Well, Happy New Year! I have to admit, I’ve delayed posting this reflection because I wasn’t sure we’d make it to a new b’ak’tun and what would have been the point? But I’m glad we’re all here, safe and sound.
The Future of Cities in the Asia-Pacific was our final round of the Foresight Epidemic before the Asia-Pacific Foresight Conference and the one we were most focused on. The whole run of these online sessions was initially motivated by the idea of doing something with social media for the conference, so we aimed the prior rounds at learning as much as we could. This one was actually aiming to engage the conference participants, so it acted as a chance to use what we’d learned.
I’m reviewing our planning notes for the round as I write this and I notice we wrote “Less Is More!!!” in big letters. This has been our big learning in general this year – as a team, we’re so keen to try things and use techniques we like that we often cram too much into a given workshop or online engagement. This round of the epidemic was not an exception.
Because José was in Singapore teaching during this phase, he offered to recruit some experts who spend their time researching and thinking about cities in the region. He succeeded in getting Johannes Loh and Taufik Indrakesuma from Asian Trends Monitoring Bulletin and Rita Padawangi from Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy to participate, all of whom were enthusiastic, insightful and generally wonderful. He also got a chance to talk to noted urban planner Professor Mike Douglass, who wasn’t available but who generously gave his thoughts in email.
We planned the round on the following phases:
- The pre-phase
- a Branch conversation, initially with the expert group who we were hoping would seed a conversation we could ask others to ultimately join.
- a poll which asks a couple of questions and allows participants to share an image – the same as we used in Futures of Childhood Education, because it seemed to encourage participation and images are easy to use.
- The expert phase – using a Google+ Hangout On Air to broadcast a live panel discussion where we ask the panel a set of prepared questions and also solicit questions via Twitter. This was a new tactic to this round and the aim was to increase the amount of expert information in the discussion and also entice some more engagement from potential participants (“Look! Experts! Come watch!” – José calls this the Panda Strategy, because that’s how you get people to come to your zoo. Not that we keep our experts in cages or anything.)
- The open phase – we open the Branch conversation up and invite everyone into a second Hangout On Air to discuss the topic. We planned to use Dator’s Four Scenarios method for the open Hangout. What we’re hoping is that the audience we build up in the first two phases translate into more participants in this last phase.
Our plan was to particularly solicit participation from the conference registrants and so the topic we picked was one of the focal topics at the conference.
How did we do?
The pre-phase did reasonably well. We received eleven responses to the poll – which in the history of the Epidemic is pretty good. The images are shown below, some of them refreshingly non-dystopian.
The Branch conversation between the experts saw contributions from each member of our panel, though not much conversation. The initial announcement went out to conference attendees and we saw some visible signs of interest – retweets, Facebook Likes and forwards.
The expert phase was fun. Google+ worked with no problems to connect our panel. We had some prepared questions to ask them and our knowledgable participants all had a bunch of interesting things to say. As they were talking, we live-tweeted quotable quotes to the hashtag #apcityfutures (all on 9 Nov 2012). This elicited questions from a couple of viewers, not the vast throng we dreamt of, but there were some nice moments of cross-media engagement. The video recording of this panel is here.
The open hangout was also really fun, but quite different to what we imagined. What we thought we were going to host was a live chat with people from the Asia-Pacific, perhaps some of them conference attendees, who were interested in the future of regional cities. Instead, we got three really engaged participants from the USA and the UK who really wanted to play with Dator’s four scenarios technique (and who had an interest in cities). We also had some viewers who watched the live feed.
It was a great session, everyone was really generous with their time and ideas. It was fiendishly difficult to coordinate – José was the facilitator who kept the conversation going, Gareth developed a Google Docs presentation as a live set of notes of the discussion – meanwhile I looked after all the other conversation threads: the Twitter stream, the chat tool in the Google doc, the other one on the Hangout and watched for comments on YouTube and Facebook, feeding any questions or comments from those threads to José and Gareth via a private Skype chat window. Here’s a screenshot of what my screen looked like during the session:
All in all, the round was reasonably successful. We got reasonable engagement from a group of interesting people. We gathered and communicated some interesting information, opinions and perspectives relevant to the issue. We learned a little more about using our tools and engaging with people using social media.
What we didn’t get, that surprised us a little, is much involvement from the participants in the conference (apart from Marcus Barber, who was a stalwart participant – thanks, Marcus!). Perhaps that is an exemplar of a general issue we think we’ve noticed – that an audience in one medium or community doesn’t move well (or sometimes at all) to a different medium or community. Facebook members don’t go to Branch. Branch conversants don’t come to the Hangout. Hangout participants don’t answer the poll or keep the conversation going on Branch… and so on. Each tool feels like it touches a distinct group of people and those people are non-portable.
Gareth gave a great presentation at the APF conference which summarised what we learned from the whole Epidemic, so perhaps he’ll add some more in the comments here or in a new blog.
Thanks again to everyone who participated. We’ll be back with more in coming weeks. Stay tuned!