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Conversation sizes

Written By: Christiane Herr on June 25, 2010 5 Comments

I’m very much looking forward to the varied and (to me) unpredictable conversations I hope to have at C:ADM. I wonder if and how these will/should be structured. With topics or interesting threads arising spontaneously, should we provide any structure at all? How are we going to share conversations between larger numbers of participants? I personally would benefit from a switch between conversations with very few and many participants. What do you others expect or hope for in terms of conversations you would like to have?

5 Responses to “Conversation sizes”

  1. Ranulph Glanville says on: 29 June 2010 at 6:51 am

    One of the things I hope for is that those who are coming to the conference will make suggestions.

    At the moment, the general notion is that there will be a plenary session at the end of the day, which will be facilitated by Ed Galindo. Ed comes from a Native American People who specialise in conflict resolution, and has a fantastic track record: we are lucky he has agreed to come. I also see some introductory “exercises” to help us get to know, and to work together with, each other. Finally, there will be a concluding session.

    The rest of the time, I imagine will be in groups. I am not sure what size these groups should be. I don’t know if they should remain unchanging, or perhaps be free flowing, or something in between.

    It seems to me that each group will need someone to fill a function like being chair: we need to stay more or less on track. And we need someone who will report back on behalf of the group: a rapporteur.

    I would be very pleased to hear suggestions!

  2. Thomas Fischer says on: 2 July 2010 at 1:02 am

    Seven is commonly considered a good group size for discussions.

    I prefer completing as much ‘house keeping’ as possible before the conference and be able to spend as much time as possible in quality conversations during the conference.

    From this perspective it seems desirable to develop grouping schemes ahead of the conference rather than having to negotiate them on the spot.

    How do others feel about this?

  3. Ranulph Glanville says on: 7 July 2010 at 10:32 pm

    Seven was the size given by Stafford Beer for the number of participants in his ops room (the command centre for his Chile project), based, I think, on George Miller’s paper “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two”, which discussed the number of chunks that we can keep in short term memory. There’s a lovely example of this number not working in Samuel Beckett’s “Watt”, where a small group of about 7 people (I’ve not double checked) spend some pages not managing to catch each other’s eye!

    By the way, Enrique Rivera, on our International Advisory Panel, has been recreating the ops room on the internet, with reproductions of the original chairs located around the world.

  4. Art Collings says on: 11 July 2010 at 12:59 am

    I’m curious about the parameters of the term ‘conversation.’ Specifically whether A) it should be strictly limited to mean people in the same room who are talking, or B) expanded to include virtual / non-proxemic (but still thematic) communication (texts, blog posts, etc.). Seven +/- makes sense for A, but is generally stifling for B (since people over the age of 16 or 17 apparently regard tapping out text messages in such a small group setting to be the moral equivalent of gossiping in the rear pew in church).

    Thus far it appears that the etiquette for this topic at this confer-ence is assumed but formally unstated. But it is certainly possible to design intelligent ways to incorporate the added bandwidth and technological benefits afforded by B without losing the value offered by A. ….. One possibility is to designated some groups on an opt-in basis to be ’smart phone friendly’.

    • Ranulph Glanville says on: 14 July 2010 at 2:52 am

      I’m not quite sure I’m up on the technology you mention, Art.

      However, the sort of conversation I anticipate is between people who are present. This is a confer-ence, as you nicely remind us, and I believe it takes place in the presence of each other. If not, we might as well not come at all, but do it all remotely. In my experience that doesn’t work nearly so well.

      So I see our confer-ence as a collection of people who meet, in person, because they wish to converse. I guess it’s got a little of the sense of a retreat?

      I’d be strongly against the invasion of telecoms. I was at a (traditional) conference recently where there was a strong telecoms presence, with the result everyone did email, prepared their presentations etc, and failed to attend to the speakers. They were in the room in body, but their minds were elsewhere.

      Some old things work best!

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