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communities are the new conference

Hoca

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Are communities the new conference?​


I asked this question in our monthly video call of the perpetual beta coffee club [PBCC] which I facilitate. There was almost universal agreement that people prefer to engage in communities, both online and in-person, rather than a conference, particularly ones that have a lot of vendors. The PBCC was a significant sanity check for many of us during the lock-downs of the early stages of the SARS-2 pandemic. For the first few months we switched to weekly video calls so we could stay in touch and find out what was happening around the world.

Asynchronous, continuous online communities like ours provide something that most conference do not — time for reflection and deep conversations.

As I noted in coffee, communities, and condescension, as online activity grows, we all need safe places to learn and reflect. Yes, we can be engaged on public platforms, but we need to find safe places to have deeper conversations. Communities can offer a diversity of opinions and experiences. It is essential for every citizen today to develop and engage with a diverse network of knowledgeable people in order to make sense of the world. Citizens also need somewhere to integrate their learning and get trusted advice.

As far back as 2010 I wrote about the conference rut and that one thing missing in these discrete time-based events is time for reflection. Most presenters hold back their knowledge in order to ‘deliver’ it just before the big official presentation. This presentation is followed by some immediate questions and discussions and a coffee break. Then it’s off to see the next presentation. Reflection, if it occurs, comes much later, and usually after the participants have gone home.

While reflecting on reflection in 2014, I noted that much of the workday in a professional office (or in a distributed workplace) is organized around meetings, calls, and getting things done. This is often interrupted dozens of times each day, requiring a re-focus on whatever it is people were doing before the interruption. Work, like professional conferences, is composed of many non-related discrete, time-based events, often with one directly following the other.

I currently participate in a small private online community looking at the modern workplace, as well as managing the PBCC, and have recently joined the Asynco community focused on distributed work. What I learn from these communities is more than any conference could offer. For instance, I have developed many close friendships over the past five years of the PBCC.

I think we may see many communities created to fill the professional development and relationship gap that exists in too many disciplines today. We may also see conferences getting organized from inside communities, flipping the role of conference organizer trying to sell sponsorships and participation, to more community-driven agendas. We plan on discussing this in more detail in our communities and I’m sure there will be many insights shared.

What would you expect from a professional community?

You know you are in a cmmunity of practice when it changes your practice. Photo: Skateboarders practicing outside the contemporary art museum of Barcelona
 
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