Tag Archives: wstm

Solving the “You’re not the Olympics” conundrum

Every now and then Elmine and I organize (un)conferences for our birthday party, in our home. We did one in 2008, 2010 and 2014 (with a BBQ party of similar effort in 2012). Each one brings 40-50 participants together, and double that for the BBQ the day after. (The whole thing started as a biannual BBQ in 2004, and we added the conference part to make it easier for friends and peers from abroad and clients to join).

We love the events, and we love the way it brings many from our international network together in an atmosphere that creates lasting connections between participants, as well as the inspiration and energy it gives us. (I think of it as invoking the ghost of Reboot)

But as you see several years can pass between two editions.
They involve a lot of work and energy, cost a considerable amount of money. After each one it takes a while before the itch to do it again plays up, and sometimes major life events get in the way.

After the last one in 2014, Paolo suggested doing these events on a yearly, or at least more frequent basis. I replied in similar lines as above. To which Paolo replied “What do you think you are? The Olympics?” As he’s putting on a yearly conference in Italy himself, simply ignoring his remark does not play. He knows the reality of putting on a proper event every year, let alone our smaller scale lower-key ones. Paolo’s question stuck with me, and has been deserving of a proper answer for the past three years.

I know I’m not the Olympics. I also know the ‘lot of work, and oh the costs!’ line of reasoning isn’t fully true. We started doing the events in our home as a way to cut costs after all (the first edition was in the local university’s conference center). And I organized similarly international meet-ups in my spare time every 2 to 3 months with 20-30 participants, which each event taking place in a different European city, all with zero budget, years earlier.

To me the important aspects that create the type of flow, quality of conversations and energy that make the events such fun are:

  • Picking a topic that fits all backgrounds, so it doesn’t put people off and can attract friends, peers, clients and family alike, of all ages
  • Picking a topic that is challenging as well, as that creates the energy
  • Having participants of diverse backgrounds and nationalities, with most (but never all) having a direct connection to either me or Elmine, but less connections to the other participants
  • Doing it in our home, as it creates an informal atmosphere for serious exchanges, and I think the distinctive flavour of it all
  • Providing excellent food and drinks, for all diets, and plenty of it

The reason it takes so much time to organize is mainly that I try to do it all myself. I’m not very skilled at delegating or asking for help (as anyone who’s ever tried to help me out in the kitchen can attest). Finding a topic on a yearly basis that is at the same time broad enough to potentially include anyone and provoking enough for people to start imagining contributing to it, can be challenging
There is also the suspicion that if we’d do it say yearly, it would attract fewer friends from our international peer network (there’s always next year after all), and overall less sense of uniqueness of opportunity or urgency to attend for anyone. Whereas it’s the mix of people that is a key ingredient.

The time since the last edition 2014, really was a matter of life events getting in the way (2015 a year of multiple losses, 2016 of welcoming a new life, this year of moving to a new city). Now the dust has started to settle, and in the coming month we can look forward to spending a few weeks camping and being away from it all. I am also trying to grow roots in our new city and having conversations with people to better understand the events, spaces and things the city has to offer. Maybe the time has come to use this as an opportunity to solve the “You’re not the Olympics” conundrum.

Asking for help, the location, the scale of it, maybe a bit of funding, setting topics, are all dimensions to play with and to reflect on.

I’d like to do a new event in 2018, I’ve already been imagining it in our new home since we started unpacking boxes (or rather from the moment we were viewing the house already). What will it take to have the one after that not in 2022 but in 2019? Especially if you’ve attended in 2008, 2010 or 2014, what would entice you to join the event in 2018 as well as 2019, what would make you come back?

The Indie Conference Organizer Handbook

Peter Bihr and Max Krüger have written a 43 page handbook on how to organize your own independent conference: The Indie Conference Organizer Handbook.

You can download it for free as PDF, or an e-reader friendly version for a small fee.

It’s great Peter and Max wrote down their experiences. This May when I visited their ThingsCon conference, and later that week Re:Publica, both in Berlin, I realised how long it had been that I went to a conference where I was a mere participant (which I was at these 2 events), and not somehow involved in organizing it or speaking at it. I also realized how long it has been since I visited a ‘proper’ conference.

Independent events have been the mainstay of my curriculum of professional learning. Visiting Reboot conferences in Copenhagen, SHiFT in Lisbon, the BlogTalk conferences in Vienna, a range of community initiated open data conferences across Europe (over 50 in 2011 and 2012 alone), more BarCamps than I can list, Cognitive Cities and ThingsCon by a.o. the aforementioned Peter Bihr, State of the Net in Trieste, all had one thing in common: there was no real difference between my speaking and my participating and there was no difference between the organizers and the community present.

