Beyond Participation: Disruptive Conferencing for Asia-Commons

The notion of ‘open structures’ is becoming central to social development, where open indicates ‘perfectly flexible’, extensible, and benefit from adaptive boundaries that dynamically adjust to constantly changing parameters.

When it comes to conferences, the format that we have grown most accustomed to over the years has typically been a canonical ‘paper submission, conference committee approval, paper presentation’ format.

This has been largely the legacy of a ‘fossil’ style academic blueprint, virtually unevolved over centuries, and propagated to the commercial world through the proliferation of business conferences that have often been the bastion of institutionalised ‘knowledge silos’ especially in western countries which perpetrated their control over the modern intellectual and market capital power worldwide.

Conferences have always been relatively ‘closed’ events where knowledge trickled down from luminaries to the common people with a ‘top down’ approach. At most, there would be round tables and panels where speakers would confront their differences and questions and answers sessions to interact with the audience.

At the heart of the Asia Commons event held in Bangkok  from June 6-8, 2006, as a part of the A2K (access to knowledge),  framework, there was a core desire of most participants to instigate a culture of sharing and of collective ownership, able to leverage technology to promote social innovation.

The need to explore conceptual boundaries, create new terms of references and definitions, to be a part of the new social and technological paradigm shift and to relate to each other, was perhaps accomp-anied by a more subtle intention to create some disruption of the inherited conceptual and economic power structures that are dominant in the world, and responsible for the current economic imbalances.

The indiscriminate enforcement of intellectual property rights being one of them.

For disruptive aims, disruptive methods
The more enlightened event organizers have started becoming receptive to the fact that standard, ‘one way’ conference formats may actually have become obsolete, and that they are not fit for the modern, networked, collaborative and knowledge sharing environments that is fuelling much of the growth of new technologies.

Allison Hewlitt is a Senior Program Officer at Bellanet, her work is focused on collaborative processes in support of knowledge workers and institutional change. With a team of organizers distributed across different countries, (See picture, include names and affiliations)  they pulled together the programme for conference When Allison walked by Sarah Kerr’s office at Bellanet she expressed some concern about adopting a conference methodology that didn’t encourage participants to  actually participate. ” Until then, there hadn’t been too much thought on how the conference methodology could be more in line with the conference content.

The organising committee members of Asia Commons

The original thinking was to hold what I would consider a ‘traditional’ conference sessions i.e. Presentation-oriented led by thought leaders (sometimes referred to as talking heads) and inactive participants. I thought that the conference provided a great opportunity to introduce participants to methodologies that would better resonate with them considering our themes related to accessibility, collaboration etc.” she says.

Asia-Commons organisers were aware that most of the work done at large international conferences happens in the hallways, at the coffee breaks, lunches and other informal, often unscheduled, sessions. These spaces allow people to connect with one another to exchange not only business cards but also ideas, experiences and knowledge.

That’s how an innovative