Metaphorum: What’s The MetaPhormula?

A couple of weeks ago, 120+ people from at least 21 countries spent more than 12 hours online together in an immersive, interactive, online-video experience, Metaphorum 2019.

It’s the fourth time I’ve staged one of these for the Clean Language community, and this was arguably the most successful so far – not least because the participants were more involved in driving what happened than before. Thanks to everyone who helped to make it amazing!

The first Metaphorum was very much an experiment: I wanted to see whether Open Space Technology could be made to work well online, while bringing together diverse people from around the Clean community to learn from each other.  

Now, Metaphorum is definitely a “thing” in its own right. In the past year I’ve tested the same structure with a couple of other communities – and it worked.

In all cases, participants had a great time, learned lots, had lively conversations and made friends.

I love that people who have just read something a month ago and trainers of 20 years sit eye to eye and all have something to say.

Scott MacLeod, Germany

So much value for the time invested. Breakthrough learning.

Brian Dooley, USA

I loved the rich learning and connecting with like minded souls… by 3pm my head was fit to burst!

Beth Hughes, UK

Thanks to a conversation with Michal Parkola, I’ve made a tentative decision to make the “Meta-phormula” public. To “open source” it. The question is, what needs to be included?

The tech set up is simple. You need:

  • some way for participants to connect with each other asynchronously – we mainly used Facebook
  • an online space where people can put up sticky notes proposing sessions. We used Mural most recently, but in the past we’ve used a Google doc, and we’ll probably go back to that next time
  • a handful of pro Zoom accounts, with “join before host” and “breakout rooms” enabled. Videofacilitator would also work well
  • a way for people to sign up and (if relevant) to pay eg Eventbrite or Ticket Tailor
  • a way to quickly contact all participants, such as Mailchimp.

… and as I write that out, maybe it’s not actually that simple. It seems simple to me, because all those tools are things I use routinely. If you had to learn each of them on the fly, it wouldn’t be straightforward at all.

I still think, though, that the key to making this work isn’t the technology. It’s about people, and helping them to truly connect with each other.

It seems to me that the MetaPhormula works at its best when it’s serving an existing community, who are already connected with each other and have lots to say about their shared interest. It thrives on people wanting to learn from each other, and being willing to share their knowledge.

And until this kind of event becomes “business as usual” success depends on participants being willing to take a bit of a risk. There’s always a danger the event will be less than compelling. And session leaders need to be willing to experiment with the online environment, which may be new to them.

So, there are actually quite a lot of moving parts. Maybe it will take more than one blog post to explain the MetaPhorumula 🙂

  • What would you need to know to organise your own Metaphorum-style online unconference? Please post ideas and questions below. 

4 thoughts on “Metaphorum: What’s The MetaPhormula?”

  1. I love that you are working on this. Are there any particular ways that you’re thinking about or approaching language for people from different countries?

  2. We spent quite a lot of time trying to set up a “salle francais” but in the end, there wasn’t enough interest to make it happen. We’re hoping for that next time.

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