Firebrand Community Conference 2009

Newburyport, MA
Monday, October 05, 2009





Our conference will be held in two separate facilities. What could be more appropriate for a Firebrand get-together than the Firehouse Theater?  We will also be utilizing the offices of Firebrand Technologies.

Separated by just a 3-minute walk across a parking lot, these locations have been chosen to accommodate the 100+ people we are expecting to attend. They offer a large auditorium for larger community activities, and smaller offices for more intimate meetings.

Located on the waterfront in historic downtown Newburyport, the Firehouse features an expansive art gallery; the intimate 195 seat Arakelian Theater which presents dance, concerts, drama, musicals, film, new works and children's programming and Not Your Average Joe's restaurant. Additionally it offers a large anteroom that will serve as a mingling spot over coffee, snacks, and (later) drinks.

The address of the Firehouse is: One Market Square Newburyport, MA 01950 978-462-7336

The address of Firebrand Technologies' Office is: 44 Merrimac St 2nd Floor Newburyport, MA 01950 978-465-7755

Format of Conference

The general format of this conference is rather unique. We are calling it a 'hybrid conference'. It is a combination of a traditional conference setting, and an 'unconference' setting.

In December of 2007, we sent a questionnaire out to approximately 350 individuals about what types of things you all would like to see. We received about 50 responses to this questionnaire, and we heard pretty loudly what you were looking for.

In general the responses told us that:

1. You want to meet us and others in our Community

2. You want to learn more about our software and services and where they are headed in the future.

3. You want to improve your business.

What we came up with as response is this:

1. a 1 3/4-day format that gives ample time to meet people from Firebrand and other companies participating in the conference. Special Workshop sessions, for a fee, will be held the afternoon of Monday October 6, prior to the start of the community conference. The Community Conference will be held all day Tuesday and until 3:30 Wednesday to facilitate travel.

2. a well defined agenda on the first day aimed at tackling issues that are common to all of us.

3. a more loosely defined agenda on the second day that will be predominantly determined on that very morning. This is also known as an Unconference format. The purpose of this is so that, if we missed anything that was important, we could set up a time and place to get it covered.

On the main stage of the Firehouse Theater, we will have several high level panel discussions related to areas such as challenges and opportunities in publishing. While at the same time back in the office, we will have sessions running that delve more into the details of our software, services and technologies.

This hybrid conference/unconference gives us a stronger opportunity to insure that you derive the maximum value for taking the time to join us.

Unconference Information

What is an Unconference?

The unconference-style aspects of the Firebrand Community Conference are inspired by the work of David Berlind and Doug Gold of Massevents Labs and their series of unconferences known as Mashup Camp. While David and Doug did not invent this process, they certainly adapted it in a way that is both creative and inspiring. Thanks go to David for allowing us to pull some salient content from his pages.

So, what are the basic implications of an unconference that uses the Open Space methodology? If you're preparing to come to Newburyport, what this means is that the event's unconference sessions will be determined at event-time by the attendees themselves. In contrast to events whose agendas are pre-planned, having the attendees determine the content at event time ensures both the relevance, timeliness, and vibrancy of that content. Instead of typical conference sessions where speakers or panels present to large audiences (often with PowerPoint presentations behind them), the unconference involves leader-moderated discussions that everyone is free to contribute to. In advance of the unconference, attendees are encouraged to give other paticipants a heads up on the discussions they'd like to propose at event-time. To publish your ideas or view those that others will proposing, see the Unconference Ideas page.

How will it be coordinated?

On Wednesday morning, we will all meet at the Firehouse.

From there, a moderator will solicit the crowd for ideas of sessions to be held during the remainder of the day. We will have the opportunity to conduct 9 unconference sessions. Some sessions will be held in the Firebrand offices, and the ones with the largest responses will be held in the Firehouse.

The moderator will ask anyone who wants to propose a session to come up on stage, and fill out a piece of paper with the name of the session written on it in large block letters. The moderator will give the microphone to the attendee, and the attendee will spend less than a minute (enforced by the moderator) explaining the nature of their session. They will then ask for a show of hands of who might be interested in attending.

Based on the number of responses from the audience, an aid to the moderator will place the piece of paper in one of the available grids that signify the time and place for the session to be held.

This is often an interesting exercise as everyone feels a little tentative at first, but then the dam breaks and people start getting into the act.

Participation in Sessions

The person who proposed the session is the session leader, and it is the leader's responsibility to assign (or get a volunteer to be) a scribe. The Scribe's responsibility is to document, ideally right on this Wiki, what occurred in the sessions.

Open Space Principles and the Law of Two Feet

The following is extracted from Open Space World.

There are Four Principles and One Law which serve as guides to the leader and all participants. The principles are: Whoever comes are the right people. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. Whenever it starts is the right time. When it is over, it is over.

The first principle reminds everyone of the obvious fact that those present are the only ones there. Whatever gets done will get done with them, or not at all. There is little point, therefore in worrying about all those who should have come, might have come, but didn't come. It is essential to concentrate on those who are there. The experience is that, in some strange way, the group present is always the right group.

The second principle is yet another statement of the obvious. Given the theme (job) at hand and the people in attendance, whatever happens is the only thing that could have. Change the people, time, place, or theme, and something different will result. It is, of course possible that the result of the gathering could be a miserable failure, but experience shows that such a negative result is usually the product of negative expectations. Expect the worst, and you will very often get it.

The third principle will seem essentially wrong to those whose lives have been dictated by the clock, which is basically all of us. Open Space Events do, of course, occur in time, which means that there must be a time of beginning and a time for closure. But everything in the middle must be allowed to run its own course.

The final principle, "When it is over, it is over," again states the obvious, but it is a point we may forget. Deep learning and creativity both have their own internal life cycle. They may take more or less time, but when they come to completion, they are over. Occasionally this means that we have to spend more time than we had planned, but more often than not, the reverse is true. The creative moment has a nasty habit of occurring very quickly, and just because the session or meeting was scheduled to take an hour is no reason to sit around and waste time after the moment has passed. When it is over, it is over.

Finally we come to the One Law of Open Space. It is a law only in the sense that all participants must observe it or the process will not work. We call it the Law of Two Feet. Briefly stated, this law says that every individual has two feet, and must be prepared to use them. Individuals can make a difference and must make a difference. If that is not true in a given situation, they, and they alone, must take responsibility to use their two feet, and move to a new place where they can make a difference. This departure need not be made in anger or hostility, but only after honoring the people involved and the space they occupy. By word or gesture, indicate that you have nothing further to contribute, wish them well, and go and do something useful.


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