Lots of session proposals

Oh no! Right again…

Only a few session proposals had arrived a few days ago. Lots and lots and lots of proposals came in the day of the deadline. Student Syndrome in action. I sent in my proposals an hour or two before the deadline. Useful things, those arbitrary deadlines 🙂

Some people needed a little coercion before proposing a session. Hosting a session at a conference can be a bit scary the first time. The next times it’s still scary, but at least you know that you’ll survive… I hope that reassures all those who proposed their first session.

A community such as the “Agile community” or the “XP Days community” needs to spend time finding new people, new ideas, fresh blood. There is a danger that many of the sessions at the various XP Days (e.g. in the UK and in Germany) are given by a small group of “Usual Suspects”. And many attendees will be familiar faces too.

On the one hand, this is great: it’s always nice to meet these people from all over the world, to discuss the things we’re passionate about or have a drink and a chat. I feel as if we’re pulling eachother up by our bootstraps.

On the other hand, we risk becoming a “closed club” discussing weird, “touchy feely”, “arty farty”, “namby pamby” stuff like Systems Thinking, Cynefin, Appreciative Inquiry, Congruence, Theory of Constraints. “How will this help me write better software tomorrow?“.

That is one of the challenges the program committee for XP Day faces: how to create a program out of those many great session proposals, that satisfies the needs of both beginning, intermediate and advanced attendees? Each one with their own unique preferences, environment they work in, challenges they face, answers they seek.

In a workshop on “Communities of Practice (CoPs) at SPA2005, we discussed a few patterns for creating, sustaining and growing communities. One of these patterns (note to self and Laurent: we must write these up somewhere), is called “CoPs Pull You In“.

If a community is to thrive it needs an influx of new ideas, new people. And yet, a thriving community can seem “closed” and “unapproachable” from the outside, because those inside have developed their own rituals, protocols, language and trust. Therefore, CoPs need to “pull in” new people. “Pull In” can be understood in two senses:

  • People inside the CoP need to make a conscious effort to help people outside understand what the CoP does, how it works. They need to assist people who want to enter the CoP, to introduce them to others, to show them how things work. We see this in (session proposal) writing, where people act as “shepherds” to help newcomers. Or we can assign a “buddy” to a new hire to make the entry into the organisation smooth and productive.
  • There must be something in a CoP that is attractive to the newcomers. A strong “attractor” that pulls people into the core. As someone at the workshop noted: “one can’t be pushed into a CoP that one doesn’t find attractive

How do you help people get “pulled” into the community? I do it by bullying people into sending in session proposals 😉

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