BrainJams Format Changes for Berkeley

I hinted at this earlier, but wanted to get the details and vision settled before writing it out and trying to explain it. One of the reasons I was so honored to get Lee Felsenstein’s involvement with our upcoming BrainJams is that I knew he had been thinking about ad-hoc collaboration for quite some time. In fact, there are several things he always wanted to try, but really could not due to time constraints and traditions with the Homebrew Computer Club. I feel very blessed that we were able to have our own mini-BrainJams the other day near The Fonley Institute offices in Palo Alto, CA that resulted in the following changes to the agenda and the format.

First, though, what might be considered mildly bad news – we are not going to have time for our one-on-one knowledge networking due to changes in the format. Instead, I would ask that you consider coming a little earlier where you can either mix and mingle beforehand – we are hopeful that someone may want to organize a short session to start at 930am, but this is unknown. DON’T PANIC – the schedule, as you will see, is filled with opportunities for what Homebrew called “Random Access” and what we consider “Hallway Conversations”. This is an essential part of making the unconference model successful.

I should point out here that we are still leveraging the open space model and still focusing on participant lead discussions. But as I have said in the past, we will always be open to experimenting, trying to improve on our primary goal, which is connecting people, ideas and resources. To this end we have identified four bottlenecks we hope to solve with the new format. 1) The same people choose and lead conversations on the same topics because they are extroverted leaders – this is not a bad thing, but does not allow for a diverse range of conversations in the limited space/time we have available. 2) We want everyone to get the most from the day but this is reliant on the unknown factor of who actually shows up and what knowledge they can contribute. 3) 30 minutes does not allow for people to get into the topics in a manner conducive to deep learning. 4) We need to improve the way that the knowledge shared during the conversations is shared beyond the physical space and encourage the conversations of the day to continue after we leave. We hope this may result in slight improvements to the open space format, but honestly we may find it just doesn’t work the way we hope and will make adjustments during the day if necessary.

So what will the day look like?

9:00am – Start arriving, help setup, meet other BrainJams participants, create account on BrainJams community site for sharing notes – coffee, fruit, muffins will be available courtesy of Rate it All

9:30am – Possible knowledge networking sessions (3 mins instead of 5 mins) standing instead of sitting

10:00am – Introductions and review format of day – aka “Tech and Flow”. Everyone’s three words and Blog URL will be printed in the program, but not their email address – you will need to collect these directly or connect with them through their Blog.

10:15am – Lee and Chris Heuer will kick off a conversation on “Learning from the past” and learning from other disciplines. This is essentially what is happening as a result of their collaboration on the format. But Chris never saw the Homebrew Computer Club format as a model to learn from because he did use the same language. This is an open conversation lead by the two facilitators for the day, it is not meant to be a fireside chat or keynote per se. We want to hear other examples and other insights from participants on this important topic that is at the heart of what BrainJams does.

10:45am – Everyone participates in a large group discussion on what they came to learn for the day based on responses to the registration form questions. During this period of time we will identify the three key themes that will become the focus of the day and each of the three groups. From responses thus far it seems that areas of interest include Blogging, Citizen Journalism, Collaboration, Building Community and just Learning New Stuff.

11:15am – Random Access / Open Hallway Conversations

11:30am – Everyone will choose one of the three groups for initial discussions focused on identifying key issues and/or sub-topics related to their primary group theme. To really have a broad discussion of the theme, essentially mapping out key questions or issues that are of interest to people in attendance. From this we also need to identify if any participants have enough expertise / knowledge to lead a conversation on the most important issues. In a very real sense this serves as an introduction to the theme for people who don’t know much about it while enabling those with deeper knowledge to point out what the most important considerations are.

12:00pm – Reconvene. Each of the three groups will have 10 minutes to present the top issues within their theme and get quick positive/negative feedback on their recommendations for the two afternoon Breakthrough Sessions. These will be posted on the board as the afternoon schedule.

12:30am – Lunch will be brought in from Togo’s courtesy of Lockergnome and

1:30pm – Breakthrough Sessions. This is pretty much as we have done in the past, but based on the group discussions rather than on the individual who claims the spot fastest. There should be one person who is the conversation facilitator/leader who ideally would be an expert on the subject matter, but will not just be a speaker. This person should keep the conversation on topic and moving, while ensuring that everyone has a chance to be heard. Additionally, each session should be recorded to be Podcast later and each session requires a Note Maker who will be responsible for posting the notes to the BrainJams site.

2:15pm – Capture and Process Breakthrough Session – Everyone will have 10-15 minutes to capture their thoughts on the conversation, work with the note-maker to ensure key points are captured and to post any additional questions that are still lingering to the BrainJams community site.

2:30pm – Random Access / Open Hallway Conversations

2:45pm – Reconvene as a large group to discuss content of Breakthrough Sessions. Each note maker will have approximately five (5) minutes to share what was discussed and let us know if the topic for the next Breakthrough Session has changed at all as a result of the first conversation.

3:15pm – Breakthrough Sessions

4:00pm – Capture and Process Breakthrough Session

4:15pm – Reconvene as a large group to discuss content of Breakthrough Sessions. Each note maker will have approximately five (5) minutes to share what was discussed.

4:40pm – Provide feedback on format and wrap up loose ends for the day.

5:00pm – Day ends, clean up help appreciated.

5:30pm – Meet at Jupiter Pizza for a few beers courtesy of Laughing Squid and Rate it All. If we can get their early enough, the manager will let us have an area for ourselves. We will be leaving at about 7pm.

So that is what we would like to do this time. A bit different, but it feels like a good set of improvements. Many thanks to Lee for sharing his ideas on how to make this work better. We are all really looking forward to seeing each of you and learning from you. Much thanks and love to you all!

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  1. #1 by GraceD - February 23rd, 2006 at 11:25

    Brother Chris – I am totally flattered that the WoolfCamp phrase, “Tech and Flow” will be incorporated into the greater BrainJam universe!

    Be sure to use “Bio Break” as well, which covers eat/drink/potty.

    Looking forward to BrainJam communiques.

    Yer fan,

  2. #2 by Chris Heuer - February 23rd, 2006 at 12:56

    You know, that sounded so cool I thought it was commonly used! My hats off to Grace and Liz Henry and other WoolfCampers for coining a phrase that joyfully replaces “Overview of the day, what we will be doing and how we will be doing it.”

    That was always such a bear to explain! Thank you my friend! Chris

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