Nonprofit Geek Trivia Winner

I spent two days this past week at Aspiration‘s Nonprofit Software Development Summit. I’ve organized several events with Allen Gunn (Gunner), so it was fun to take off the organizer hat and just be a participant. I had no agenda going into the conference, which was also quite pleasant. I attended because I love the people in this community and because Gunner asked me to facilitate a session on usability. The summit did not disappoint. I caught up with old friends, made several new ones, gave the ol’ noggin a vigorous workout, and had a ton of fun overall.    (LUH)

I ended up participating more actively than I had originally planned. It started with my usability session, which caused many to mistakenly assume that usability was my specialty. I decided to rectify this the following day by offering an ad-hoc skill-sharing session on throwing kick-ass collaborative events. We had a great group of high-energy people in that crowd, and the wisdom sharing was decidedly bi-directional.    (LUI)

At the last minute, Gunner asked me if I would do a Speed Geeking session on HyperScope. I was hesitant at first, because it had been months since I last spoke about HyperScope and because I had never quite gotten my presentation down to five minutes. The best I had done previously was half an hour. Plus, people were already confused enough as to what I did for a living. Nevertheless, the hesitation quickly dissipated. I live for challenges like this.    (LUJ)

It turned out to be even more difficult, because there were 14 presentations. For those of you counting at home, that meant giving the same five minute presentation 14 times in a row, with no breaks in-between. My first and last two presentations were mediocre — it took me a few rounds to get my pitch down, and I was exhausted by the end — but I had a nice little streak in the middle.    (LUK)

Here’s some cute historical trivia: I presented at the very first Speed Geeking session (at the first AdvocacyDev three years ago). In my commentary then, I expressed doubts as to whether Speed Geeking was a great format. Since then, I’ve seen it performed several other times, and I’ve watched it become popular in other venues, although I hadn’t participated in another one until this past week. I’m now a full-fledged convert. My original criticisms still stand. What’s swayed my opinion is that, when done right, Speed Geeking is all about movement and positive group energy. (Gunner, of course, always facilitates them beautifully.) When executed poorly, it’s an energy suck that degrades into hallway conversations.    (LUL)

Speaking of trivia, I couldn’t bow out of the conference without participating in the Nonprofit Geek Trivia Contest. Evan Henshaw-Plath, Michal Mach, Lena Zuniga, and I formed The Flying Luas and dueled several other teams over questions such as:    (LUM)

  • To the nearest power of two, how many kilobytes was the ROM BIOS on the original Macintosh?    (LUN)
  • Name the now-defunct U.S. branch of the Association for Progressive Communications.    (LUO)
  • And my personal favorite: What is a “link condom”?    (LUP)

Clearly, only the deeply disturbed had any chance of winning this competition. Guess who won?    (LUQ)

https://i1.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/141/399585464_384c7e0280_m.jpg?w=700    (LUR)

I’m on a bit of a roll with these things. My secret? I’m the John Salley of the conference contest circuit.    (LUS)

The last question of the night was a five-point bonus question: Write a haiku about data loss. I took a short video of the results. In our collective defense, we consumed much alcohol that evening.    (LUT)

Wikis And Face-To-Face Events

Face-to-face gatherings are very good at generating a large amount of enthusiasm and momentum. Unfortunately, that energy usually dissipates soon afterwards.    (204)

Here’s what generally happens: Folks leave the event exhilirated, but exhausted, and return only to discover a daunting pile of work. By the time they’ve made their pile manageable, the only artifact of their gathering is a lingering feeling of, “Oh yeah, that was fun.” The work that was done and the work that was to be done is mostly forgotten.    (205)

For the past two years, I’ve been designing a set of processes that use online tools to maintain and even increase that energy after an event. I’ve had the opportunity to experiment with bits and pieces of the methodology at the past two Planetwork conferences and the recent AdvocacyDev convergence to varying degrees of success. At the MGTaylor 7-Domains Workshop last month, I finally had a chance to test the methodology in its purest form, and I was extremely pleased with the results.    (206)

