Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Forum's Many Faces

I have mentioned before in this blog the Learning Capture process that our institution is undertaking in the months prior to, during, and after our upcoming World Conservation Congress (October 2008). I use the blog to answer some of the questions - this is question four: Reflecting on the process of designing and coordinating the Forum, what aspects were successful and could become part of the process for the next Forum? What aspects of the process are, in hindsight, not essential, redundant, or simply did not work?

When I think of the issues I am dealing with right now, coordinating a Facilitation Team for the Forum (a four day mega-event with hundreds of parallel workshops, activities, cinema, etc.), I imagine the kind of questions I might have asked many months ago that might have mitigated some of the work I am doing now. I see an opportunity for next time (we do these events each four years) that is worth mentioning around the venue selection process.

As I am working with the facilitation side of things, I would start with the same kinds of questions in this situation that I would ask of anyone organizing any activity: What is the purpose of the event? Once that was established, I would ask: How can we model our goals in our methodology? So that people get both an intellectual experience and a kinesthetic experience (that's our left brain/right brain issue again) that grounds it firmly in participants' life experience (at least for longer than 90 minutes.) My next question would be: What kind of a venue do we need to do this?

That would be the question sequence from my perspective. Another perspective might come from a thematic organizer - I want to get this great message out to as many people as possible - how big are the rooms and do we have translation? Or from a logistics person - how good is the venue staff - am I going to have to do everything myself, or are they really well organized? Or from an admin person - is the venue too big that I am going to have to run from one event to another and is my office near where the action is? Or from a participant - am I going to be sitting all day listening to people talk - are the chairs comfortable and is there a place I can get a coffee? Or from a facilitator - I need to involve people, are the chairs moveable, can we post things on the walls, is there open space I can use for games or activities?

Compromises might need to be made of course (hopefully not too many), however, far upstream of such an event, a useful checklist (a Reusable Learning Object) can be made of the needs and perspectives of the people that will bring such an event to life, followed by clear communication of the decisions taken. This would be an interesting way to involve those people in the very first stages of the process. Maybe the advance team, visiting the venue options early on, could invoke them in their visits - can they take a handful of masks? The organizer mask, the staff mask, the facilitator mask, the participant mask - and see it through their eyes?