• Swarm Cooperatives – questions, hopes, outcomes?

    by  • May 28, 2013 • Everything Else • 2 Comments

    If you’re new to the show: Evolution of Swarm Cooperatives on June 1st is the first Big Picture Day. Swarm Coops is intended to develop some new ideas about hackathons, unconferences, bar camps, hack days and similar, and the Big Picture Days will develop those ideas and take them forwards.

    Register here. Click here to add a session idea to the presentation above.

    So let’s talk about outcomes. Whenever a swarm cooperation event like a hack day ends, I usually hear one or more of the four main complaints that people have around hack days and hackathons.

    1. Over or under-facilitation
      Either nobody knew what was going on, and it was randomness and time wasting, or the events team or some of the attendees took the situation in an iron hand and blocked emergence and creativity.
    2. Top-down PUSH
      Typically seen when a big organization funds a hack day and believes that there are clear, concrete, pre-defined outcomes that they are certainly going to see for their expenditure. Often combined with (1).
    3. Nothing really happened
      Decent event, we came, we saw, we formed teams, we wrote some code – then we went home. The event basically works, it can even be quite productive, but there’s no magic there. There are no surprises, and it feels like a day at the office.
    4. Wrong people in the room
      At humanitarian hackathons, that’s typically “lots of subject matter experts from the NGOs, not enough Django programmers.” But it can also show up as “there were no graphic designers” or “nobody really knew how the tool chain worked – we’re not Eclipse guys” and so on. It’s a human resources problem without a human resources team! It’s hard when people are volunteers. But if the mix isn’t there, the magic doesn’t happen.

    The magic is what swarm cooperatives are about.

    Everybody loves the results of the magic that happens when people come together to do something great, for free. When it’s there, the thrill of engagement, of discovering new problems, meeting new people, forming teams, struggling to deliver against a short event deadline and finally delivering something great is absolutely wonderful! We go to these things not out of some sense of dry duty to whatever the cause is today, but because we love the experience and the process.

    That’s why it’s such a let down when the alchemy doesn’t work and it’s all dull and flat.

    Evolution of Swarm Cooperatives is going to be about the magic of working together when it’s great and about the wider context of this mode of civic engagement – what changes as big orgs get involved, and how the challenges change when we’ve gone from a code sprint for a Free Software project to engaging with government to solve the problems of the welfare state.

    June 1st, Limewharf, London. Tickets are free, please book early so we can estimate numbers for catering, it’s going to be a great day.

    See the schedule here. We’ve deliberately kept it relatively sparse to make lots of time for collaboration, conversation and working together on the deep issues.

    Speakers include Thomas Ermacora of Limewharf (my co-curator & our host!), Lloyd Davis of Tuttle Club and more, Zaid Hassan of Reos Partners, Alberto Cottica of EdgeRyders and Mamading Ceesay of London Creative Labs. We’d hoped to have Nadia El-Imam also from Edgeryders but she can’t make it.

    What do we hope to deliver? What forms might our outcomes take? Here are some of my ideas – what are yours? (please add them to the planning presentation!)

    • Some kind of one page code of conduct for large orgs doing hackathons, to help them not squash the creativity and emergence.
    • A documentation breakthrough for unconferences – a little working practice that helps people who weren’t there share what happened. Could be as simple as annotated video of groups reporting back with their progress, could be new software tools.
    • A review of best practices for code sharing, maintenance and reuse after hackathons.
    • Notes for correcting facilitation gone wrong – an analysis of the failure modes, and recommendations for what to say to facilitators to correct each one.
    • A review of the original Open Space Technology to see what we might learn from this found of all meetings.

    Those are just some ideas of the kinds of things I’d like to imagine we’d do together. What’s your idea?

    Click that link to edit the Swarm Cooperatives presentation, and please add your concepts to the doc, even fill in your details so that people can find you on the day.

    We hope you’ll be able to come!

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    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


    2 Responses to Swarm Cooperatives – questions, hopes, outcomes?

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