There are many conferences on the technology circuit. I have learned this only too well over the course of the last few years, and I've made speaking appearances at many of them, including Blogher, Netroots Nation, Personal Democracy Forum, and SXSW. Each of these is brilliant in its own way, and I hope to continue participating in all of them.
However, there is one particular conference that is unique in that it offers not only the traditional conference experience, but also intimacy and thought leaders who are up to making a difference in the world. It is set in a breathtaking location that inspires self-reflection, transformational insights, and learning. This year I had the honor of being a convener for said conference. It was my second year at Web of Change.
When I first went to Web of Change a few years ago (I believe the year was 2005) I was nearly two years into http://crossleft.org and was looking to learn from people who had been operating in the field for many more years than I had. What I found was breathtaking natural beauty, tutelage of the Internet and the movement that's come from it, and an enlightened geek community that became in many ways extended familia.
This year, in the role of convener, I was looking forward to more of the same and hoping to take it up a notch and have a chance to share this experience with a broader community. As conveners, we were charged with sharing this opportunity with our broader networks, inviting them to participate with us and to come up with the sessions that would be the content-driven portion of Web of Change. I sent an invitation to pretty much everyone I knew in the technology world.
Modesty aside, the conveners did a great job with the agenda--we had the good fortune of being led in our opening sessions by Gibran Rivera woo woo guru and friend. My favorite exercise was probably the one during which we practiced 'being' from different spaces, including those of idealist, cynic, judge, and big heart. Others were blown away by a 'being with' exercise which had participants look into each others' eyes.
Some of the sessions on the agenda as follows--
Technology and True Love (or at least commitment)
Drew Bernard and Shawn Kemp of ONE/Northwest
Alia McKee Scott of Sea Change Strategies, Mimi Hahn of Monterey Bay Aquarium, Dorie Clark of Clark Strategic Communications
Citizen Engagement: Opening Government from the Inside Out
David Hume of BC Ministry of Citizens Services
Tim Walker and Nicholas Klassen of Biro Creative
Organizational Transformation, Out of the Shadows
Sam Dorman, Tim Walker of BiroCreative, Jason Mogus of Communicopia, Gibran Rivera of the Interaction Institute for Social Change.
Storytelling Kung Fu
Matt Thompson and Jonah Sachs of FreeRange Studios
What Kind of World Are We Trying To Build?
Kety Esquivel of NCLR, Joaquin Guerra of SEIU, and Latoya Peterson of Racialicious
Some of the questions that we explored in my first session with Joaquin and Latoya were as follows: What defines the culture of New Media/Web 2.0? How has it started to define the culture of the 'real' world? Is this how we want it to be? What would we like to see it be like? What do we want to do to contribute to that in the next 5, 25, 50 years? What do we want to do to contribute to that collectively?
I was also particularly impressed with the sessions on Organizational Transformation and Behavioral Economics. My degree was in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University, so I'd studied about organizational behavior and design; I'd even gone on to apply it during my time in the corporate world. However, I had never considered collapsing this way of seeing things and problem-solving with the technology world. This session really did bring this conversation out of the shadows for me. As for behavioral economics, in said session we explored why people do what they do--this being of great importance to online organizers as we're all striving to inspire a specific response.
One of my greatest personal challenges during Web of Change '09 was dealing with the systemic failures that kept so many communities from participating at Web of Change and/or operating in leadership roles. The communities that I was particularly interested in looking at in this regard were those of women, people of color, and poor white men and women. Out of the nearly 100 people who participated, only 11 of the participants identify as people of color. As it related to session facilitators and conveners, the leadership of women was definitely in the minority. To be fair this is something that WoC is not alone in working on. The other leaders in the conference space, i.e., Netroots Nation, O'Reilley, Personal Democracy Forum, etc., are also working on this challenge.
At Web of Change '09, we had two sessions during which we explored this challenge: "Is Technology the Great Equalizer?" and a breakout caucus suggested by Latoya. We came out of these conversations at WoC '09 with many questions and some solutions. We've staffed a committee to continue to discuss this issue & tackle it in the context of WoC '10 and beyond.
In their blog posts both, Darren Barefoot and Sarah Schacht say that perhaps the most amazing thing to come out of WoC '09 are the connections with the amazing group of people who chose to play this year; and I would have to agree. Once again for me, the community and relatedness coming out of WoC are what made participating in the conference most worthwhile. As if this was not enough, however, during the conference many of us also enjoyed meditation, massages, yoga, nature hikes, a raw and cooked Oyster Barbeque Feast, dancing, a sail into Desolation Sound, an early morning canoe trip to an island where we enjoyed muffins and tea, and of course the bioluminescence.
On Twitter I asked my WoC '09 Tweeps to bounce back w a top ten list re WoC '09 and here's what some of them had to say:
webofchange RT @KetyE - Top10 #woc09: @freerangestudio storytelling, magic of Hollyhock, @mogusmoves preso on org transformation, Biro's design brief
katiekeenan @KetyE - Top10 #woc09: Speak to values, overcome fear 2 cr8 change, involve web @ managmnt level, tap into your supporters,design for masses
jeremyosborn @KetyE Who am I? I am the judge. What do I do? I judge. What will I always do? Judge.
jimmiocean Re @KetyE highlights #woc09. Breaking down to what is real in our morning sessions. Light shines when eyes light up.
JasonBarnett @KetyE Swimming in the bioluminescence at night, meeting so many wonderful people, recharging my soul, oh - and the brain food.
sbenglin @KetyE top #woc09 for me = amazing smart, dedicated, ppl; Cara Pike's values data and approach; Zak Exley (tho I don't totally agree w/him)
To follow all the tweeps from WoC '09: http://tweepml.org/Web-of-Change-09/
Here's hoping to see you next year at WoC '10!