Usually this happens,in Peter’s words, “for a simple reason: each time we were looking for an event — a focal point where we could meet like-minded people or those with shared interests — we could not find one“. Because quite often the right setting simply isn’t there, or the organizers actually don’t have your learning or interaction as a goal. Because you’re interested in emergent themes around which there isn’t enough going on yet for established conference organizers to see an opportunity. The last ‘proper’ conferences I went to on my own accord were in 2004 and 2005, when I and others proferred it is “cheaper to host your own event than visit one“. Conference and event organizing turned into just one of those things you do in your community, and for me now really requires of the organizers to have a role and be part of that community. I haven’t looked back, and all the events I visit voluntarily are indie events.


During my opening remarks at Make Stuff That Matters, birthday unconference 2014 in our home, by Paolo Valdemarin

Over the years, with others I have organized a lot of indie events as well. Examples are many workshops, the first open data barcamps in the Netherlands (which over time became the Open State Foundation), Data Drinks (now bringing together some 250 people in Copenhagen), international conferences for some 350 people in Rotterdam and Warsaw (because doing it in a city or country where you don’t reside and have no contacts gives it that little extra edge 😉 ), the global FabLab Conference in 2009 (where as additional obstacle course we opted to spread the event over 4 Dutch cities with buses transporting participants and on-board workshops), the BlogWalk series of 2004-2008 in 11 cities on 3 continents, and of course the three Birthday Unconferences Elmine and I organized right in our own home (2008, 2010, 2014).

Elmine and I were so energized from doing those birthday unconferences we created an e-book (download PDF) on how to do it. Mostly to find an outlet for that energy we felt, and as a gift to all who had been there. Even then we saw it was a welcome document although focussing on a very specific type of indie event.


How to Unconference Your Birthday e-book, properly printed and bound

And now Peter and Max have written down their experiences in the Indie Conference Organizer Handbook. This is a great gift to all of us out there visiting, participating and trying our hand at our own events. Let’s make good use of it!

Looking Back On 2011: Quite A Ride (again…)!

Last year following my client-turned-friend Ernst Phaff’s lead, I posted a list of things that in 2010 gave me a sense of accomplishment, the Tadaa!-list. As I wrote then “As a ‘knowledge worker’ the boundaries of work have become all but invisible, and over the course of a year I work on so many different things that it is easy to forget I what I actually did. The “TaDaa!”-list is a way of resurfacing the things that happened [..]” and listing for myself what was accomplished, what I enjoyed doing.

Doing this, going through my calendar looking at what happened in the past year, already last year struck me as very useful: you simply forget so much along the way, as you respond to new things, and get inundated with new stuff. In 2011 I worked 2372 hours, way too much to my liking, a number that guarantees I loose track of the details of the things I did, obscuring the accomplishments behind a list of still-to-do’s and things to improve.

I decided then to do this again for 2011 and put it on my ‘yearly review’ task list. So, in no particular order, and sticking to professional things mostly……. Here’s my Tadaa!-list for 2011.

  • The Dutch national government data portalI wrote the plans for in 2010 got formally launched in September 2011, after being in beta since January 2011.
  • I helped write an Open Data Motionfor my home town, and saw it adopted by the City Council nearly unanimously.
  • I helped bring a FabLab to my home town, and had the honour to speak on behalf of the Dutch FabLab Foundation at its official opening. (I must admit to not having used their facilities yet to make something myself, but Elmine sure has)
  • Spent a week working from and sightseeing in Berlin with Elmine, where I also gave a well received talk at the Cognitive Cities Conference, on Spicing Up Your City With Open Government.. It was an inspiring event bringing many new sparks.

    Ton Zijlstra at Cognitive Cities Conference from Cognitive Cities on Vimeo.

     

  • Edited and published the second edition of the FabYearBook.
  • Made a living for the fourth year being self-employed, while working in what is basically a new market (open data consultancy). Studiously ignored the sensationalist headlines of impending global economic doom, spending energy instead on helping build the structures, scaffolding and systems creating new and alternative ways forward. Sphere of influence and all that Jazz….
  •  

    Flow is to be found in your sphere of influence

     

