This week the Blog is from my archives! It is a paper I wrote after an event I worked on in 1985. Some of us were members of the Australian Institute of Training and Development. At that time our passion was Organisation Development. An element of the OD movement was the area of social technology. This Conference was a contribution to that world. We explored the boundaries of Conference Design by inviting the participants to design the event at every stage. The paper was published in Training and Development in Australia in late 1985.
(A paper prepared by the Planning Committee for NETWORK ’85)
NETWORK ’85 was a three-day professional development event conducted in Brisbane for people involved in organisational, community and individual development. It attracted nearly 200 people from Australia and New Zealand. In writing this paper, we are attempting to document:-
- The evolution of NETWORK ’85.
- The process used to develop NETWORK ’85.
- Characteristics of the actual event.
- Some thoughts about the future.
- EVOLUTION OF NETWORK ’85
NETWORK ’85 was the outcome of a meeting of five people with energy and a vision about a contribution to the Australian Institution of Training and Development. A.I.T.D. (Qld) has been chugging quietly along with Trainer’s Days being our one consistent event and many other irregular professional development and social activities.
The actual source of the design came from one of our members who had attended Seminar “83 developed and conducted by the Melbourne O.D. Network. This event had a number of characteristics which we adopted, and for which we are grateful.
In the development of NETWORK ’85, a number of considerations were prominent in our thinking. These were:-
- The lack of professional development experiences for practitioners in Queensland – and Australia.
- The excessive preoccupation of Australian professions generally with Overseas speakers.
- A belief that the work occurring in Australian organizations is the equal of anything happening in the world.
- The relative lack of opportunity for Queensland – and Australian practitioners to gain exposure.
- We want to make a contribution to A.I.T.D. (Qld).
- We saw it as an opportunity for us as a group to work – and to grow together, i.e. to network by doing something together.
- THE PROCESS USED TO DEVELOP NETWORK ’85
Our aim was to use a participant-centered approach in determining the content of NETWORK ’85. The main steps in the process of developing the seminar were:-
- crystallising a vision;
- the first mailing/ survey;
- the second mailing/ survey;
- publication of the brochure and the formation of a larger network ; and
- conduct of the actual event.
Crystallising a Vision
The initial stage was concerned with developing a common vision about what we were doing, the stages we needed to work through, the themes of the event in both its content and process. Although these factors were enhanced over time, the original concept remained to the end.
The First Mailing
An initial mailing was circulated in order to ascertain the level of interest in this type of event, to commence the collection of information about the nature of people’s interest, and to prompt potential participants to offer to lead/ contribute a session during the event. The first survey outlined what we envisaged in very broad terms and requested that people notify us as to:-
- Their interest in attending such an event’
- Their willingness to submit a paper/lead a mini-workshop session;
- Who in Australia they would most like to hear as a keynote speaker; and
- Who else they though would be interested in NETWORK ’85.
The response to this survey was extraordinary and it gave us the energy to continue. Some people actually forwarded the registration fee at this stage.
The Second Mailing
The second mailing provided more details to those who had indicated interest in the Approach, Structure, and Content, and requested that those intending to come to NETWORK ’85 prioritise the topics offered. If the 42 papers/ sessions offered, the voting process surfaced 20 which then became the basis of the pre-programmed sessions.
Publication of the Programme and Formation of a Larger Network
After the prioritizing process, a brochure was developed and forwarded to all those who had registered and expressed interest and was also circulated widely Queensland. It was only seven weeks before the seminar began that everyone knew what was actually programmed (in terms of content).
At this time it was also important to build a larger network of people to assist us in conducting the event. These people had volunteered through the early letters and through notices placed in the A.I.T.D. (Qld) newsletter. Various tasks were identified and allocated, and the larger network had been formed.
- FEATURES OF THE DESIGN AND CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EVENT
The seminar was held at an excellent venue – the Professional Development Center at Bardon. Some of the key design features of NETWORK ’85 included:-
- Participants were given a “welcome letter” which encouraged them to initiate the networking process on arrival Thursday afternoon.
- A “semi-formal” but relaxed opening was conducted in the Theatre where:
- The process and content themes were outlined,
- An overview of how the process had been developed was given,
- The Graffiti Competition was announced,
- Friday night networking dinners were initiated, and
- A sociometric exercise was conducted to identify various groupings of people, and to “break the ice”.
- Networking was encouraged over dinner.
- Networking Centre – a room was specifically allocated as a Networking Centre. In this room names of participants were listed on butcher’s paper, so that participants could make contact with each other.
- Keynote Speaker – Professor Dexter Dunphy was identified as a person a number of people in our profession would like to hear and we were very excited about his contribution. Dexter spoke the following (Friday) morning, and his session on the Changing Shape of Life and Work contributed significantly to the final outcome.
- Market Place Bazaar and Open Stream – the preprogrammed session speakers were asked to present a brief thumbnail sketch of “the what and the how” of their sessions, and spontaneous offers were encouraged at each bazaar. The thumbnail sketches gave participants a tiny “sample” which helped them to decide which of the concurrent session they would then attend. A show of hands voting process occurred and rooms allocated. This was the most exciting feature of the whole design – probably the most daunting for speakers! We admire and congratulate all session leaders for their contribution to the event. The Open Space Stream was for networking and impromptu sessions.
- Friday night – Networking Dinners – local participants were encouraged either to invite others to their homes or to arrange dinner at local restaurants.
- Saturday night – Dinner Dance – local restaurant was booked and a buffet dinner provided – the theme of networking again being reinforced.
- Evaluation – the evaluation process outlined has two phases. The first: participants were asked to write a “story” about their experience. To provide a framework, though, questions were provided (What happened for you? What did it mean for you? Where to from here?)
The second phase of the evaluation consisted of a more structured questionnaire which the participants were asked to return to us after 3-4 weeks.
- The Springboard – late on a Saturday afternoon two of the planning committee had offered a spontaneous open stream session entitled “How to Say Goodbye” – the outcome was a springboard session aimed at establishing and maintaining future networks after the conclusion on Sunday of NETWORK ’85. A series of newsprint sheets with interest area headings were posted around the networking centre. Participants clustered around interest areas which were already suggested and then added additional ones of their own and networks were formed. The headings were:-
- Personal Growth
- Involving Your Partner in Your Personal Growth and Career
- Research and Publication
- Democracy in the Classroom
- Organisational Development
- Using Action Methods in Training and O.D.
- Supervisory Training
- Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
- Skills Training
- Management Development
- Computer Based Training
- Consulting in Introducing Technological Change
An undertaking was given to document and distribute these lists to participants.
- THE FUTURE
NETWORK ’85 had certainly been the most significant event in the recent history of A.I.T.D. (Qld). To capitalize on the energy it has generated, it needs to be directed in the area of networking for professional development. The profession we are in is a relatively new one and the primary way we have to learn is from each other. By taking risks and sharing our experiences, both successful and otherwise, we can enhance the richness of our work.
A.I.T.D. (Qld) will certainly be conducting another networking event but also it will be active in other areas. There is a need to work more closely with Tertiary Institutions in the development of programmes and courses; there is a need to be active at a political level to make our contribution; there is a need to support speakers from Interstate and Overseas so that we do not become insular in our thinking. These are many challenges for A.I.T.D. (Qld) but none more important than building a strong professional and personal network.
The Planning Committee:
Elinor Drake; Ben Kehoe; Bill Andrew; Sue Martin; John Thurgood