That Matters unconference we did an ‘anecdote circle lite’ as an introductory activity. Participants discussed in small groups about their latest move to a different house, in terms of the biggest disappointment and most pleasant surprise of living in a new house/neigbourhood/city.
    While one participant talked, the others in the group would write down things that stood out for them. This served as raw input for putting together the program of the day. Below the photo of all the remarks that ended up on one of our living room windows, is the transcription of all 130+ post-its. It is unsorted and in random order. Some of the post-its read like they’d deserve their own blogpost to explore.

    City is experienced more than the place, the place lived more than the city
    Does smart stuff make us faster? Smart slow stuff: yoga, walk the dog, pillow, alone time, just be, mountain bike
    Get in town by changing speed
    Move (=1) integrating connected to social fabrics (=2)
    turning old hous into a living space
    material things vs digital: like e-book collection
    segregation big city, hard to connect
    big new build house, spoiled? comfort
    old owners of the house had own way of doing things (and we have the implications)
    de-smart, why needed? “Lekker zelf knoeien
    Combination green city garden station, freedom + comfort
    moving from big to small, small to big
    different transitions together with moving houses
    the fence that is permeable (privacy + see through and contact)
    shed-own space, tinker space
    get to know people on the street
    there are kids in the neighbourhood, but we hardly see them
    it is more stressful when you know more
    physical limitations, short range, 500m
    travel time vs family time
    self reliance, responsibility, freedom critical
    plants and music
    where to find coffee
    un-smarting, light
    children help bring/make community
    technology also ‘blinds’ local jewels
    approach newcomers
    learning from overhearing experts
    takes meeting many potential friends to find one
    moving to area with different culture is interesting
    small community very comfortable
    small talk = life blood of community
    when do you live in a city or just use a house
    connections matter
    transition issues – how not to get crazy in the process
    you don’t want to be sharks with sharks, you want to be a shark with a fish
    expanding and contraction
    interhuman connection
    view of a green toolshed, lots of travel time for work
    eyeglass 2016 meltdown travel
    accessibility in the city
    rediscovering the city when not able to walk far
    home = your own stuff? (living together!)
    never moved, ice damage, 2 yrs
    segregated cultures
    to the hague, busy, rules and fines, large differences
    standing out from the crowd is hard
    slow moving, gradually
    to make friends you need to see them in new environments/situations for next level
    big city, big street, no social cohesion
    smalll town -> big city
    groups stay separate
    sharing with other people to connect -social media, -online communications, free online courses
    smart stuff to feel home: old fashioned slow stuff
    living in 2 places, moving without moving
    having a group that makes you feel at home
    yard work = meeting people
    social fabric in neighbourhoods, how to reach eachother
    smart vs responsibility
    homeschooling techniques & stories
    stm starts with people, human, after that technology
    anti-squatting: live in a room that is not designed for it / community
    you have to move, even when moving
    liked a 30s-40s home, but appreciates the comfort of a brand new one.
    house with a garden, everything around the corner. Feeling the need for less ‘smart’
    The stuff you bring to a new home define feeling at home
    the first move breaks you
    MSTM14 – best travel experience
    hired house vs bought house, changes vs stable
    amsterdam -> borg. Wow I’m living here now, jazz musicians
    not being at home after moving busy at work
    staying out of algorithmic propaganda world
    when you build a new house you have to imagine how it will turn out. You buy it ‘on paper’. Conformity=expectations of society
    outside city -> center, old house requires a lot of work, what do you really need?
    smart slow stuff, algoritmic propaganda world
    house is where I am, flexible/portable housel
    live in an ambulance
    connecting to people in building.
    welcoming neighbours
    moving evolves the world (e.g. neanderthals) and your family (e.g. ancestors)
    discovering other similar people
    home for kids so different for parent. time/part in life
    kids do better understanding systems
    needs from social fabric depends on the situation
    social needs interaction
    rules for making friends: it’s work, you need to set out to make friends
    being somewhere new for a month inspiration
    home is a combination of green and the comfort of good facilities
    being there needs a decision
    unpredictability is cool too
    bumping into people is important
    home ~~~~~ discovery
    erasing traces / tracks
    understand the city depends on the way of transport
    Airbnb is not about living only
    how to find chemistry
    small road to a small town with 70 people
    childhood roots us
    what could possibly go wrong while moving
    transitions are key stress factors
    1st home physical co??? with the space
    walk cycle go by boat
    discovery needs slowness
    building informal network
    moving is losing
    heart vs wallet
    right side of town
    freedom from family
    more development after my development
    cats own the house
    all the friends you haven’t made (yet)
    via Facebook a small room in Amsterdam
    when do you still bump into friends by accident
    a simple light switch works better than any app
    hack your kid: online games -no money -earn money by irl activities
    kids: boat —> steer, morning ritual, egg timer, backlog
    color coding, feedback, move board along
    yes you can forbid things (hack your kid)
    connecting with people in buiding + new intro of people living in same building
    warmth vs energy bills
    adapt to little negative things
    back in the city
    architecture influences interaction / community
    having a house you can walk around
    NL-Hungry->USA->Turkey->NL (neighbours) – kids running through
    old church now serves as a community center


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  • Heinz Wittenbrink