Tag Archives: connections

Sense making, friend making and glaciers

About a year ago, I was asked if I could help make a traditional scientific symposium (International Glaciology Symposium on High Mountain Asia) into something different. A group of glaciologists from ICIMOD, locally organizing the international scientific symposium, and the IGS scientific steering committee, wanted people to leave saying ‘Wow! That was a great conference!”

How could I resist?

Last month, after a lot of co-designing, back and forth, and many changes up until the last moment…we did it.

Here is a bit of our story. You can also see the tweets and some images at #IGSKTM

The main areas we wanted to focus on were:

1. Sense making. 

Scientists are subjected to powerpoint presentations from morning to night, day after day. Typically there is very little time for questions, if at all. There are no discussions. Thus, participants leave a 5 day meeting possibly having seen 100’s of presentations yet having no time to digest them, let alone understand the bigger picture they might contribute to. We wanted to provide a legacy of learning – i.e. sense making of the content – for participants. They should leave remembering the key trends, patterns and emerging issues in their field of work.

After the daily keynote talk, tables took 5 minutes to create a newspaper headline.

After the daily keynote talk, tables took 5 minutes to create a newspaper headline.

Headline after a keynote in Black Carbon.

Headline from a table discussion after a keynote in Black Carbon.

2. Friend making.

Despite spending 5-6 days at a conference, often far from home, participants are rarely given the opportunity to meet and network. People who know each other typically sit together at the group dinners and traditionally the sessions have people sitting in rows (classroom style or theatre style) which doesn’t lend itself to conversation aside from one or two neighbours. We wanted to ensure that people had ample time to meet and also help those who aren’t great at networking interact with their peers. Participants at this conference would hopefully leave having spoken to many new people, have the opportunity to find others working on similar fields of interest and simply increase their contacts and network professionally.

Participants could pin where they work. The online roster was a place to see who these people actually are!

Participants could pin where they work. The online roster was a place to see who these people actually are!

People loved the poster sessions. We had a scavenger hunt at one to encourage people to find each other!

People loved the poster sessions. We had a scavenger hunt at one to encourage people to find each other!

3. Wow!

Leaving meetings tired and burnt out is not unique to science meetings. This is typical for most meeting goers and we wanted to make this one different. Rather than being tired at the end of the day, we wanted people to feel energized and excited. We strove to include sufficient content, discussion and fun to keep people going over 6 days talking about glaciers.

Here are some of the things we did to help shift a traditional scientific symposium into something people will remember:

  • Less formality
    • TV Talk show format to set the scene for the symposium (as opposed to traditional panel)
    • Seating at round tables to encourage conversing with colleagues and meeting new people (see their faces, as opposed to traditional seating in rows) [people were really shocked when they entered the room]
    • Large scale imagery in the venue to give a sense of the region despite meeting in Kathmandu (we were discussing the highest mountains in the world and we showed them!)
    • Outputs and visuals from discussions posted in coffee break areas so people could congregate around something.
  • Discussion and sense-making by participants for a greater synthesis of information
    • Tables created news headlines after key note talks [they had 5 minutes to discuss the talk, create a headline and this was followed by 10 mins of Q&A]
    • Tables worked on key questions throughout the day (after a set of science talks) that were later compiled and synthesized by session chairs and presented back to participants the following morning. [they had 10 mins after a set of talks to work on their synthesis questions as a table. Chairs created a daily summary to present in 5 minutes the following morning. They were very diligent.]
    • A full synthesis is envisaged as part of a long editorial for the Annals of Glaciology and for further communication purposes. The start was put into a press release distributed by ICIMOD following the event.
    • *Note we had to reduce the number of talks to have time for discussion (this took a lot of convincing) however we still managed to have 46 scientific talks plus 16 open space sessions (mentioned below) and the opening panel.
  • Time for conversations that matter
    • One morning was dedicated to open space, a technique where the participants create an agenda on the spot.
    • Over 100 participants proposed 16 topics which became one hour sessions (eight per parallel session).
    • Important conversations and connections were made. People’s interests and ideas were valued and appreciated.
    • Time taken at the opening session and closing session to personally reflect on what you hope to get out of the symposium and what you learned. Participants were given time to share this with a friend, the table and the room. We used a technique called 1-2-4-all.
    • Field trip midway (this is typical for and IGS and they like it…so we kept it!)
  • Networking onsite and for the future
    • A glaciologist scavenger hunt took place during the first poster session as a way to get people to learn about each other and connect with people they don’t normally talk to.
    • A map was posted where people added where they work so they could see others working in their region.
    • A roster was created where people added their name, contact email and research interests plus a photo. This will be sent out via email to help enable ongoing networking between the scientists.
    • Each day participants were encouraged to sit at new tables with new people to help change their conversations for the synthesis as well as meet new colleagues.

