The third way to make something happen

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More value can be gotten out of voluntary participation than anyone previously imagined, thanks to improvements in our ability to connect with one another and improvements in our imagination of what is possible from such participation.
Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky

In his thought-provoking book, Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky reminds us that, until recently, most of the discussion about how to make things happen has focused on two seemingly competing mechanisms.

Private production
The first way to make things happen is private production, where something gets done when the cost of doing it is less than what the doers believe the result will be worth. This is how many consumer products and services are created.

Public production
The second way to make things happen is public production, where a society decides that something is worth doing for the common good. An example is the provision of universal health care by a government for its citizens.

There is a third way to make something happen.

Social production is the third way to make something happen
Social production, as Shirky describes it, is the creation of value by a group for its members, using neither price signals nor managerial oversight to coordinate participants’ efforts. Social production occurs because a group’s members derive benefit from the results of their shared work, and often through their enjoyment of community during the process.

Until recently, social production was limited in scale: Shirky gives picnics and bowling leagues as examples. What has changed is that internet technologies now give us inexpensive and effective means for group coordination and cooperation. This allows us to aggregate the free time of many people in ad hoc groups that come together for mutual benefit to work on “tasks we find interesting, important, or urgent”. Examples of social production include Wikipedia, Linux, and countless community-run online forums.

How social production will impact meeting design
The rise of social production is important for events such as meetings and conferences, because the collective knowledge and experience of peer groups normally rivals or surpasses, the knowledge and experience of any one “expert”. When an audience collectively knows more than the presenter at the front of the room (and I’d argue that today this is true more often than not), the question naturally arises: are standard presentations the best way to use attendees’ time?

Traditional conference culture restricts the provider of session content to presenters. Social production culture, on the other hand, supports appropriate openness, sharing, and participation as a norm. When events adopt a social production culture, attendees become participants, involved not only in their own learning but also in the learning of their peers. Everyone benefits from the increased pool of resources, and the opportunity to shape what happens during the event. This adds real value to each attendee’s experience and also to the event’s civic value, i.e. the effect of the event on the world outside it.

As social production becomes an increasingly common way to create value, we need to recognize and acknowledge its ramifications for events. Attendees are going to be less willing to put up with conferences that are designed to make money for the organizers or put on as a public service. Instead, they will be attracted to events where they can participate in and shape what happens.

What are you doing to facilitate social production at your events?

Photo attribution: Flickr user stuckincustoms

14 things I learned at EventCamp 2010

(Part two of my reflections on EventCamp 2010, held February 6th in New York City. Part One here.)

Adrian at EventCamp 2010
Image kindly provided by Sofia Negron Photography

As at every good conference, it was the people who made EventCamp 2010 most memorable. I can confirm that #eventprofs are just as cool face-to-face as online! To be warmly accepted in New York City by members of a virtual community that I joined just ten weeks ago, and to enjoy curiosity and interest about my book and Conferences That Work from members of the professional events industry for many years was a great experience for me.

I made and strengthened many relationships at EC10, and I learned some interesting things. Hopefully some will be new to you as well. Here’s a summary:

  • Paul Salinger: 1) Oracle runs thousands of events every year. Oracle’s European face-to-face meeting attendance was falling. Making them hybrid events (f2f events with a simultaneous remote audience) has turned this around. 2) But Paul is not a fan of the current generation of commercial virtual event platforms.
  • Twitter is being used successfully to drive retail sales to physical venues (e.g. “first 100 people to whisper “puppy” at our New York store get a free cupcake”).
  • In a similar vein, Jeff Hurt kindly explained to me how FourSquare is being used to cross-market between businesses that are close to each other (“check in at this hotel and get a free drink at the neighborhood bar tonight”).
  • How to price attendance at virtual events compared to the price for traditional attendees? No agreement at EC10 – one person had successfully charged the same (~200 people, half present half remote) which surprised most people. Someone suggested trying a contribution model.
  • Robert Swanwick recommended posting video clips of conference presenters online before the event starts, giving participants an advance look so they can better choose the sessions they attend.
  • Tools for event streaming: Robert mentioned Procaster for stream editing and his product twebevent [Jan 2013 update: alas, twebevent is no more] which is available in a free version.
  • Jeff Hurt gave everyone a Post-It note and asked us to “write what you want to learn in this session”. He had the notes read out, while simultaneously grouping them into similar themes. Then Jeff  facilitated a session discussion and exploration of these themes, while skillfully weaving in his own comments and thoughts. This was a simple and effective technique for letting groups effectively explore the issues they want to explore.
  • Have an “MC of remote audience” who monitors the back-channel (usually a hashtagged Twitter feed) for audience questions and comments and communicates them to the local audience.
  • Find out who your brand champions are (specific customers who are enthusiastic evangelists for your products/services), stay in close touch with them, and be real nice to them!
  • Google “social media releases” to find out about how to write them – they’re not the same as traditional press releases. You can build social media releases on pitchengine or prweb.
  • What’s the most common technical problem for hybrid events? Not enough Internet bandwidth! Mary Ann Pierce told us that for several thousand people, she supplied dedicated 100MB service!
  • Here’s a great idea of Jeff Hurt’s to help to keep a balance between the needs of face-to-face and remote audiences during a session. Periodically, have the f2f audience hold five-minute discussions in small groups, while the speaker interacts directly with the remote audience!
  • Remember that the typical attention span of an attendee at a session is about ten minutes. Consider switching your mode of interaction frequently to hold attendee interest.
  • Don’t just stream events. Record the stream and make it available on demand. A lot more people will watch it that way.

That’s my list. If you were at EC10, feel free to add yours!