And how would you improve Luminous Green gatherings?
This is a summary of comments and suggestions collected from the participants at Luminous Green 2007
All participants congratulated us on the diverse mix of people. The people were selected based on their expertise, interests, as well as 'personalities', where each person had to have a strong overlap with at least one other person, so that at the group would form a tight venn-diagram. Within two days, people felt that they had enough time to build substantial bridges and learn a lot about each other's practices, but not enough time to 'solve problems'. A couple of participants would have preferred more formal presentations of participants' work, others welcomed the informal introductions. For the future, a better balance between formal and informal introductions of people should be found.
Having a residential workshop, allowing different work-related and social activities to mix was very much appreciated. However, it would have been better if everyone was housed on the same site (about 10 out of 30 people slept in an nearby abbey, due to spatial constraints). La Classe was an interesting venue, raising much debate about design and sustainability (many of the facilities at the venue were aesthetically pleasing, but not very environmentally friendly…). In one of the sessions, the participants offered a series of suggestions as to how we could make our environment greener, wherever we happen to be. See foamy ecosystems. The first step would be to prohibit the use of electronic gadgets in the eating room!
Being situated in the countryside helped make the atmosphere relaxed and refreshing. However, this made the logistics too complicated and the amount of trips too large. For the future, the venue should be situated closer to public transport and international airports. Also, being stricter on arrival and departure times would have diminished the amount of trips from Denhee to the train station in Dinant.
Not many people in the group have experienced an 'Open Space' meeting before, but most found it an excellent format for informal, P2P learning. Participants found it thought evoking, engaging and pro-active. Even though several people complimented us on the facilitation, one of the things to be improved is the balance between chaotic and structured. More strict facilitation, or even coaching at the beginning is needed, and more structure for the conclusions. A clearer 'contract' in terms of what we expect from the participants would have been better - asking the right questions could have overcome the sometimes uncomfortable lack of structure.
An interesting dilemma arose around goal driven vs. horizon expanding workshops. In different professional 'cultures', different types of creativity is valued, which conditions participants' expectations. Some people would have preferred to have a clear objective, others would have felt restricted by something like that. It is interesting to note the difference between: (1) people who will have a sense of achievement if the workshop ends with a 'solution' - starting with a concise question and slowly closing in on an 'action plan' and (2) people who become inspired by opening up a problem, poking at it from many sides and leaving with an 'open mind' to act upon after the workshop, in their own work. For the future, we should try to accommodate both needs.
Another issue linked to the different professional cultures appeared to be the length of the workshop. Some people prefer short and intense, others long and exploratory. Most people felt that the retreat should have lasted for another day or two, but due to everyone's busy schedules, this was not possible.
The site was beautiful and inspiring, the atmosphere stimulating. There was a range of things to do, experience, absorb and discuss, which all participants appreciated. Most participants found the informal conversations and more structured discussions to be most memorable. The food was great, and well conceptually matched to the topic. Participants appreciated the design of the communication materials (handout, website…), as well as the Barefoot bags. Some participants found the site too 'designed', so that the people were distracted by the setting, rather than focusing on the content.
The programme format was stimulating and challenging at the same time. Most people would have preferred shorter presentations, less 'talking-at', and more time for both Q&A and round-table discussions. However, other participants felt intimidated by having to actively engage in the debates and other activities. For some, it was not stressed enough what would happen to their contribution after the symposium, which made them uncomfortable. For the future, a better balance between absorbing and sharing should be found. A clearer 'contract' between the participants and the organisers might have helped to make the participants more at ease. Overall, communication with the participants on site - from registration to 'announcements from the floor' could have been clearer.
The participants welcomed FoAM's efforts to make all aspects of the event more sustainable. It was a great first attempt, with a lot of room for improvement. One of the questions that arose was whether we had let the whole become too complicated and too expensive, which in itself is not a sustainable thing to do for an organisation (in terms of energy, time and financial drain)
Participants in the retreat found themselves flooded with new people, without a formal outlet to explain what they were doing in the previous days. A better integration of these two events would probably have been appreciated by everyone (perhaps the speakers should have talked about new initiatives spawned by the gathering, have the presentations focus on what was achieved at the retreat, etc).
The mix of people was one of the highlights of the workshop. The other was the atmosphere where non-hierarchical, informal learning was encouraged - due to the arrangement of the space (FoAM's studio), the programme and the tight facilitation method. The format of the workshop encouraged a high involvement of everyone, on different levels (both work-wise and socially). Home-cooking in the same space allowed everyone to talk to each other during dinner and throughout the evening. Most people felt that the workshop could have been several days longer, however the Open Lab was a great, celebratory closure. Some of the participants found the schedule too intense, and would have liked more 'free-time' outside the workshop context to get to know each other better.
Even though there was an unexpected schedule change (due to the workshop leader having to leave earlier), the format of the workshop and the people involved were flexible enough to make this a positive experience. Some participants felt this would have worked even better if they would have been able to prepare beforehand - through an online reader, discussing the topics that would be dealt with, with links to all participants, for example.
Hands-on experiments were very engaging for people - trying things out and making their hands dirty was a welcome thing to do after each morning of technical tutorials. However, the quality of the experiments varied greatly, depending on the session leaders. Some of the experiments were not much more evolved than high-school science projects, which was interesting for some, while boring for others. Having parallel sessions and the 'law of the two feet' (you can move between sessions as you find appropriate) has remedied this problem. Some participants found that it would have been beneficial to consult them beforehand about the hands-on experiments they would have liked to conduct. Others on the other hand enjoyed that the decisions were made during the workshop and using the materials available, rather than purchasing them beforehand.
Discussions and presentations varied in quality as well. Some of them were well conceived and moderated, others would allow people to 'sell hot air'. One of the people suggested not to have a discussion unless there was an expert present, to avoid wild guesses. Another recurring comment was that participants should not be allowed to have their laptops open during presentations. Technical tutorials in the mornings were very much appreciated, but having non-moderated artist presentations in the evening was a bit too tiring. People would like to learn about each other's work, but formal presentations were perhaps not the best way to do it.