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Half a day was dedicated to  participants creating their own agenda on topics that mattered to them. Small break out sessions ensued.

Half a day was dedicated to participants creating their own agenda on topics that mattered to them. Small break out sessions of engaged people ensued.

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Some areas to consider in the future:

  • Longer poster sessions (in our case to accommodate the larger number of posters received). Perhaps timing the sessions at the end of the day would also make it easier to extend it for those who are interested. We had one at the end of the day however two were after lunch to help reduce the food coma issue. Though in retrospect people really loved the poster sessions and likely would have stayed late to continue their conversations had they all been at the end of the day.
  • Questions from science talks could be re-organized. For example rather than giving 5 mins for questions directly after speakers, let tables speak for 3 minutes after a talk to gather specific questions as a table. Then after a set of talks take 10 minutes of questions. This idea was proposed by a participant who felt the questions were not as well thought out as the synthesis which allowed for discussion before hand.
  • Include options for workshops on science communications. This is an idea being explored for future symposiums. How to make a great poster, give a presentation, get published, interact with the media and policy makers were all topics that emerged in our open space session.
  • Add a few fields to the online registration so a roster can be given out at the start of the symposium to participants to help facilitate networking immediately.

It was a very rewarding experience to work with these scientists. They have so much knowledge and energy. It was nice to be able to set the container to help great conversations happen, to make sense of the immense information presented and to suggest ways for colleagues to continue their contact after the symposium ended. Wow! That was fun!

p.s. an ICIMOD photographer was taking gorgeous photos. I will update the blog if I can get a few his.

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Personal reflections on 2013

As the New Year gets rolling, I took a few minutes to reflect on the last 12 months.  I’ve been meaning to do this for a while and despite it already being 2014, it’s better late than never.  Blogging for reflective practice is how I began blogging so here goes…

Langtang Valley, Nepal

A lot of changes took place in 2013, which have been transformational for me personally and professionally. I’m writing from Nepal where I am far from many friends and family yet close to lots of new friends and colleagues.

Looking back, these are my top five highlights:

  1. Becoming a Mom. The biggest and best change has been becoming a mom to “Ira”.  I learned a lot in the past year about living in the moment, enjoying the small gifts a baby offers and the love of family.  I think I also understand my own mother more.
  2. Embracing Community. Discovering the kindness of people and community (mostly due to Ira) both at home and around the world has opened my heart and mind.  Thank you.
  3. Rediscovering Yoga. I brought yoga back into my life.  The benefits of practicing yoga physically, mentally and emotionally have been a great addition to the daily routine. More than simply postures its an approach to life.
  4. Teamwork. I enjoy working in a team.  Being a mom pushed me to find people to collaborate with to accomplish my work commitments.  More than usual, this year I collaborated with several smart, generous and talented women and I look forward to sharing more projects with them and others in the years to come.
  5. Growing professionally. With an urge to increase my international sustainable development work and follow my passions, I became an associate with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), moved to Nepal for a few months and have picked up very interesting international contracts.  I also gave two graphic facilitation workshops in September, which fed me with energy and enthusiasm for using visuals in our work and doing more workshops in the future. I have learned a lot in the last seven years of consulting and its gratifying to continue to grow in my career. I feel fortunate to be able to work with my passions with so many inspiring people.

Thank you to all the friends, family, and colleagues who have been a part of my journey through 2013.  While I may not communicate often (and apologies for not sending holiday cards), I am thinking of you and grateful for our connections.  I am looking forward to the year ahead and hope our paths cross soon virtually or in person.  A blog post about living in Nepal will be coming shortly!

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Reflections of a home-based consultant living on the edge of the woods

“Be patient.  Good things come to those who wait.”

