Conferences have such formatted spaces that just attending them becomes a burden.
Two big themes officially set my agenda in Montréal these past few days, and I ensured I had the energy to work with them by making space and taking time for meaningful conversations inside as well as outside the program. The overall theme for this years EGOS conference was Bridging Continents, Cultures and Worldviews, and the theme for the track I co-organized with Stefan Meisiek and Steve Taylor was Identity in Art, Design, and Organization (ADO). In the ADO track we found various ways to break out of the burdensome conference format referred to above in an email I received from a colleague (who did not attend the conference). We interrupted our process a couple of times to listen to keynote speakers who addressed the overall conference theme.
The ADO track has a tradition of experimenting with ways to break out of the formatted conference spaces. In 2011 in Gothenburg we tried working with arts to stimulate innovative art-based experiences to reflect on, and we relegated the discussion of papers to the sidelines. That was too radical for some people. This year we started with an open-space approach, inviting the participants to identify the issues that preoccupy them in the field. They rapidly filled all the blackboards along the wall (unfortunately, my camera does not have a panoramic lens that would have permitted me to take the entire width of the board)!
Together, we found clusters of issues that we wanted to discuss in small groups (e.g., artistic interventions, design process, shadow side of bringing arts into organizations, how to conduct research on aesthetic experiences, theories and philosophies relating to identity). Over the course of three 1.5 hour sessions, groups formed and re-formed, so that people had a chance to get to know each other during these conversations about their issues. As a participant commented at the end of the conference: I arrived here feeling peripheral and then discovered how many colleagues were addressing topics that related to my work. We are building a community.