Panels, participation and press releases – Rhizome at the Rebellious Media Conference

Both Carl and I were busy at the Rebellious Media Conference last weekend. We facilitated the 2 participant-led sessions –  a short Open Space on ‘Activism and the Media on Saturday, and the “Have Your Say” session on Sunday. Neither were heavily attended, but that’s hardly surprising given the weight of other things in the programme. And there was plenty of ‘open space’ happening without the need for facilitation over tea and coffee. However, it felt important to offer the space in a conference with more than its fair share of panel debates, experts and big name speakers.

I was also facilitating a couple of short workshops on engaging  the mainstream media (which felt a little out-of-place at the Rebellious media conference). The first was on writing effective press releases, including a short section on engaging the media strategically to ensure that we use them and don’t let them use us. Given it started at 9.30 on a Sunday morning, I was gratified to find the room full. It was a lively session which, if the evaluations are anything to go by, people found useful:

“Excellent communicator…. practical exercises were very useful and I learnt good skills”

“Fantastic session”

There was however a request for “more time for the practical exercise” which is a very fair point – we were a little behind schedule by the time we got to the final press release writing activity, for example.

I like to think that the workshop draws heavily on the experience of the folk in the room. One way I sometimes draw that out is through a simple ‘press release quiz’. Sharing the answers brings out the full spectrum of knowledge in the room. I thought I’d type it out and upload it, so go test your knowledge of writing effective press releases!

The second was on giving interviews. Many people come to a session of this kind thinking that they have no experience of interviews. In practice we’re all experts in what works and what doesn’t in TV and radio interviews. We consume so many of them through our TVs and radios, that even if we’ve never given one the groundwork is there. It’s simply a matter of distilling those lessons and applying them. This workshop was a space for people to do just that – help each other to prepare an interview, give it a go and get some supportive feedback. Again the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but then people always appreciate a supportive space to practice.

For those who couldn’t make it but want to be involved, there’s an interactive website where the conversation and organising is still happening


A space to learn about Open Space

Here’s a shameless plug for an event I’m facilitating in Birmingham on September 1st on Facilitating Open Space as part of the Environmental Training Network’s wider programme.

The last couple of years seem to have seen a real growth in interest in Open Space Technology in the campaigning NGO community, and we’re receiving regular requests to facilitate it. However, in the spirit of putting ourselves out of work as quickly as possible we’d also like to encourage organisations to develop their own skills and capacity. This is one such opportunity.

Here’s the June 2011 to March 2012 ETN Programme, including booking details. Hope to see you there.

Re-energising activists

A week ago, I spent the day in the company of NGO Capacity Building Forum folk, facilitatingWordle: Capacity Building a day of Open Space and skill sharing. The theme for the day was Re-energising and Re-motivating Activists, and it drew a crowd from 14 or so NGOs that work with grassroots networks of activists – individuals or groups. There was certainly a lot of energy and motivation in the room. As always with the Forum, ideas, problems, experience and solutions were shared freely and everyone went away with new contacts and new ideas to try out.

The format was simple – a morning with a couple of hour-long Open Space conversations, followed by a sharing of insights, issues and themes which the group then ranked to give us 2 top priorities to work on in the afternoon. Over lunch I worked with 3 others from the group to develop these 2 ideas into 90 minute skill sharing sessions to explore those themes, which we then delivered in 2 co-facilitation pairs. 

The idea that emerged top of the pile was how campaigning organisations could work together more effectively. The next choice was around activists working effectively as part of their local communities – in other words being active in a community rather than being a slightly separate community of activists. Both were delivered using a mix of tools, but we set out to make them as experiential as possible after a morning of talk, with one session drawing on forum theatre whilst the other used a fishbowl roleplay.

I’d asked one of my co-facilitators to run the evaluation in advance and the technique used was one I hadn’t come across before. He drew a large hand, fingers outspread, on a piece of flipchart paper and asked everyone to write upto 1 comment per finger on post-it notes. Each finger represents a different view of the event and it’s outcomes:

  • thumb – thumbs up, so something that was positive or ‘cool’
  • index finger – used for pointing, so something you’d like to point out – could be positive, negative or neither
  • middle finger – improvements, things that worked less well for you
  • ring finger – think engagement rings, so something that you’re now committed to doing
  • little finger – what you’re hooked on – an idea that grabbed your attention and got you interested

The evaluation was very affirming all told. Here’s a sample of responses:

  • thumb – the Open Space and the opportunity to meet and network
  • index finger – “Role plays hard but makes you think issues from different angle”, “Best open space I’ve done”, “Should replicate [the event] for activists”, “Need more action planning”
  • middle finger – more skills sessions, some complaints about the room we were using (it was hard to keep it well-ventilated), and requests for a more specific topic, were amongst the suggested improvements
  • ring finger – “Open Space”, “shaking up existing groups”, “learning more facilitation techniques”, “encourage activists linking up”
  • little finger – lots of excitement about storytelling (the topic of one of the morning’s conversations), and connecting activists in diverse communities and in more personal relationships

A small working group went away tasked to make th next event happen later this year. As always, if you want to hear about NGO Capacity Building Forum events, drop us a line and we’ll ensure you get on the email list

Opening Open Space

One of our jobs recently was to provide some mentoring support to groups organising an Open Space in the wake of 6 Billion Ways. I spent an hour with people from FoE, WDM and the Jubilee Debt Campaign talking through how they might use an Open Space format with anything from 20 to 200 people.

The conversation ranged over issues like framing or not framing, anxieties about being the ‘facilitator’, how to flow with potential chaos, materials needed, how the output could and would be used; and who was going to be responsible for some post event co-ordination. I also shared some prepared materials and suggested they get in touch if they felt they needed a de-brief.

A link to Open Space resources here at the bottom of the section.