The Process    (207)

The process is based on two principles:    (208)

  • The event itself must result in a living Group Memory, not just an event memory.    (209)
  • Participants must be literate in the tools used to collaborate afterwards. Otherwise, the tools become an impediment.    (20A)

The process addresses both of these principles simultaneously by using the online tools for developing that Group Memory during the event itself. This gives people — especially non-techies — the opportunity to orient themselves around the tool in a comfortable environment. The better integrated the tool is into the event process, the more accelerated the learning.    (20B)

What makes a Group Memory alive?    (20C)

  • Group ownership. The problem with after-the-fact proceedings or journals is that participants aren’t necessarily invested in the results. Hence, they’re likely to ignore them. How many participants read event proceedings after the fact? One corrollary to this is that Group Memory does not have to be polished. A rough diagram developed by the group as it worked is more valuable than an edited summary of the event written by a third-party observer and published several days afterwards.    (20D)
  • Dynamic. You have to be able to add to a repository and refactor existing content.    (20E)

Tools    (20F)

Wikis are an outstanding tool for Group Memory. However, simply making the tool available during an event will not automatically result in Group Memory. The end product of Wikis at most conferences is not usually representative of the attendees at large. The main reason for this is that the percentage of participants who use them is usually fairly low.    (20G)

Wikis also tend to be underutilized because they are advertised as conference space and not community space. Organizers don’t expect them to be living spaces for continuous discussion and collaboration, and hence, they aren’t.    (20H)

(A quick aside on Mailing Lists and Group Memory. Contrary to what one might think, Mailing Lists can be very effective as a Group Memory. It’s possible to refactor existing discussions by posting summaries, a common practice in many effective online communities. However, Mailing Lists alone tend to be much more useful for participants as a Knowledge Repository than for outsiders. I think Mailing Lists are far more powerful as a complement to other tools, such as Wikis.)    (20I)

7-Domains Workshop    (20J)

I always felt that the best people with which to do this experiment were the good folks at MGTaylor, because their events:    (20K)

  • Are action-oriented and highly interactive.    (20L)
  • Consist of large, eclectic crowds, often technological newbies.    (20M)
  • Emphasize face-to-face, multimodal interaction. This presents interesting design challenges, because they usually discourage laptops at their events.    (20N)
  • Place great importance in documentation and assembling knowledge.    (20O)

How did this differ from some of the previous events Blue Oxen Associates has worked?    (20P)

  • There were many non-techies at Planetwork, and the Inter Active sessions took center stage. However, despite Jim Fournier and Elizabeth Thompson‘s best efforts, Planetwork was still a talking-heads conference (and a good one at that). Planetwork gets a special mention, though, because that’s where I first met and worked with Gail Taylor.    (20Q)
  • AdvocacyDev was highly interactive, it was fairly large (40 people), and the Wiki played a central role in the design. However, the group was already very familiar with Wikis, and those who weren’t were technical enough and motivated enough to figure them out quickly.    (20R)

The 7-Domains Workshop is a semiregular gathering of the folks in the MGTaylor network, practitioners of the process. There were about 60 participants representing a number of organizations, including Vanderbilt Center For Better Health (our host), Cap Gemini, and the VA. The purpose of the gathering was self-evaluation and collaboration on improving both individually and collectively.    (20S)

My primary role was to help integrate the Wiki into the design of the event and to support Wiki usage during the event. I also assisted in other Krew duties. In addition to being a somewhat ideal audience for my experiment, I had a few other advantages:    (20T)

  • By nature, the participants were interested in collaboration, experimentation, and learning.    (20U)
  • Most of the participants owned and brought (at the urging of the organizers) laptops. The center had wireless ethernet, ethernet jacks, and several kiosks for those who did not have computers.    (20V)
  • We had outstanding facilitators and a great Krew. These folks quickly oriented themselves to Wikis before the workshop and naturally assumed the roles of Wiki gardeners during.    (20W)

