Exemplar Network Open Day Numero Uno

Last week we held our first open day in support of the second phase of the Technology Exemplar Network. Open days like this are a new type of event for us. We regularly have visitors coming to see us all year round. We also regularly host events for our local RSC. This, however, was something altogether different.

In its conception, the day was intended to be largely free from agenda, but we couldn’t quite achieve this. Perhaps because we are so used to visitors having particular objectives when they come to see us. Perhaps because other events have always had an agenda. The ‘agenda’ we produced offered four slots of around one hour each during which a number of sessions were run by staff from Alton College and by our network partners, Thanet College. We covered all our bases – offering insight into all the areas which have long been of interest to visitors. We tried a few new ones too. Thanet brought with them their e-portfolio expertise with contributions from staff in a variety of differing roles. We also dedicated a session to explaining how our new Drupal web site is built upon open source technologies.

For all the limitations that may have come about by following an agenda, every visitor was extremely complimentary when they left. The sessions were tightly packed throughout the time available and gave everyone with plenty of continuous interest throughout the day. We had around 30 visitors at the start of the day, with a good number joining us after the event was under way.

Before the event finished we already began to receive some feedback; visitors unanimously commenting on how useful, informative and interesting the sessions had been. Some asked when another event would be taking place, and how they might find out more about the work we do. We gladly responded by indicating that another event would be taking place very soon!

What would I like to offer next time around? I would really like to go agenda-less, but remain unsure about how to best achieve this. The ‘un-conference’ format sounds great. From experience I know that you require particular types of participant in your ‘crowd’ in order to generate your content / topics / ‘agenda’. I can also recall standing in an empty breakout room with a great topic and no participants! Maybe the wrong subject for the participants. Maybe a subject that was too technical, or beyond the realisation of the participants at the time. Perhaps we should try the un-conference format with a smaller group first time around – or is a larger group of participants key to success?