Retrospecting on ITARC Atlanta

Posted by Doc
Mar 06 2009

Each new Open Space and variation on Open Space is a learning opportunity. ITARC Atlanta was no exception. Of course, there was the added note that in order to do ITARC Atlanta, I had to pass on ALT.NET Seattle.  I’ll come back to that.

ITARC Atlanta was another hybrid event – a day of workshops, a day and a half of presentations (including me 😉 ), and a half day of Open Space.

Presenting: Facilitation Patterns and Antipatterns

I presented my new-and-improved version of Facilitation Patterns and Antipatterns (PDF). I’d finished reading Presentation Zen (also see Garr Reynolds’s blog of the same name), completely revamped the visual aspect of the presentation, reordered it to make it flow better (thanks to valuable input from  Patrick Kua and Glenn Kapetansky of ThoughtWorks), and was all ready to wow ’em. I started off, got through the first 4 – 5 slides, and one of the attendees raised  his hand to ask a question. And that’s the way it went – one or two or three slides, then another question. Somehow, I made it through all my slides (although very briefly, for some), as well as answering questions and carrying on some very interesting exchanges with the participants (who shifted from attendees to participants very rapidly 😉 ).  Needless to say, I came away with fodder for some new antipatterns and patterns.

Embedded Open Space

There is a pattern emerging in the technology and technology-related events I’ve been involved with. I’m referring to it as “embedded open space.” At these events, the organizers embrace the ideas both of Open Space Technology (OST) and eyes-front presentations.  The MDCs were an example of this, as was Microsoft PDC – at these events, they tried to do it in parallel (as my twitter friends (“tweeps”) say, FAIL). Folks in the OST community will assure you that parallel doesn’t work. There is no sense of community, no consistent body of people who share commitment, and competition between the two different parallel events.

At KaizenConf and ALT.NET Seattle, they were structured to have workshops first, followed by “pure” Open Space – sequential.

At the Microsoft Strategic Architect Forum (September 2008, San Francisco), it was structured as split days – mornings were presentations, afternoons were Open Space.

ITARC Atlanta was done as a sequential – first they did workshops, then they did presentations, and finally on the last afternoon we did an Open Space. There was good and bad about this. As always, a substantial number of the participants had never been to or heard of Open Space Technology. They had some loose preconceptions, but nothing that matched to reality.

The context was that this was Friday afternoon at the end of a very valuable conference, it was raining and chilly in Atlanta, and many people didn’t stay for the Open Space. I’m guessing, and would say that their thinking was something like “I don’t know what this is – I can stay for what might be a waste of time, or start my weekend early.” Out of around 160 people who attended the whole event, about 40 stayed for the Open Space.

As always, those who stayed were surprised (“Be prepared to be surprised!“) and got way more out of it than they expected.

The organizers were Joseph DeCarlo of Turner and Paul Preiss, founder and CEO of IASA. Joe and I have known each other for about a year, and Joe had been at the Microsoft Strategic Architect Forum, which was his first experience of Open Space. He became a convert, and was the driving force behind adding OST to the ITARC. Paul was a skeptic, and therefore wanted to limit what he saw as an experiment.  I’m happy to say that Paul is now a believer, too. :).

Passing on ALT.NET Seattle

I got my start as an Open Space Facilitator at the first ALT.NET Open Space in Austin in 2007. It was a wonderful experience for me, and formed a bond between the ALT.NET community (and the individuals that comprise it) and me. I frequently think of them as “my family” or even “my chldren”. It’s a special relationship, both because of the community and because of the blend of technology and OST and agile that occurs there, all of which delight me.

I facilitated last year’s Seattle ALT.NET Open Space, and it was good.

We had talked about this year’s, but a date had not been set when I was invited to ITARC Atlanta.

When Glenn Block contacted me about this year’s event, I learned that it was to begin on Friday evening, February 27. That was when I would be finishing up ITARC Atlanta. Needless to say, there was no way to be in Seattle to open the conference. Glenn asked if it would work for them to open and create the agenda without me, and then have me arrive on Saturday morning.  Ignoring the logistics of taking a red-eye to get to Seattle, I still had to say no. The facilitator must be there for the opening – it’s part of the spirit of the event.

After considering his options, Glenn got Diana Larsen to come and facilitate. I was both delighted and dismayed. Delighted because Diana is a friend and a highly experienced and skilled Open Space Facilitator, so I knew she would take proper care of my family. Dismayed because I feared “what if they like her better?!?!?!?!” After all, I have facilitated most of the major ALT.NET events in North America, and most of them have never experienced anyone but me. What if…?

Having survived my attack of insecurity and anxiety, I’m delighted to say that Diana was as good as expected, and my family still loves me nonetheless. 🙂

One of my favorite comments was this: “I’d say that Diana embodies ceremony, while you embody essence.” I’m still not quite sure what it means, but I like it!

Next time, hopefully they’ll pick a date farther in advance so I can commit.

I’m planning on facilitating ALT.NET Houston in April, unless I go to China. Really.

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