I’m personally not an extremely big fan of unconferences. The reason for me is essentially this: I work very hard at understanding the topics that are significant to peer to peer, and the result is a structured narrative. Without the whole, it is difficult to just jump in with small details. Therefore, and I know this may sound paradoxical or contradictory for a peer to peer advocate, I appreciate the ex-cathedra format of the traditional lecture. When I give a lecture, I always ask the attendees: give me at least 20 minutes before you start intervening ….
But this is part of a more general critique, that many of the contemporary and so called peer to peer collective choice systems actually generate lowest common denominator effects, i.e. enforce some kind of groupthink. Who can really maintain that a site like Digg pushes the most interesting articles to the fore. In fact, most of these systems behave more like swarm-based markets than deliberative dialogue.
Therefore we need systems that marry wider participation with selection mechanisms that take into account quality of judgment ..
Dave Pollard records a similar critique regarding the Open Space facilitation method:
“So it was interesting to hear Dave Snowden say the other day that self-managed facilitation events like Open Space “punish mavericks” — their ideas are usually too complex or too difficult to grasp or too difficult to articulate clearly, and therefore get ignored or even ridiculed. Could this be the problem with these methods? I’ve had several experiences where the most brilliant ideas I heard at an event were not even recorded in the official or unofficial record of the event. I’ve even used mindmaps, displayed at the front of the event or breakout room, to record what I’ve heard being said, only to be challenged by those who ‘heard’ something completely different.
I’m always surprised at the response to my own ideas at such events. Half the time they are simply not heard, because the group has preconceptions of what the event or outcomes would or should be, and my ideas just didn’t fit with them, and so were considered ‘out of scope’ or even ‘out of order’. The other half the time they are embraced with such zeal (one of my distinctive competencies is my ability to imagine possibilities that others don’t seem to be able to come up with) that I feel guilty for having hijacked the process and ‘bullied’ the group into adopting my solution without thinking it through adequately and without properly making it theirs. This is not a robust innovation process.
Or does the problem perhaps lie in the very nature and premise of facilitation — the belief that the facilitator can really remain objective and avoid steering the supposedly self-managed group in a direction that betrays the facilitator’s bias (or the facilitator’s sponsor’s bias)? Can we really be objective, or does our presence as part of the event inevitably colour it? Just as the observer’s very presence is said to affect quantum outcomes, does the facilitator’s very presence affect the event outcomes? Some of the most popular current research and analysis methodologies stress the importance of being ‘fact-based’ or ‘evidence-based’ — euphemisms for ‘objective’ — but the world’s best researchers will tell you the defining characteristic of world-class research is asking the right (sometimes ‘naive’) questions, and such questions are inevitably provocative and subjective.”
Dave’s article contains concrete propositions.