  • Started working as Community Steward of the ePSIplatform, creating awareness for open government data around Europe
  • Gave presentations in Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Finland, and of course in the Netherlands, on open data mostly
  • Worked a week out of Helsingør and Copenhagen with Elmine, visiting our rockstar-consultant friend Henriette and Thomas, having meetings with various organisations and inspiring people on open data, social media, complexity management, and FabLab
  • Presented at a great Spanish conference on digital citizenship in beautiful Donostia (San Sebastian), where I further explored a train of thought I started at Reboot in 2008 on attitudes and skills in dealing with digital disruption, this time in order for our public institutions to survive, as survive they must albeit changed.
  • Created the OurServices website, showcasing examples of collaborative e-government services, from around Europe
  • Visited our friends Paolo (who turned 40) and Monica in Italy with Elmine, this time without just using their office to write a project proposal like the time before, but simply enjoying hanging out with great people and enjoying the countryside
  • Gave input to a Dutch guide on how to ‘do’ open government data for local governments
  • Did a project together with Elmine for the European Commission, running a video competition for the Digital Agenda Assembly.
  • Enjoyed working for a client in my home town, in the midst of all the travel around Europe. A rare but pleasant treat to be able to cycle to a workshop session, and not taking a plane or train.
  • Did most of the work in putting together the new ePSIplatform portal
  • Took the time to attend Brigitte’s opening of her new osteopathy practice in Switzerland
  • Got to be there for friends in times of need. Thankful they let me be there for them.
  • Sat on the jury of the OpenDataChallenge.org, that saw 430 entries.
  • Mused about speeding up my actions, extending my range, while taking it very slow for three weeks in the French Alps.
  • Enjoyed the heck out of the e-reader Elmine gave me for my birthday. I lost the life long habit of avid reading for a while in 2010, this got me back into it. Thanks dear.
  • Started to work with Paul, Marc, Frank as a network to land Open Data projects together, and immediately saw it result in collaborating on project proposals
  • Spoke at the EU Ministerial Conference on e-Government in Poznan Poland, on ‘making open data work‘ for government itself.
  • Started working in earnest with Harold, Niels, Erwin, Tony and others, on projects around making sense of complexity.
  • Brought together a dozen Dutch city governments to exchange their experiences on opening up government data, and experimenting together in bringing it forward.
  • Did three sessions at the Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw, one on how open data is an opportunity for local government to reinvent itself, save money and crack complex issues.
  • Got to work with long-time fellow Reboot-friend and co-shareholder of the Coworking Boat PAN, Peter Rukavina on a project for a client. It’s great to work with people like that.
  • I lost 15kg, bringing me back to a weight I haven’t had in 20 years
  • Elmine and I published an e-book “How to Unconference Your Birthday” and sent out special cards to all that attended my Birthday Unconference the year before. We asked the cool people at BuroPony in Rotterdam to do the design. Find the download link in the book’s Facebook page.

    Creating the book and having it in our hands, giving it to all the awesome people who were there in 2010, was so much fun and rewarding. An Epic Sh*t Multiplier, as we called it on my birthday then, and in the book now.

That’s the list. I got to work on cool projects, travelled to new places before returning home, and above all got to work with the people I want to work with. More importantly, 2011 was a year that reinforced the notion that it’s your relationships that count, and that the journey is its own goal. Whether it’s grieving together, celebrating together, or even both at the same time, those are the moments I find intense beauty in being with friends. Onwards!

 

Looking Back On 2011: Quite A Ride (again…)!

Last year following my client-turned-friend Ernst Phaff’s lead, I posted a list of things that in 2010 gave me a sense of accomplishment, the Tadaa!-list. As I wrote then “As a ‘knowledge worker’ the boundaries of work have become all but invisible, and over the course of a year I work on so many different things that it is easy to forget I what I actually did. The “TaDaa!”-list is a way of resurfacing the things that happened [..]” and listing for myself what was accomplished, what I enjoyed doing.
Doing this, going through my calendar looking at what happened in the past year, already last year struck me as very useful: you simply forget so much along the way, as you respond to new things, and get inundated with new stuff. In 2011 I worked 2372 hours, way too much to my liking, a number that guarantees I loose track of the details of the things I did, obscuring the accomplishments behind a list of still-to-do’s and things to improve.
I decided then to do this again for 2011 and put it on my ‘yearly review’ task list. So, in no particular order, and sticking to professional things mostly……. Here’s my Tadaa!-list for 2011.

  • The Dutch national government data portal I wrote the plans for in 2010 got formally launched in September 2011, after being in beta since January 2011.
  • I helped write an Open Data Motion for my home town, and saw it adopted by the City Council nearly unanimously.
  • I helped bring a FabLab to my home town, and had the honour to speak on behalf of the Dutch FabLab Foundation at its official opening. (I must admit to not having used their facilities yet to make something myself, but Elmine sure has)
  • Spent a week working from and sightseeing in Berlin with Elmine, where I also gave a well received talk at the Cognitive Cities Conference, on Spicing Up Your City With Open Government.. It was an inspiring event bringing many new sparks.

