disConferencing, a five-and-a-third-hour model: Session 4 & Closing

Break, 10 minutes

Organizers recreate the inner circle of 12 chairs with gaps for easy entry and exit of sitters, but otherwise as close as possible.  Organizers ask for help to move the rest of the chairs surrounding that circle.  Seats in the circle are then occupied by organizers (except the Session 4 Coordinator), the guest author, and volunteers if any seats remain.  Pens are distributed to any participant who doesn’t have one.

Hour 4.10-5.10

Session 4, Dialogue Hour (http://bit.ly/FivePhase, with modification for large group, http://wp.me/p1gwfa-kL)

Respect, Risk, and Revelation are emphasized in the listening—not only to others but also to oneself (even if silently)—that happens in a Dialogue Process.  By the end of the Dialogue Hour and Closing Circle, participants should be clear about at least some issues that have (Re)engaged you through the experience of the dis/Conference.

Session 4 Coordinator explains that the topic of the Dialogue Hour is “Review the dis/Conference insights and experience and think about how each of us can extend the insights and experience.”  The Hour involves 5 phases, as described on page 2 of the handout.  Asks everyone to read the instructions for the first, freewriting phase and then start.  Anyone needing more explanation should quietly attract the Coordinator’s attention.

1.     5 minutes Freewriting to begin to consider the topic of the session.

2.     Check-in: Short account to a neighbor of one’s concern or question about the topic of the session.

3.     Dialogue process, i.e., listening with structured turn taking, that begins with each of the inner circle saying one thing that is on top for them as the dialogue starts.  Then, through inquiry more than advocacy (or rehearsal of previously formulated ideas), including inquiry of one’s own thinking, themes usually emerge.  So that what participants say builds on what has been said by previous speakers (as against rehearsing a position established well before the session). The session 4 Coordinator circulates, giving a card to anyone (including those in the inner circle of 12) who raises their finger (as in an auction) to indicate that they would like a turn.  When the turn comes up for a person out of the circle, a member of the inner circle who does not have a card gracefully relinquishes their seat to that person, who can remain in the circle after speaking until asked to relinquish their seat.

4.     10 minutes before the session ends each participant spends a few minutes writing to gather and share thoughts that have emerged as they are meaningful for them. Session 4 Coordinator explains that it’ll reduce work if people can use their smartphones to gather thoughts.

5.     Last 5 minutes: In groups of 3-4, each participant shares something they plan to address/get done/think more about based on the session.  (Having this aired in the group–having it witnessed–makes it more likely to happen.)

(Page 2 of handout has instructions for Sessions 2-4, including guidelines for dialogue and prompts or web address for gathering thoughts in phase 4 of Session 4.  Page 2 also states the Learning and Experiential goals at the bottom.)

Hour 5.10-5.20

Closing Circle

Each participant has up to 15 seconds to state one highlight or appreciation or suggestion or thing they are taking away from the dis/Conference to do more work with.  One person starts then passes the (figurative or literal) mic to a neighbor.

Follow up by organizers

  1. Get help to tidy up the space.
  2. Send out initial listserv email with guidelines, instructions about unsubscribing, encouragement to share.
  3. Transcribe the PostIts from Session 1 (commonalities and tensions); post to listserv.
  4. Transcribe & collate gathered thoughts from Session 4, phase 4; post to listserv.
  5. Transcribe audio-recording of closing; post to listserv.

disConferencing, a five-and-a-third-hour model: Session 3

Break, 15 minutes

Refreshments & sign up for “Office Hours”

Coordinator for Session 3 explains that “Each ‘I want help thinking about’ topic group meets for 18 minutes, so that each of you participates in three topic groups, one after the other.  One of these is the group that you identified when you registered.

Now you have to write your name or handle on two small PostIts and stick them to a ‘one thing I want help thinking about’ topic in two of the three columns—NOT the column in which your own ‘one thing I want help thinking about’ topic is posted.  After you do this, record on your handout the number (and thus location) of your groups for each of the three columns.”

