How Could Metaphorum 2019 Be More Of An Online Unconference?

One of the things I love to do, and find myself doing more and more of professionally, is organising highly-participative online events.

Most of these bring together up to around 50 people for a short event around a theme, mixing networking and learning for 90 minutes or so. But for each of the last three years there’s also been one big event: the Metaphorum. I’m just starting work on the next edition. Book your seat here.

Metaphorum involves about 150 people from all over the world. We’re all enthusiasts for Clean Language and its associated topics. We connect live via the internet on a single day, maybe for as long as 13 hours (to cover a bunch of timezones).

We get into video conference calls and talk about the stuff that matters to us. It’s pretty compelling: participants say they get so drawn into the discussions that their main problem with the event is remembering to eat, drink and move about!

Metaphorum is an online unconference.  What’s that? Well, it’s an adaptation of Open Space Technology. There’s more about how it’s worked in the past here.

There’ll be further adaptations for this year’s event (happening on Friday, 22 November, 2019). My intention is to take it closer to the tried-and-tested in-the-room format of Open Space, in the expectation that it will make our day together more valuable.

Not only will we have fun and learn from each other. We’ll also get to the heart of some of the key issues in our field; thrash things out; have the conversations that really matter.

The truth is that the group’s most experienced Open Spacers were a little disappointed with the first three Metaphorums (Metaphora?). Too much was planned in advance: not enough was spontaneously organised on-the-day in response to what had just happened.

I have a fair idea about why that was. First time around, nobody had ever done this before. People were afraid of the technology. I was afraid nobody would turn up. So I scurried around inviting top-name Clean trainers to run sessions, planning them all into a schedule ahead of time. I was stressed about timezones, and I wanted to be sure that something exciting would always be going on.

I pretended these were just “seed sessions” and there was plenty of space for others – but the reality was that the “names” dominated the day.

Once that format worked first time, it was natural to repeat it. And repeat it. But there was a cost: we set up an “us and them” dynamic and missed out on a lot of wisdom from the other participants. And our conversations stayed at a fairly superficial level.

Now, we’re all more used to the reality of being online together. As a community – partly as a result of the Metaphorum – we’re ahead of the curve in our use of video conference technology. A lot of Clean trainers now use Zoom for at least a part of their courses. We’re not scared of being teleported into breakout rooms!

So, I reckon that this year’s Metaphorum, the fourth, needs a shift of structure. How can we make it easier and more natural for “ordinary participants” to propose and run sessions on the topics that matter to them? How can we ensure that Clean trainers and other thought leaders feel they learn loads from the day, rather than turning up to “deliver”?

For my part, I’m more experienced at running online events. I’m doing it for other organisations, as well as for the Clean community. I’m learning with a community of other online facilitators around the world. And I’ve attended a lot of in-the-room Open Space events.

I have a bunch of practical and technological ideas about things we might change this time, including:

  • Schedule open pre-conference conversation/mixer sessions
  • Don’t make centralised recordings (controversial?!)
  • Limit the number and type of “seed sessions”
  • Have longer, more frequent and more interactive plenary sessions, in which sessions are proposed and reported back.

And, those experienced Open Spacers tell me that the event should really launch with a compelling question.

I’m wondering about, “What would Clean like to have happen?”

  • What do you reckon? Please comment below.

4 thoughts on “How Could Metaphorum 2019 Be More Of An Online Unconference?”

  1. I was thinking about the obsession with having recordings in online events. I think it’s a good step forward not to have them (if I understood correctly).

  2. I like your thinking! Being comfortable with using videoconferencing technology in fully interactive way is indeed a key factor. Video conference is not watching TV! 🙂

    This is clearly a way to go. It’s not really a unconference if there are “content creators” and “content consumers” by design. It needs to be messy, it needs to be highly conversational from the onset.

    In REconomy practitioners we don’t record at all, deliberately. Our online events are about having shared learning experiences and conversations with other practitioners worldwide, not about creating content to be “consumed” later (or never – we all have endless “watch later” lists). So we work with assumption that “whoever comes is the right people”.

  3. charles whitaker

    I think you named the correct question to start from in terms of where to start thinking about the day from: How can we make it easier and more natural for “ordinary participants” to propose and run sessions on the topics that matter to them?

    which I’ve slightly reframed here:
    How can we create a day which allows the talents and aspirations of all attending to participate and benefit?

    I don’t have specific answer but wonder if a group might come together to support the process of discovering how to have an unstructured structured event so that a raft of proposals might be put forward.

  4. Some mixed reactions.
    What makes a session good enough to offer? Do we want prepared presentations? If not, why bother with a conference?
    If you don’t record it, I may be under much more pressure to stop something else to attend or simply not invest .
    Promoting Clean seems to be a universally valuable topic and yet few might attend. A prepared presentation might miss out some people’s roles and thus be less relevant.
    Big names can drown out half baked ideas and there is good and bad in that. I might need a hook to attend at all and yet let’s hear new ideas.

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