    Ton Zijlstra at Cognitive Cities Conference from Cognitive Cities on Vimeo.

  • Edited and published the second edition of the FabYearBook.
  • Made a living for the fourth year being self-employed, while working in what is basically a new market (open data consultancy). Studiously ignored the sensationalist headlines of impending global economic doom, spending energy instead on helping build the structures, scaffolding and systems creating new and alternative ways forward. Sphere of influence and all that Jazz….
    Flow is to be found in your sphere of influence

  • Started working as Community Steward of the ePSIplatform, creating awareness for open government data around Europe
  • Gave presentations in Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Finland, and of course in the Netherlands, on open data mostly
  • Worked a week out of Helsingør and Copenhagen with Elmine, visiting our rockstar-consultant friend Henriette and Thomas, having meetings with various organisations and inspiring people on open data, social media, complexity management, and FabLab
  • Presented at a great Spanish conference on digital citizenship in beautiful Donostia (San Sebastian), where I further explored a train of thought I started at Reboot in 2008 on attitudes and skills in dealing with digital disruption, this time in order for our public institutions to survive, as survive they must albeit changed.
  • Created the OurServices website, showcasing examples of collaborative e-government services, from around Europe
  • Visited our friends Paolo (who turned 40) and Monica in Italy with Elmine, this time without just using their office to write a project proposal like the time before, but simply enjoying hanging out with great people and enjoying the countryside
  • Gave input to a Dutch guide on how to ‘do’ open government data for local governments
  • Did a project together with Elmine for the European Commission, running a video competition for the Digital Agenda Assembly.
  • Enjoyed working for a client in my home town, in the midst of all the travel around Europe. A rare but pleasant treat to be able to cycle to a workshop session, and not taking a plane or train.
  • Did most of the work in putting together the new ePSIplatform portal
  • Took the time to attend Brigitte’s opening of her new osteopathy practice in Switzerland
  • Got to be there for friends in times of need. Thankful they let me be there for them.
  • Sat on the jury of the OpenDataChallenge.org, that saw 430 entries.
  • Mused about speeding up my actions, extending my range, while taking it very slow for three weeks in the French Alps.
  • Enjoyed the heck out of the e-reader Elmine gave me for my birthday. I lost the life long habit of avid reading for a while in 2010, this got me back into it. Thanks dear.
  • Started to work with Paul, Marc, Frank as a network to land Open Data projects together, and immediately saw it result in collaborating on project proposals
  • Spoke at the EU Ministerial Conference on e-Government in Poznan Poland, on ‘making open data work‘ for government itself.
  • Started working in earnest with Harold, Niels, Erwin, Tony and others, on projects around making sense of complexity.
  • Brought together a dozen Dutch city governments to exchange their experiences on opening up government data, and experimenting together in bringing it forward.
  • Did three sessions at the Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw, one on how open data is an opportunity for local government to reinvent itself, save money and crack complex issues.
  • Got to work with long-time fellow Reboot-friend and co-shareholder of the Coworking Boat PAN, Peter Rukavina on a project for a client. It’s great to work with people like that.
  • I lost 15kg, bringing me back to a weight I haven’t had in 20 years
  • Elmine and I published an e-book “How to Unconference Your Birthday” and sent out special cards to all that attended my Birthday Unconference the year before. We asked the cool people at BuroPony in Rotterdam to do the design. Find the download link in the book’s Facebook page.

    Creating the book and having it in our hands, giving it to all the awesome people who were there in 2010, was so much fun and rewarding. An Epic Sh*t Multiplier, as we called it on my birthday then, and in the book now.

That’s the list. I got to work on cool projects, travelled to new places before returning home, and above all got to work with the people I want to work with. More importantly, 2011 was a year that reinforced the notion that it’s your relationships that count, and that the journey is its own goal. Whether it’s grieving together, celebrating together, or even both at the same time, those are the moments I find intense beauty in being with friends. Onwards!

How To Unconference Your Birthday, The Book

Pedro's Play Session

Last year, when I turned 40, Elmine and I organized an unconference to celebrate (of course we also had a bbq party!), and we invited people from our various circles. The topic was ‘Working on Stuff that Matters‘, ‘WSTM’. Some 40 people participated in the unconference, some 20 workshops were held, and it was an event that is still giving us energy almost 18 months later.