This is the Chinese fortune cookie wisdom I received Sunday night after eating out in a town nearby.  The town of 10,000 people is the hub of the region I live in which most likely has more trees, wildlife and clean running water than it does people.  Yes, I am feeling a little isolated.

My small town on the edge of the woods

I wonder if it’s the remote geography, working alone in my attic during the dark November days, or lack of strong professional networks to share the daily grind with.  Being patient is interesting advice as I have been thinking about my professional life lately and how I can enhance it from good to great as well as being less isolating.

For anyone that works on issues related to improving people, places and making positive change, you could imagine that doing this alone in your attic, mostly by typing into a computer box, could be a lonely place (despite my online friends – thank you friends 🙂 ).  Given that it’s a not so bad trade-off for living next to bears and powder skiing, I have been seeking advice lately to find that magical work-life balance.  Here are some of the nuggets that I plan to work on in the New Year:

–       Have a filter for work you take on.  Here are four criteria my inspiring colleagues at Bright Green Learning use: Impact, Creativity, Interesting, Learning.  I may add people/team to that list.

–       Network.  Go to conferences to meet people you want to work with and keep in touch with them.  This may mean dedicating two phone calls a day as follow up which is very possible (That is my brothers advice and he owns a successful HR magazine so I’ll take it).

–       Develop a local network of professionals who may also be looking for people to connect with.  I will use my community building experience to start this in 2012 with the domain being ‘professional development’ and the side benefits of deeper relationships and networking (this is an idea that has been on my mind since I moved here – time for action).

This is only the start to my 2012 ‘good to great’ list as my mind is burgeoning with ideas for connection, social media is at my finger tips and I should not forget my widespread community of friends, colleagues, alumni…who I should make more time to get in touch with.

Blogging is important to me as it is a place to reflect and share thoughts with others.  The professional world (even for someone living at the edge of the woods) has lots to offer.  So do I wait patiently for taking my professional life to the next level or work to make it happen?  Drop a line if you have a thought.  My top of mind response is that it will be a bit of both.

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What is collaboration?

Have you ever collaborated with someone yet didn’t feel like it was quite collaboration?  Perhaps you received a contribution or a comment or an input that was interesting yet didn’t make a substantive difference to the end product?  I feel the word collaboration is used loosely and should be reserved for times when all contributors are needed to create the outcome.  If this isn’t the case, maybe the input should be labelled differently such as contribution, cooperation, or commenting by colleagues.

This blog post from Cloudhead is a good start on differentiating terms we use in the world of working together:

“When collaborating, people work together (co-labor) on a single shared goal.
Like an orchestra which follows a script everyone has agreed upon and each musician plays their part not for its own sake but to help make something bigger.

When cooperating, people perform together (co-operate) while working on selfish yet common goals.
The logic here is “If you help me I’ll help you” and it allows for the spontaneous kind of participation that fuels peer-to-peer systems and distributed networks. If an orchestra is the sound of collaboration, then a drum circle is the sound of cooperation. ”

I would add to this that “To Collaborate” is to contribute to an end goal in a way that could otherwise not be reached without that collaboration.  Hence, collaboration can help create efficiencies of work (rather than increase work load) and bring new ideas to the end product which often means a stronger more robust product as well.

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Chit Chat + Relationship Building = $

What does small talk have to do with Knowledge Management and getting ahead? Everything according to Canada’s national news.   Small talk is a first step in networking which often helps people find jobs. Networking is a medium to create relationships, learn about people and ultimately build trust.  These are the foundations for knowledge management.  They are also the blocks for building one’s career.

Apparently, those who are good at small talk get more jobs, raises and move through the ranks to higher positions.

A couple examples ring true:

–          Five great people applied for a job and it was difficult to choose.  The one who got the job is he who spoke to the secretary in the waiting room and showed interest in learning about the company.

–          Three people applied for a job teaching at a school.  The one who talked to the interviewee about the photos on his wall, fishing and children got the job.  He also had the lowest grades.

Success doesn’t come from good grades alone.  The ability to connect, i.e. small talk, is what is moving careers.  Developing a repor with colleagues, making others feel comfortable and building trust all lead to people wanting to work with you more.

In summary, the heart of Knowledge Management is connecting people, ideas and experience.  Small talk is the starting point for making these connections.  If you are interested in people and their lives, you are fortunate.  If small talk is your weak point, start practicing!

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