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Online to real time: online conferences to support sector learning

Lots of councils are putting blanket bans on travel for their staff. This means no conferences, no travel to training, no learning opportunities. No nada.

I can, in some ways, understand this. But in other ways, this means that at just the time when people need to be learning how to do things differently, really, really differently. And attending collaborative events like a Local by Social or a CityCamp or a GovCamp can be a great way to start thinking laterally and working innovatively and collaboratively. That’s exactly what we’ll have to do in public services if we want to get through this in better shape on the other side.

Of course, there is another answer, online conferences. Collaboration online. The spark of innovation and sharing in web spaces. That’s what we’ve been trying to do through Communities of Practice and that’s definitely what we wish to achieve through the Knowledge Hub.

There’s definitely a space for running online conferences. Since the first one we ever ran on performance management ((back in 2005)) through the last one I ran (Local by Social, 2010) – they’ve only grown in popularity and usefulness. I’ve run quite a few, but colleagues across the Local Government Group have been putting on online conferences with increasing frequency.

There are definitely some big advantages to online conferences. Cheap. Green. Staff on travel bans can attend. After Local by Social online I had several people tell me how grateful they were as there would be no way that they could have attended a live event. To be honest, there’s no way we could have put that conference on in any other way – over 30 speakers, 1200 delegates, 5 days, 3 topic streams and an amazing 1100+ individual contributions. As well as the ability to pull the findings together and share them.

And as much I think online conferences are great and I enjoy running them, there’s no way that we should switch entirely. There’s a vibe and an energy in a really good collaborative event that can’t be matched by an online event – no matter how good they are (and I like to think I run them pretty well!).

Yesterday I spoke to a knowledge management group about running online conferences. I shared some lessons I’ve picked up over the past six years and some of the things we’d like to try in the future. Online conferences will get more popular; and they will get even better. We’ll get better at using them to drive collaboration. But they’ll never replace face to face events.

We shouldn’t think of them as being in competition. Using connective technologies like Twitter, communities of practice, online conferences…etc. etc. actually make my face-to-face connections all the better. I know who I want to see, to work with and because there’s already been discussion – we can get straight down to business. But if it’s any indication what I think the balance should be… we ran one giant online conference for Local by Social and 5 regional events.


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