Re-searching critique

Here’s the spiel it could have begun with;

Thank you for coming.  It is a huge vote of confidence in us, and we hope to be worthy of that confidence by creating a day that meets YOUR needs and hopes. This day is about YOU.

We have thought very hard about encourage networks of researcher-activists to form. You being sat in rows for the first two and a half hours, being death-by-power-pointed, is not the way forward, clearly.

So, please get up and go and introduce yourselves to someone you have never spoken to. Find out who they are, why they’ve come today and a skill that they have that they are quite good at.  [You have three minutes!]

This is NOT going to be a day where we tell you all the same thing, because so many of you have such different levels of expertise already.

From that survey we asked you to fill in before you came, we know that over half of you have already used the Freedom of Information Act requests, but that only 5 of you have every used Companies House. So we will do a “basic” and “advanced” FoIA stream, and a “basic” Companies House stream for everyone.

If at any point you are bored because it’s too easy, please go and talk to one of the organisers at the back of the room and they will give you a “stretching” task – we have devised a bunch. If it’s too advanced, don’t suffer in silence – either stick your hand up and say, or, if that is too intimidating, go to one of our organisers at the back of the room and they can work with you on other tasks.

You see, this meeting is held under the “law of two feet”, which says that you have one foot for learning and one for contributing, and that if you are doing neither, it is your duty to respectfully go where you are doing one or both of these things. That’s especially important if your small group is going in a direction that doesn’t suit you, or if it is being dominated by one or two people. Don’t suffer in silence – if you can’t change the situation, then walk away from it.

This is NOT going to be a day where you sit in rows and are thrilled and/or inspired by what WE have done, where we talk and you listen.

I know that everything I am saying was also sent out in an email, but I want to re-iterate this; Today is about you being active, seeking out opportunities to learn, people to learn with and from, and people to teach.

That goes against the grain of almost everything you’ve ever done. Most of you “succeeded” in school, where you sponge up information and squeeze it out on the appointed day. That model – the “information deficit” model, only works for the few, and it does NOT build the kinds of capacity we the organisers hope to build. If it did, we wouldn’t need days like today.

Everyone should have three badges – their name, where they are from and what sorts of things they are interested in learning how to investigate. For the first bit, we are going to sit you in geographical areas (London, South West, Midlands, North etc).

Once you are in those groups, we will give you your first tasks….

To the organisers of events
A word on feedback.

Almost all (all?) of the feedback you received will have been positive. Many people will have had an inspiring and informative time. They will have met one or two other people who they intend to stay in touch with. That, as far as they re concerned, is enough to make the day a success.

Some will have had a certain amount of unease about the format and execution, but they will not want (to you or to themselves) to seem churlish about what was a) free and b) quite explicitly an experiment. So they will probably self-censor in order not to appear discouraging.

I suspect that the only detailed/constructive criticism you get will be mine (though I hope, of course, that I am wrong!)

Few if any will reflect on the fact that they could have gained that information and inspiration from watching youtube videos of them doing their presentations (with the added advantages that people can watch more than once if they need, and it can also be seen by people not able to attend on the day because they have child-care issues, can’t afford to travel etc etc).

Few if any will have thought through that what they really needed was not inspiration (they are clearly committed enough to have allocated a day and travel time/expenses to attending) but specific tools , crucially , the connections with like-minded people close to where they live.)

Here’s what irked me particularly.

Punctuality – Start on time.

Hard to find out who was from “nearby” – Give everyone three badges – one for their name, one for where they are from, one for what their main area of interest is.

The presentations – When you do have presentations, make sure that they’ve all been loaded onto the computer, and that any incompatibility (whether it is Mac/PC or Word/Office – this latter one is a mistake I have made!) is ironed out BEFORE you start.

If you do want to communicate this stuff, get your presenters to tell it as a STORY, a case study. “We were trying to find out about company X. Here’s how we did it…. Here’s how, on reflection, we could have done it quicker/better.”

Always have a presumption AGAINST sage-on-the-stage power-point presentations.

The time overrun – Have a mechanism for getting presenters off the stage once their allotted time is up. Don’t let them use passive-aggressive techniques to hog the time and energy of the room.

If you are going to ask people what they want to do, don’t just hear the “yeses” (though, to be fair, the presentation was EXCELLENT).

Et cetera


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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One Response to Re-searching critique

  1. Sam Gunsch says:

    re: different levels of expertise

    excerpt: “so many of you have such different levels of expertise already.”

    excerpt: “If it’s too advanced, don’t suffer in silence – either stick your hand up and say, or, if that is too intimidating”

    Important and useful to address this.
    Most networking conferences I attended did not adequately address this issue.

    History of an issue:
    You are probably including knowledge of the history of an issue in your notion of “expertise” but my sense is that it is a significant dimension worth highlighting.

    On enviro issues here: Lots of frustration in breakout groups stemmed from new volunteers having on a minimal understanding of the history of an issue, combined with lack of preparation or the basic inability of relative old-timers like me to effectively provide an issue briefing sufficient for informed participation.

    The dialogue necessary to help get people on the same page burns up time intended for discussion of what to do now and how to do it.


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