Organizers help participants understand and complete this task, then add their own PostIts to topics that have no other participant or only one.

Organizers move chairs to the numbered positions.

Time permitting, participants encouraged to peruse the PostIts from Session 1 (Blue for commonality and Red for tension).

Hour 2.55-4.00

Session 3, “Office Hours” (http://bit.ly/Oneonone)

Respect and Risk continue to be emphasized in asking everyone to take initiative in asking for help.  You can hope to gain insights—Revelations—from what you hear yourselves ask for and from how you respond to queries and suggestions from others.  At the same time, the other topic-group members can gain insights from hearing how they respond to the request for help.

Coordinator for Session 3 reminds everyone that “Each ‘I want help thinking about’ topic group meets for 18 minutes.  After participants have moved to the numbered locations, the originator of the topic explains what help they seek and the group takes it from there.  Feel free to move chairs from a position that has some to spare.”

Session 3 Coordinator gives 3-minute warning for a group to wind up.  At each switch from one column’s topics to the next, the Coordinator helps anyone who needs it to identify their next group and find their way to it.

(continued in next post)

disConferencing, a five-and-a-third-hour model: Session 2

Break, 10 minutes

Session 2 Coordinator locates the 10 selected primary discussants for Session 2 and gets them seated in the inner circle with the author.

Organizers move other chairs around the inner circle, then gets everyone to take a seat.

Hour 1.10-2.40

Session 2, Digging down deep

Respect continues to be emphasized—everyone, not only for the published author, is an agent in shaping what can emerge from a reading.  The Respect-full experience in Session 1 prepares the way for the Risk involved for the primary discussants speaking in front of the gathering as a whole.  They may gain insights—Revelations—from what they hear themselves say.  The listeners may too as you chew on what you share with the various speakers and how you differ from them.

Session 2 Coordinator takes the 12th seat and introduces the format:

“Primary discussants have 5 minutes each to describe how the pre-circulated reading intersects with or stimulates their own thinking.  (It is more important to express and hear this, than for the discussants to refer to particulars of the pre-circulated reading.)

The author stays quiet, but then has 10 minutes to describe how the discussants have stimulated their thinking.”

In time available (allowing 5 minutes at the end), other dis/Conference participants have 90 seconds to describe how the pre-circulated reading and discussion intersects with or stimulates their own thinking.

Last five minutes: Author describes how the discussion as a whole has stimulated their own thinking.

(continued in next post)

disConferencing, a five-and-a-third-hour model: Session 1

Hour ? to 1.00

Session 1, Getting Here & Exposing Diverse Points of Potential Interaction

This activity emphasizes Respect—for yourself and others—from the outset, making it more comfortable for you to Risk talking about your personal journey.  You may gain insights—Revelations—from what you hear yourself include in your stories.

A circle gets going as soon as it has filled:

  • Welcome from circle coordinator (=an organizer or a volunteer arranged by the organizer)
  • Initial 7-minute activity (guided freewriting on hopes for the dis/Conference)
  • 30-second introductions (= name or handle & hopes for the workshop)
  • Autobiographical Introductions: “How I came to be someone who would end up at a dis/Conference on this topic” –equal time for everyone (=5 minutes or less if the group starts late).
    • Gives participants an opportunity to introduce themselves in narrative depth, their current and emerging work, and learn more about each other
    • Coordinator goes first to model
    • Everyone encouraged to take notes on points of intersection, interest, curiosity. After the first four introductions stop to draw connections and discuss with a neighbor what is emerging.
  • Last 5 minutes: Decide as a group and print on large PostIts one common thread and one tension among the participants.  Print these on large PostIts (Blue for commonality and Red for tension).  Coordinator collects these and posts them on the board for Session 1.

(Page 1 of the handout has the instructions above plus instructions, http://bit.ly/Freewrite, & space for guided freewriting.)

