From broadcast to open source conferences

Today we kicked off the What Works conference on climate change around several dozen 4-person tables. This is clearly a conference designed to get things done and with the goal of involving as many people as possible—which is good since almost every participant here is a bright leader of one organization or effort. Tons of good people here. And there’s even a fancy new blog that Jon and I played around with on Sunday to keep the discussion alive!This is the second of two conferences that I’ve had the opportunity to participate in here in Middlebury over the past few days. On Saturday, Professor Claudon and Jon’s whife, Tracy, invited me to participate in a panel on media at the annual Digital Bridges conference. I joined Alex Wolff, a traditional journalist of Sports Illustrated fame, and Mason Wells, an traditional advertising pro/publisher with Rodale magazines, to talk about how blogs and the internet are fundamentally changing media as we know it. It was fun, but also very much an isolated conversation, which is fairly typical of conferences.While both classes were somewhat self-organized (students were told “you have 3 weeks to put this together”), the first conference turned out to be was lecture-style. Each panelist gave a short talk and then we had a short Q&A, which essentially ended the discussion since each of the panels were completely different and isolated. Some good speakers, but also some significant whiplash switching from topic to topic.Today’s conference seems to have a more natural flow to it, which is not necessarily easy to achieve. Comments are more discussion oriented, and there are planned opportunities to meet the other people here, without it being cheesy. Conference planning is an art unto itself, so i’m curious about the methodology behind these techniques: World Cafe and Open Space Technologies.

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