An intense debate has broken out within the fabulously innovative online community behind the EventCamp conference series.
It’s a conversation that could only take place in a corner of the industry that is already experimenting with new meeting designs, and it raises important points for anyone who sees a virtual or hybrid meeting in their future.
EventCamp East Coast convened last weekend outside Philadelphia, and the “live-only” program was a break with tradition for a community that held its first face-to-face event only after meeting and bonding on Twitter. Last month, facilitator Adrian Segar explained that “the revolution will not be televised” in the simultaneous live and virtual format that was used for the first two EventCamps in New York and Minneapolis.
Segar said the decision had a bit to do with logistics and a lot to do with the “default requirement of confidentiality” associated with an Unconference format, where participants don’t know what topics they’ll be discussing or what sensitivities might bubble up until sessions get under way. Whether the issue was diplomacy, commercial confidentiality, or participants’ need to be candid, the concern was that crucial conversations wouldn’t happen if there were fears that they’d be repeated or disseminated.
Those factors didn’t sit well with Mike McCurry, one of the “founding five” behind EventCamp New York, who declared the confidentiality provision a mistake that “diminished the reach and impact the event could have had.” EventCamp was “born out of a vision of taking relationships initiated through online social networks to a face2face level,” McCurry wrote in his blog, and, he added, the new format felt alienating for community members who weren’t on site.
Both sides made important points in an argument that was vehement but collegial. Democratic access is fundamental to EventCamp’s purpose and personality. But there are times onsite when conversation shuts down if people think their words might be recorded or broadcast. My firm was brought in to document ECEC because text summaries are easier to edit on the spot than verbatim video, and Segar’s concerns were well founded: At three or four different points in the meeting, participants either asked us to stop taking notes or came back and had us delete their comments.
A middle ground between access and privacy may already be taking shape. “There were elements of this conference that I feel were best done offline,” wrote ECEC participant Andrea Sullivan in response to McCurry’s blog. “There is a ‘safety’ context created when we are amongst those we know.” But “a balance can be found so there are virtual components at chosen times. … It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”
EventCamp is a community with the insight and sense of mission to recognize wisdom on both sides of this debate. For some audiences and purposes, the wide-open style of the New York and Minneapolis meetings is a breath of fresh air. For others, the confidentiality in Philadelphia is a price of admission. The common denominator is the duty of any event organizer to ground their design in participants’ needs.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, Ontario, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.