Net added value in an event: networkshops and the power of contextual webs


I’m going to preach against my chapel here: Is there actually much of a point to design workshops to get the best user experience? It seems obvious from various studies and own experience that unless a workshop (or event) is embedded in someone’s own context (see this brilliant IDS report on capacity for a change which refers to this problem), experience, current needs and aspirations, the results of any event matter little. Because they are islands of focus, of luxury of resources, of delusion or rather luxuriously delusional focus – rather than continents of realism.
In other words, unless specifically tailored for a group of people, the applicability of any event’s contents is – arguably – usually rather low.

Where the real value of these events lies is the networking. Echoes of colleagues past and present “I’m just going there to talk with x, y and z and meet new people”… With networking, I’m not talking about the behaviour of some people that act like machines and qualify the success of their participation to an event by the amount of business cards swapped, as a juvenile Brit (more likely to happen) would qualify the success of his night out by how wasted s/he is. No, I’m talking about meaningful networking. Interweaving. Of the type that is born of genuine reciprocal interest and mutual engagement, that leads to learning.

“]Weaving contextual webs - the ultimate event experience? [Credits: Scott Hibberson]

Weaving contextual webs - the ultimate event experience? [Credits: Scott Hibberson

The value of networking goes much more deeply than swapping business cards and discussing some ideas superficially. It is (well, can and should be) about putting ideas directly into context, directly in use, serving a real purpose. It is also about deepening the web around that context, expanding the network of actors that can make sense of that very situation and pooling capacities to crack the issues at hand or devise approaches on the unknown road ahead. In those cases of networking, the business card is merely the ribbon that is cut to kick off the works, not the sad and silly trophy of another conference tourist.

So we might be well advised to not forget that the main value of the events we organise really comes from this type of interactions rather than the programme itself – all the more so if that programme has been designed by a selective little group rather than co-created along the way – in which case there are chances the contents of the event can also be very relevant and applicable. And we certainly should allocate ample time for people during breaks to weave their contextual webs.

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