(continued in next post)

disConferencing, a five-and-a-third-hour model: Getting set up & going

Layout of space

Circles of 8 chairs (for session 1) arranged around a central space with a circle of 12 chairs (to be used for sessions 2 & 4).  Each of the 8-chair circles has a number that remains put and is visible even when the chairs are moved. Additional numbers on the walls for additional groups in session 3, but without chairs at the start.

Food & refreshment table set out from the wall (for access from all sides) (perhaps next to registration table).

Board a little away from the food table for posting PostIts from session 1.

Board a little away from the food table for posting cards for session 3.

Hour ? to +0.15


As participants arrive, the two Check-in coordinators ask them to:

a)     sign up to a listserv if they are open to follow-up emails from other participants;

b)    provide their name (or handle) on a sign up sheet if they have read the pre-circulated reading;

c)     print one thing on a 4×6 card (or PostIt) that they want help thinking about (e.g., “how to get the word out about events at Lucy Parsons radical bookstore and community space,” “how to build an audience for my next book on xx”…).  (These cards form the basis for Session 3);

d)    take a copy of the instructions handout;

e)     go to a circle with an organizer (filling up one circle before starting the next).

Once Session 1 is underway, Check-in coordinators randomly select 10 people who have read the pre-circulated reading to be primary discussants in Session 2.

(continued in next post)

disConferencing, a five-and-a-third-hour model

On Friday 23 March well over 100 people attended a “dis/Conference” (http://www.currenciesdisconference.info/) “to facilitate open, horizontal education through substantive knowledge sharing, inquiry, critique, and discussion.”  The specific topic was “Currencies… [and the ways that d]ebt, labor, commodification, ownership, and consumerism structure and characterize contemporary life and academia,” with commentary by special guest David Graeber.  This blog post suggests a way that participants’ interests and energies could have been engaged over the five hours of the “dis/Conference.”

Preparation by organizers (say 10 people)

  1. Make a selected reading (e.g., from Graeber) available via a conference website (and remind registrants to read this in advance).
  2. Copy 2-sided instructions handout for each participant.
  3. Initiate a listserv and have it ready on internet-connected laptops at registration for participants to subscribe to (if they choose).
  4. Familiarize yourselves with the session arrangements and divide up session coordinator and general organizer tasks for each session.
  5. Provide minimal refreshments (large water bottles for participants to decant into their own; snacks (carrots, nuts, crackers, fruit) that can be taken away in bags at any time.  Set out a donation box for monetary contributions.

Information on website

Learning goals—For participants to gain new insights about

  1. “Currencies… [and the ways that d]ebt, labor, commodification, ownership, and consumerism structure and characterize contemporary life and academia.”
  2. Tools and processes “to facilitate open, horizontal education through substantive knowledge sharing, inquiry, critique, and discussion.”  In particular, to learn about the 4Rs approach: “A well-facilitated collaborative process keeps us listening actively to each other, fostering mutual Respect that allows Risks to be taken, elicits more insights than any one person came in with (Revelation), and engages us in carrying out and carrying on the plans we develop (Re-engagement).  What we come out with is very likely to be larger and more durable than what any one person came in with; the more so, the more voices that are brought out by the process” (http://wp.me/p1gwfa-nC).

Experiential goals (how will the process affect your way of being)—Participants experience

  1. of gaining insights about the Currencies topic excites them about extending conversations about the topic beyond the dis/Conference (in time and in who participates).
  2. of engagement in the tools and processes using the 4Rs approach excites them to seek out and pursue other engagements in a similar manner, in particular, to “connect quickly with others who are almost ready… to foster participatory processes and, through the experience such processes provide their participants, contribute to enhancing the capacity of others to do likewise.” (Taylor 2005, Unruly Complexity, p. 225).

Please bring your own water bottle, notebook, and, if you have one, a web-connected smart phone or laptop.

Note that at registration you will be asked to specify one thing that you want help thinking about (e.g., how to get the word out about events at Lucy Parsons radical bookstore and community space, how to build an audience for my next book on …,).

(continued in next post)

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