How to stay in the plenary hall

I was bad and was asked to leave the General Assembly plenary hall one year.

Oh, I wasn’t alone. This was Before Blog, but there were two or three other current bloggers with me. We were cutting up and talking too loud. (We could pipe down or leave; we left.) I, for one, had felt obliged to sit in for some of the mock-cheerful official droning, seeing as I was a ministerial delegate and all. But there’s something about a Big Talking Head shuffling papers on a Big Video Screen that brings out something very wicked in me. In each of us, it turned out.

“If I had a hammer . . . .” And a killer pair of red track shorts.

Note: the maker of this blog does not approve of proprietary software, even when he’s making a pop culture point.

But I think the Open Space Technology process — a terrible name, suggesting more video screens, hereafter just Open Space — could be very helpful if

  1. GA participants trust that it might do any good: a hurdle since, apart from a bit of fun, it’s hard to see how GA does any lasting good, and
  2. GA participants trust one another a bit: a bigger hurdle since the fear that “somebody’s trying to take us over” is built into our operating system. Unitarian Universalists, as a community, are too small and culturally isolated to get caught there. The Sacred Cod fishery was depleted long, long ago.

While a couple of decades old, Open Space depends on the same principles of self-organization that makes Internet social networking possible and lively. in short: go where you need to be. A rule of the closely related — if less formal — Unconference movement is that if you’re not teaching or learning, go somewhere else. Also: there are no observers, only participants. If the group you’re in isn’t the right one: move. These principles trust there is “more wisdom in the crowd” than on the platform.

I will confess some worry about who’s allowed a voice and who isn’t. UUs have a history of experimenting with unscientific and unrepresentative polling and sampling and then using the data as if it was scientifically or representatively gathered. Since all GA participants can participate in a process that speaks to the Board of Trustees, then anyone who can afford to go to GA gets a voice, delegate or not. Not there? No voice.

That’s a problem which can be mitigated if

  1. this experiment goes on for several years, at least
  2. similar unconferences meet all over the country (and not just at district meetings.)
  3. there were clearer lines for individual feedback to the Board, either directly to members or through an ombudsman office.

Bloggers can each help by examining the process and — should it be found convincing — promoting it in their space. We can also hold the UUA Board of Trustees accountable if the results are misused or unfairly discounted.

Because believe me, I’ll find the right place to speak and listen.

5 Replies to “How to stay in the plenary hall”

  1. I have been reading a bit about this OST thing and I still do not know what the difference is with the “sorry I forgot the agenda, could you please raise your hand to speak about whatever you want to talk” scenario. Surely there is something else. And I would guess that the figure of the facilitator/moderator is of upmost importance to avoid that people start rambling about issues or delivering their speech on their own particular agenda to whoever wants to listen to it. So, if you have experienced how any of these OST meetings is run beyond what publicity pages say about its wonders, I would like to learn.

  2. I would like to state for the record that I was not one of the bad kids who got bounced from plenary. And I am not sitting next to you again, You-Know-Who. And You Know Why.

    (not you Scott, but I’m sure you know who I mean)

  3. Oh my gosh! I am GUEST FEED!!!

    WOW!! I didn’t know what you meant! I just had this totally weird experience where I was commenting on your blog and saw all my own headlines on your margin. Freaked me right out for a second there.
    Thanks, Mr. Stufflebean!

  4. Hey Scott!

    It’s just me, little ol’ You-Know-Who sayin’ that that was the best Plenary I ever (briefly) attended! I believe You-Know-Why also remembers it quite fondly…

    Could you direct me to further info about what, exactly, this “Open Space” thing is? I must confess all that springs to mind is some kind of park (or vacant lot)…

  5. I’ll be writing about Open Space and related phenomena just about every day between now and General Assembly. Indeed, there’s a video in the hopper to be published at 2pm.

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