posted 3 Aug 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 10
The Gurteen perspective
By David Gurteen
I RECENTLY chaired the Ark Group’s KCUK conference in London for the second year.
As with all conferences in which I am involved, I wanted to make it as interactive and engaging as possible within the confines of what the organisers would allow (which is usually quite restrictive). And so I experimented with a new format that was easy to implement and which the Ark Group were keen to try out.
We gave each speaker 40 minutes to present. I e-mailed them before the event to tell them that I wanted them to speak only for 20 minutes. I told them that I would then give the audience five minutes to discuss their talk amongst themselves and then a full 15 minutes for questions and answers.
So quite simply, after each presentation, I asked the audience to turn to each other in twos or threes in their seats and have a conversation about the talk.
It worked remarkably well. I video recorded one of the sessions (it’s on my website, Google ‘kc uk video’); most people grouped in twos or threes, with a few larger groups. The audience engaged and, as I had hoped, it encouraged far more questions than usual.
Speakers always run over their time, but in this case most of the speakers only overran by five minutes or so. Of course, I had built that likelihood into my calculations, too, though one speaker did go to the full 40 minutes before stopping!
I mentioned to one of the delegates that I would have preferred people sitting at round tables rather than in lecture-theatre style rows, as it would have better facilitated the conversation.
But she said “Oh no, I much prefer it this way!” She then went on to explain that the great thing about the format was that it was so informal.
You could turn to either side of you to engage different people. If you wanted to sit out you could – you were not forced to join in. And having two streams meant that as you came and went you could sit in different places and thus talk with different people each time. She was right. The informality of it all worked well.
Out of about 18 speakers, three of them spoke about theory and the others talked about real-life work within their organisations, using anecdotes and stories. An interesting thing I noted was that the speakers who talked theory got far fewer questions than those who did not. It seemed to me that people can engage with stories so much better than theory. So it was not too surprising that when one of the speakers talked theory and it came to questions that the audience asked her nothing about the theory: the first question was, “So just how do you do knowledge management (KM) within your organisation?”
Another observation was that all the presentations, except two or maybe three, were about first generation KM or KM 1.0. That is, the management of unstructured information – how to manage the stuff and how to push it out to people within the organisation.
This is fine – I am not criticising it. But only two of the talks were about what KM means to me: informal learning, knowledge sharing and collaboration, leading to better decision-making and innovation – so-called second generation KM or KM 2.0. This imbalance, I think, overstates what is going on in the real world and next year I would hope to see more on KM 2.0. Overall it was a great conference!
I thoroughly enjoyed it and the participants did, too.