Workshop Design    (20X)

I played a very small role in the design of the event itself. Of the four facilitators — Matt Taylor, Gail Taylor, Rob Evans, and Bryan Coffman — Matt and Gail understood Wikis quite well. In fact, their conceptual understanding of Wikis was much more advanced than their proficiency with the tool, which I think is quite unusual and impressive. They had insights into the tool’s potential that many people who are quite skillful with the tool never see. Gail had also worked with me at both Planetwork conferences, so she had some experience with what did and did not work.    (20Y)

On Gail’s suggestion, the primary group exercise at the event was to write a book. The exact topic and format was not specified — that would evolve as the workshop unfolded. The only thing that was understood was that everybody would participate — participants, facilitators, and Krew.    (20Z)

The book exercise solved many problems. Like most MGTaylor events, it built knowledge assembly into the workshop process. More importantly, it made the participants responsible for that assembly, which kept them invested in the content. Traditionally, the Krew is responsible for documenting the event and assembling that knowledge afterwards into a journal. At this event, the participants documented the workshop themselves using the Wiki. This not only sliced two days off of the Krew‘s normal responsibilities, it also freed them up to take more of an assembler role, and it allowed both Krew and facilitators to contribute to the discussion in ways not previously possible.    (210)

There was no training. On the second day of the five day workshop, I spent about forty-five minutes talking to the entire group about the philosophical underpinnings of Wikis and about ten minutes demonstrating the Wiki itself. With other groups, I would have skipped the philosophical discussion entirely. Beyond that and a one-page Wiki formatting cheat-sheet, there was no training. I was on-hand to help, as were the Krew and facilitators, and participants were encouraged to help each other.    (211)

As an initial exercise, we precreated pages for every participant. We then asked people to add some information about themselves, then to go through the Wiki and comment on another page that interested them. Having people write in their own pages allowed us to avoid a massive edit conflict problem. It also gave people a fallback if they were unsure of where to add content, and it populated the Wiki with a lot of useful and interesting information. People are social animals. We like to read about other people.    (212)

The Results    (213)

As expected, a bunch of people were skeptical about the Wiki at first. By the end of the week, the Wiki had over 400 pages of rich and interesting content, and a month later, people are still using it. Several people gushed about the tool — Holly Meyers, one of the Krew, loved it so much, she wrote a manifesto entitled, “Wonderful Wiki.” Many asked me afterwards about setting up Wikis in their own organizations.    (214)

The “book” synthesized a lot of group knowledge, which not surprisingly centered mostly around the MGTaylor facilitation process. There were also several interesting thoughts and stories about collaboration in general. One group of participants chose to tell their story in murder mystery form, a surprisingly effective medium that ended up captivating quite a few people.    (215)

Throughout the week, Alicia Bramlett, another Krew member, evolved the Wiki site design, highlighting content we felt was important. (She also put together a very cool movie of the event, which we showed to the participants on the last day, and which appropriately received a standing ovation.) The other Krew members and the facilitators were actively engaged in contributing to and gardening the Wiki throughout the week. (It should be pretty obvious at this point what I thought about these folks — they were awesome.)    (216)

Watching people use the Wiki was a special treat for me. I learned tons about the tool’s usability, stuff I’ll report on eventually. Most people learned the tool quickly and easily. I had more trouble getting people connected to the wireless than getting people using the Wiki.    (217)

I ended up adding a new feature to PurpleWiki — visited pages — during the event. I realized that several people were having problems navigating the site after editing the pages, and I knew that having a list of recently visited pages would help resolve that. It was already on our list of things to do, and it was an easy feature to add, so I did it.    (218)

Shortly after the event, I was delighted to see a new function evolve from the Wiki. Because people were from all over the globe, one of the participants suggested that people post useful travel information on the Wiki, which several people did.    (219)

I’ll have more to say on all of this at some point, including a more formal report of the results.    (21A)