Ever since open spaces conferences made conference organization exceptionally easy, I've been trying to figure out what the equivalent approach might be for scheduling conferences. No matter what dates you choose, they don't work for someone.
How do you take the open-spaces idea ("here are the rooms and time slots, you fill in the discussion topics with post-its") and apply it to time? How do I make something that allows conference participants to decide when the best time is for them?
I've pondered many possible answers to the question "How do I put the conference participant in charge of scheduling?" Harrison Owen said that he had his back to the wall when he invented open spaces -- someone had tasked him to organize a conference but he was given no time or staff. I often find that having your back against the wall forces creativity, because you are pressed into dropping some of your preconceptions and you can discover that some of your "requirements" are not actually required.
This is a new venture and it seems ambitious to start having events so soon. But I want to do it anyway -- float a trial balloon and see what happens. So, with my back to the wall, I thought, "For much of the summer I'll be here in Crested Butte, which is a wonderful resort. Why not just allow people to schedule their own dates and see what happens?"
So here's how it works. We can have multiple conferences throughout the summer, on any dates that I'm available. You decide what dates you'd like to come (you can suggest more than one set). I post them, and that becomes a conference. Ideally, other people will want to come on those dates as well, but if we only get a small group, that's OK too (I've done this before with small groups, and there are advantages).
Because the hall I use requires a longer lead time (and also because, initially, I'm expecting smaller groups), we'll hold the indoor discussion sessions at a couple of the local coffee shops, and do the topic scheduling on the web. We'll have an indoor or patio discussion in the morning, an outdoor discussion (a.k.a. "hike") as a second morning event, then go to lunch and have an afternoon break. We'll meet again in the early evening for a third discussion, then dinner (often just a do-it-yourself barbecue at my house). The schedule can be adapted as needed.
Sound like a vacation with interesting discussions? Yes! I've found that people do their best thinking when they are relaxed, and we often have some of the more amazing insights while hiking -- plus the exercise and change of scenery is stimulating (I start with very easy hikes, and they are all out-and-back so you can go at your own pace and turn around as it suits you). It's not like the serious "stuff-you-in-a-room-and-lecture-at-you" kinds of conferences, but most people come away feeling like they've learned more and are much more energized than those more traditional conferences. So it feels like a vacation, but you'll probably learn more and come back refreshed, and it's a legitimate business expense.
One of the best things is the flexibility, especially for a group that's initially this small. If we only get a few people coming, that's OK. But we may also get larger groups. For me, it's all discussions and hiking and hanging out -- I can't think of anything I'd rather do, so any way it works out is great for me. This makes it possible, even if it's small.
If you're interested, first join the discussion group if you haven't already. Then suggest dates you'd like to come and feel free to try to rally others to come on your dates (but don't worry if that doesn't happen; we'll have a good time no matter who shows up or doesn't ... as they say in open spaces, "whatever happens is the right thing").
You can learn more about Crested Butte by looking at photos here and here. Here are details about lodging and how to get to Crested Butte. And for more information, go to the Java Posse Roundup Page and go to the "Location and Lodging" section towards the bottom of the page.