The Collingwood Conference 2010: Imagining Ontario’s Future Apr25

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The Collingwood Conference 2010: Imagining Ontario’s Future

Working in conjunction with co-facilitators Mark Kuznicki & Daniel Rose, I was invited to come an facilitate and drive participatory engagement at the Collingwood Conference, the Ontario Liberal Party’s policy think tank weekend held in Collingwood, ON. This conference was an interesting experience for a few reasons – 1) we were just a small cog in a very large wheel running the conference and 2) our facilitation was much more indirect or ambient you could say as we weren’t directly facilitating sessions but rather were focused on helping facilitate the ‘environment’ in the main area to help ensure participants felt engaged. It was also interesting that though it had a very party-oriented goal (help define policy), the content & context was decidedly non-partisan. There was no “Liberal” branding at the event itself and a variety of viewpoints, regardless of how well the ‘aligned’ with a Liberal mindset, were represented on the panels throughout.

Given the setting and constraints we designed some unique activities and approaches to help elicit participation, some of which I detailed out below – all in all, the feedback we received on the event was very positive.

The Great Wall

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We were primarily there to help drive engagement and activity in the main hall (actually a giant tennis dome that had been converted for the weekend) – the challenge with big spaces of course is how do you get people to notice you? And better yet, how do you do that when there are no solid walls surrounding you?

After some brainstorming and noodling we settled on a design that used large Sonotubes (concrete forms) and 4’x8′ sheets of foamcore to create a 40′ long wall that we could use to post materials from the weekend on. It was large, flexible and certainly got noticed.

Mass Affinity Map

Another first for me was our attempt at a mass affinity mapping on the wall. There were appropriately 500 people in attendance  and on the opening night the party had brought in Malcolm Gladwell as the keynote speaker. We wanted to do a tone setting participatory exercise with the crowd as well so before the audience came in we laid out a Sharpie and two colours of post-it notes at each person’s seats. One of our co-facilitators Daniel Rose then posed two questions to the group and had them write their answers out on the appropriate post-it note. Using an army of volunteers we collected all the post-its and then spent a few hours posting them up on the wall and doing a cluster with them.

Collingwood Conference 2010

Photo: CollingwoodConference @ Flickr

The end result was a good portion of our 40′ wall filled with two sets of ideas, one “What is your vision for Ontario in 2020?” and the other “What values should we hold for this weekend?”. It was quite amazing to see how the ideas clearly emerged from the thousands of post-its as we moved and clustered them.

Self-guided Facilitation

Collingwood Conference

Photo: CollingwoodConference @ Flickr

We also assisted with the design of guides and templates for tables of attendees to use in working through a conversation around the theme for the breakout sessions they were just in. The templates were designed to help cross-pollinate ideas amongst the attendees and also gather information and insights that the party’s policy group could use when starting to form their election platforms over the coming years.

My co-facilitator Mark Kuznicki has a write-up about the event on his blog as well.