We always wanted to create something tangible as an outcome of the event, to create an ‘Epic Sh*t Multiplier’ as we called it on the day. We created an e-book, explaining ‘how to unconference your birthday’. The text was written during the summer of 2010. A professional designer (BUROPONY in Rotterdam, hire them, they’re great!) created the book itself in May/June this year. In the past days we sent out cards to all participants of the unconference to allow them to download the book. We’ll publish the e-book itself on-line later. Right now it’s a gift for those who attended. A small token of our appreciation for the big gift they gave us by attending the unconference, and the energy and inspiration that is still generating for us. Thank you.

Below are some pictures giving you a sneak preview.

During the design process

Sneak Preview of Ton40-WSTM book Sneak Preview of Ton40-WSTM book Sneak Preview of Ton40-WSTM book

First edition
e-Book printing e-Book printing e-Book printing

Sending out cards to participants

E-book shipping

How To Unconference Your Birthday, The Book

Pedro's Play Session
Last year, when I turned 40, Elmine and I organized an unconference to celebrate (of course we also had a bbq party!), and we invited people from our various circles. The topic was ‘Working on Stuff that Matters‘, ‘WSTM’. Some 40 people participated in the unconference, some 20 workshops were held, and it was an event that is still giving us energy almost 18 months later.

We always wanted to create something tangible as an outcome of the event, to create an ‘Epic Sh*t Multiplier’ as we called it on the day. We created an e-book, explaining ‘how to unconference your birthday’. The text was written during the summer of 2010. A professional designer (BUROPONY in Rotterdam, hire them, they’re great!) created the book itself in May/June this year. In the past days we sent out cards to all participants of the unconference to allow them to download the book. We’ll publish the e-book itself on-line later. Right now it’s a gift for those who attended [UPDATE Pdf available for download]. A small token of our appreciation for the big gift they gave us by attending the unconference, and the energy and inspiration that is still generating for us. Thank you.

Below are some pictures giving you a sneak preview.

During the design process
Sneak Preview of Ton40-WSTM book Sneak Preview of Ton40-WSTM book Sneak Preview of Ton40-WSTM book

First edition
e-Book printing e-Book printing e-Book printing

Sending out cards to participants
E-book shipping

Shaping My Birthday Unconference – Input Welcomed!

On May 12th I will turn 40. As already announced Elmine and I will celebrate my birthday in two ways. On May 14th we organize an unconference around the theme ‘Working on Stuff that Matters’, and on May 15th we will host a big BBQ party.
An amazing group of about 35 people, friends, colleagues, clients and family alike, from a dozen nationalities and countries, have rsvp-ed to be part of the unconference. I am wowed, humbled and extremely pleased to be able to welcome them to our home for what will hopefully be a very inspiring day. The group for the BBQ will be about twice as big.
Time to start building the programme
With the unconference a little under 2 weeks away, it is time to start building the program. We will do it BarCamp style, which means a lot of flexibility during the day itself. But to be as flexible as possible, it is also needed to be well prepared.
So those of you that will attend please already start thinking about what you can bring to the discussion on May 14th, and what it is you hope to find.
There is room for 16 30-min sessions, as well as 3 plenary 30-min sessions (mainly for round-up and synthesis). This being my birthday party, I will do a 20 min plenary intro talk at the start. If you want you can already add some of your thoughts for sessions at SuggestedSessions. Do remember that we will collectively create the program at the start of the unconference itself, given the interests and energy in the group.
Working on Stuff That Matters – What’s your take? Blog it!
As is to be expected when you live in a global village, a large number of people cannot make it to the Netherlands mid-May. But it would be great if you can still be involved in this, even if you will not attend personally on May 14th.
I like to ask you to blog your thoughts around ‘Working on Stuff That Matters’! Consider it the best gift you can come up with to absolutely make my day. You can choose to blog somewhere in the 11 day run-up to May 14th, or you can choose to blog on May 12th itself. I will make sure all your blog postings are available to all participants during the unconference. We will also think of a way to do a video skype-in halfway through the day. Please tag things relevant to the event with #ton40 and #wstm
Creating something that matters
During the day it would be great if we could move somewhat beyond just conversation. Can we create an artefact during the day that incorporates our thoughts and results? Any thoughts on what this could be are welcome! Add them in the program under the appropiate header.
Starting the day – Doing introductions differently
I am looking for suggestions on how to do introductions differently during the unconference. We will have some 35 people, who mostly won’t know the others, apart from me and Elmine. I’m thinking about hanging up a large canvas where everybody puts her/his name and three aspects of themselves, as well as something about how they see their connection to me. Or maybe another participant can add aspects based on the coffee conversations during the first hour of the day.
Carrying the unconference over into the BBQ
All the things that we create during the unconference will be on display during the BBQ. We did that with Elmine’s birthday 2 years ago, and it creates another wave of conversations and connections in a very different setting.
On all of the points described your input is welcome!