“Oh bee-hive!” or “We ain’t never gonna survive…”

unless we get a little crazy.

I don’t like being got along to events on false pretenses. They should do what they say on the bally tin. And the “Hive Minds Symposium” on “Future-proofing Manchester” most definitely did NOT.

It may be bad form to beat up on students (for it was they who organised this thing), but I have a self-appointed role to fulfill… Here goes.

Hive Minds, eh? “This symposium takes the model of the hive to question the viability of urban creative networks in sustainable cities”, eh? Well, the speakers I heard said nowt about that. Maybe then the “Hive” reference is supposed to apply to the format of the event? But bees don’t sit in rows while they are droned at. They go out and explore, and then come back and do wiggly dances that encourage other bees to go out on same/similar adventures. Where was the invitation to talk to strangers? Where was the small group work to discuss questions from the organisers, or – gasp – self-generated questions? Where was the use of open space technology to facilitate non-hierarchical exchange of information, ideas, concepts. Nope, this was just like any other talk and chalk/death by powerpoint seminar that you’ve ever been to. Unsurprising, I suppose, given that that is all most of the organisers will ever have experienced. But it was neither “Hive Minds” in any meaningful sense, or a “symposium”.

So much for the form. What about the content, ostensibly “Future Proofing”? The blurb said it would “explore the effective investments in social and cultural adaptability in a time of finite resources”. Er, no. I don’t think I heard the words climate change, or peak oil, or resource crunch, or transition, or resilience. I definitely didn’t hear “panarchy” or “Buzz Holling”, or urban ecological security. I didn’t hear the work of the EcoCities project, or the Environment Commission, or the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan (I know, it’s not very good, but it does deserve a mention) or anything of that ilk.

So what happened? Dave Haslam did an admirably brief intro to the day. Some guy called Phil Griffin rambled on a bit. No structure that I could see, no surprises that I could hear, and my eyes glazed over. Dave Carter was better, talking a bit about the Manchester’s Digital Future, bigging up a book called Accelerando and the Kersal Massive. On that later subject, he mentioned that the young people’s parents “stand a real opportunity of missing out on [the tinterwebs]” I was amused – in normal language you’d say “threat”, but Mr Carter has been in Castle Grayskull so long that the word “threat” has obviously been memory-holed. Last up before lunch was Jean Hobson, who had done a series of very good drawings and photos of Manchester’s vanishing built history. She was friendly, pithy and brief.

Then lunch. I took off for a couple of hours, so I can’t speak for the “We are Tape” crew, but I’ve seen their film and think it’s very good. They were happy with how their presentation went. The next guy up was a marketing guru called Philip Cooke “on repositioning Manchester – changing the way the city is perceived and understood.” Can’t say how that went either, since I timed my return to perfection, just in time for the last question to him and then got some beers and whines in. The last speaker was a “guerrilla gardening guru” called Richard Reynolds; a kind of eight-generation photocopy of George Monbiot, only without the redistributional/contestational streak that makes GM intermittently interesting. For this I came back from the pub? Oi vey.

After a long day (especially for those who’d not used the law of two feet) I was v. grateful to Dave Haslam, who kept his summing up remarks intelligent but also succinct. If it had been billed as “listen to a bunch of people give (powerpoint) presentations about Manchester and various vaguely future-y topics, of varying quality followed by Q and A and a couple of unstructured breaks” then a) I wouldn’t be so miffed because b) I wouldn’t have taken a day’s goddam annual leave to be there.

Finally, to the alternative title to this post– if we keep doing these events in the same stultifying format, then we are never going to build affective and effective networks. We need to get out of our comfort zones. We keep wittering on about the big transformations that business and government need to make to their modus operandi.

And all the while “we” keep doing the same stultifying “sit in the room while we unscrew the tops of your heads and pour in what we think you ought to know and the interaction will consist of the boldest among you asking questions/giving speeches back, but god forbid you mingle and come up with shared critiques or other ideas” thing. Ya Basta!


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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