Slide from Maxwell Anderson's MW2009 pres. - "Help visitors apply that memory and empathetic response to everyday life"
There’s been a lot of back channel recently about the relevance and even necessity of professional conferences in this perpetually, overwhelmingly networked world.
So I thought this was a good forum to further the discussion. Of the blogs, colleagues and cohorts I follow, the one who really got the ball rolling, for me, in terms of real questioning was Elizabeth Merritt on her Future of Museums blog. Merritt wrote a post entitled, “The Future of Carbon-based Conferences.”
I am thinking a lot about the carbon footprint of such conferences and, more broadly, the environmental impact of the museum field…In the past these gatherings have served as the bedrock of professional development and networking. Is this sustainable in the future? I suspect not.
Merritt’s observations are astute and her recommendations about how to improve conferences and to optimize the in-between time are wise. You gotta check out her post, her prescriptions and the respondents’ comments.
Museum 3.0 has started a conversation and referenced two separate explorations:
Radical Ideas or New Directions for AIC? - [a post by @RichardMcCoy] about how the AIC might want to think about structuring their conferences in future. There is also a related post [by @DanielCull] , La otra conservation: Radical Questions for Conservation
So I dug a shallow pool offshore at my personal blog to encourage the gathering of a shoal of fish [unnecessary use of metaphor used to draw attention to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is a member of the Western Museums Association. Gosh, they must be interesting to have at a conference, kinda makes you wanna go, right? ;) ].
And so I received a few more observations. Below are excerpts from comments there. [note: some interesting comments and queries about membership and dues and regional versus state associations are left out of this for later explorations.]
Lydia A. Johnson commented on the issue of the 100% on-line conference:
I respectfully disagree about going 100% virtual for regional associations…I don't think having an annual meeting meets needs very well at all, though. The whole thing needs a lot of shaking up…
The author with Cheryl Hinton, Redmond Barnett and Ellen L. Leigh at a Program Committee meeting for San Diego 2009
To which I responded:
I am not suggesting going 100% virtual. I espouse the annual meeting! Maybe even smaller ones thru meetup.org…And I think we need to celebrate now the innate value - the gathering, the in-person exchange. I suggest happenings.
Conservation Consultant and trained Archaeologist Daniel Cull observed:
I'm not entirely sure that the "conference" as we know it will have a role to play in the near future. Conferences serve several very important functions such as: Networking and Sharing Information (papers)... increasingly these kinds of things can be undertaken cheaper and more efficiently online... so to my mind this is great not because it means the end of conferences, but, because it means conferences can get rid of "the boring bits" and can become something else, something new... something as yet unknown.
Perhaps... massive 'think tanks', informal data sharing sessions, brainstorming gatherings, mass advocacy days, public outreach days (each one, teach one), and so much more. We could start to think of conferences not as something that happens in dark conference room of some hotel, but, that is just the gathering point for us to "do" something.
And Lynda Kelly, co-originator of Museum 3.0 wrote:
I have made several comments about whether we need to have conferences over on Museum 3.0… sharing mutual experiences, laughs with copious quantities of good wine cannot be replicated online… However as Ross Dawson's blog piece points out: "... the role of blogging and Twittering at events [is] something that event organizers must understand and work with effectively to add value to conferences…
And Caroline Davies Posynick of Victoria, British Columbia put forward:
I go to a conference for more than the PowerPoint presentations and information sessions and the ice cream at afternoon breaks. I personally go to conferences in order to connect with other real, live people who love the same work I do, speak the same lingo as me and to generally hang out with kindered spirits (sometimes with spirits!) of the museum world. This face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced with online workshops/chats/facebook/twittering. But what IS cool about the online stuff is it now - as a unit - allows me to keep the conversation going, to not forget a face and name. It even *gasp* allows me to meet and connect with new people in the field, because now we are finding museum professionals' home - a conference that never ends, let's say - online. This new way of meeting makes actual conference attendance that much more valuable because now I have the name, have the face, I know some of that person's ideas and a bit of their point of view . . . and await conference to get the chance to find out about that spirit the other person holds. There is simply no other way to do that but to do so in person, and I need that from my colleagues, new and old. After all, isn't some sort of real connection with others what it is all about?
To which Allyson Lazar submitted:
Personally, I LOVE all this new social media, and I see it as an incredibly useful tool for a) sharing information gleaned from a conference with those not at the conference and b) interacting with/"meeting" people at the conference whom I might not otherwise even know about (for example, exchanging "tweets" with an educator--I am not an educator and so never attend education-oriented sessions) BUT, when all is said and done, I need the actual real-life conference...
And Jeremy Clark responded with:
Well, let's look at a recent tweet from Eric Johnson (twitter.com/edmj):
"Museum 2.0 isn't abt tech; it's abt dropping barriers. A curator lunching w/ visitors is doing better 2.0 than is a static FB page"
…I can think of several conferences for museum professionals that will be conducted this year in almost the exact same fashion as they were 10 (and probably 20) years ago. We love to talk about "added value" -- it's time to add more value to our get-togethers, surpass PowerPoint, and make something new. I heard good things (generally) about this year's Museums and the Web "unconference" sessions. At least a new idea was introduced and given its day in court.
To wrap up this post, I want to bring in a quote and post that Merritt brought to my attention from the mind of Seth Godin:
If you think about the tribes you belong to, most of them are side effects of experiences you had doing something slightly unrelated. We have friends from that summer we worked together on the fishing boat, or a network of people from college or sunday school. There's also that circle of people we connected with on a killer project at work a few years go. These tribes of people are arguably a more valuable creation than the fish that were caught or the physics that were learned, right?
And yet, most of the time we don't see the obvious opportunity--if you intentionally create the connections, you'll get more of them, and better ones too. If the hallway conversations at a convention are worth more than the sessions, why not have more and better hallways?
What do you have to add? All of this is really about seeing yourself in the picture and all of us validating each other toward a shared benefit and thereby helping others, right? It is this that we must encourage.
It's also about having fun and sharing memorable experiences. We'll have to keep posting about this as we gear up for WMA San Diego '09 in the fall. What are your comments?