There are other blog posts I need to write.
A review of an extraordinary book about Norfolk, the Stone Age, incumbency, patriarchy and sociotechnical transitions (no, seriously it’s all that and more. Staggeringly good))
Something about the intellectual work behind the job I just was interviewed for (accelerating sociotechnical transitions. Or sociomaterial transitions – or something in between)
Something about ‘you can’t blow up a social relationship’ – a bunch of novels I’ve read recently or a long time ago about ill-fated adventures in violent resistance (a 1970s genre of fiction, not all of it pulp)
But for now, I have Something To Get Off My Chest (as usual)
FOR FUCKS SAKE CAN WE PLEASE BE LESS FUCKING SHIT?? (okay, okay, I will tone this down now, given potential future and future potential bosses have checked out this site),.
So, sweet- natured version.
“Progressive social movement organisations may possibly benefit from some reflection on long-standing methods of organising and holding meetings”
So, here’s the ranty bit about the first 30 minutes of meetings
You can tell how a meeting, (and quite probably the campaign it is ‘part’ of will go) from the 15 minutes either side of the start.
If the answer to many of the following questions is “no”, then time and energy are being spaffed against the wall.
Have people been given the option of wearing name badges and badges that say broadly where they are from, to help make it easier for other people to cross the first hurdle and speak to them?
Is there a notice up on the powerpoint saying “a big part of today is you getting to meet other people you don’t already know, to thicken the networks on which a movement sits. Please do talk to strangers!”
Is it clear where the toilets are, the coffee/tea etc?
- Is there a clear “thank you for coming” and a repeated encouragement (perhaps even two minutes of doing it) to talk with someone you don’t know?
- Has provision been made for people who would like to come but couldn’t (e.g. livestreaming of opening speeches, some sort of online interaction (a hashtag at least)
- Is the opening introduction clear and concise and high energy?
- Is the opening speech – if there is one – full of things that those attending DON’T already know/agree with?
- Is there an opportunity for at least a couple of questions to the opening speaker, so the tone is set for, you know, discussion? Is that opportunity after people have had a chance to talk with someone else to hone their question (if not, the usual suspects’ hands will go straight up)
- Is it clear – crystal clear – what the purposes of the day are, from the opening introductions and the first speech?
So, here’s the ranty bit about plenary sessions. Also if the answer is no…
- Has the reporting back from break out sessions been carefully designed (or, if you must “curated”), with clear time limits? (Reporting back meaningfully from breakouts sessions is a skill. Most people do not possess that skill at all, or at the level required for it to be meaningful. In the absence of that skill, and of a time constraint, the report-backers will blather and foreground their own (organisational/emotional) needs. This will drain energy from the room and credibility from the process, simultaneously.)
- Have the announcements of upcoming events been carefully thought through, and a way of avoiding rants devised and implemented? (If you really want concise comments, especially about upcoming events, have a ‘hand in details’ form, which can be entered on a powerpoint and flashed up for all to see. Again, no time limit is going to mean some very long, rambling and energy-sapping and credibility destroying speechifying).
Oh, and sidebar – the emotacycle will get us all killed.
The answers to most of these questions, at most of the events I go to is “no”. Which is why I don’t stick around. The number of months we have before the shit properly hits the fan is more finite than we want to admit – it’s later than you think. So, why waste time at time-wasting and morale-destroying meetings.
What’s that you say? I sound down on the “Left”? Why, yes, yes I do, don’t I.
What’s that? Am I a Daily Mail reader? No, but I can see why you would need to believe that, since I am traipsing all over your tribe’s culture, and there is an implicit rebuke in this to you for tolerating crap culture in your subculture for so long.
Fwiw, I have raised these issues REPEATEDLY. Both unhelpfully, but also as helpfully as I know how. You can, on a good day, get individual “organisers” to agree with bits and pieces. But when time comes for them to innovate, to push past the resistance of their colleagues to any deviation from The Way Things Have Always Been Done, they bottle it. They lack either the skills or the spine – or both – to make things any different. So it goes.
Why does nothing change, will nothing change?
Because the success or failure of one meeting doesn’t register for those who are making the decisions about it and future meetings, because those people are a tight-ish band of long-term/baked on activists, who will keep doing what they do. They lack the insight into what behaviours really put off newcomers, or have the insight but are unwilling to innovate the format of meetings because. well, lots of reasons. Nobody else is going to be able to do a sustained change of format – the incumbents will have to do the disrupting, and everything we know about incumbents is that them doing disrupting is pretty damn rare.
So, we’re doomed. So it goes. It didn’t have to be this way, but it is, so suck it up.