An update on OMGDPR – explaining the format

So, a little under two weeks ago, I wrote a bit about OMGDPR, a hypothetical  community-run, open space event where practitioners who build digital products or services, can meet to learn from each other how they’re responding to what amount to  seismic changes in privacy law.

Me and Maik have been chatting to various organisation in Berlin who might be up for hosting it and we’re this far from announcing a date and venue now.

So, it seemed a good time to outline the format in a bit more detail, so when we do announce the event formally, we can refer to this.

What is Open Space, and why?

If you’re not familiar with Open Space, you can think of  it as as particular format of event that is suited to situations where everyone coming has a shared interest in a solving a pressing complicated problem, but where there isn’t a single obvious solution to it.

In cases like this, it would be foolish to take on responsibility for having all the answers for aforementioned pressing, complicated problem – we’re not GDPR experts, and frankly, even experts I have spoken to readily admit they don’t have all the answers themselves either right now, given how much uncertainty there is circling GDPR right now.

Instead, you create the space for people coming along to explore the part of the problem that’s most valuable to them, so they can discuss it with other like minded people, then share back some of the key insights, and people leave with information they can make use of in their own context.

So, in our case, we’re sorting out a venue, and making sure it has sufficient breakout space for these smaller, deeper conversations to happen.

Alright, I’m starting to get it. What does it look like though?

You can think of the event as comprised of 4 stages.

Introducing the rules and format

Not everyone is comfortable speaking at events full of strangers, so open space has a few rules to help avoid awkward moments. Also if you’re used to coming to more passive events, where you watch a panel, or single speaker speak from a position of power, presented as an expert, it can be easy to feel a bit lost at first.

So, you’d typically have a summary of the general rules and ideas when you start, before people move into the next session.

The Marketplace of ideas

As mentioned before, the attendees are responsible for bringing content and questions to explore. How do you work out what to pick from the topics though?

Typically, people who want to talk about something within a topic have a chance to pitch their pet topic to see if anyone else is interested, to create a menu of topics to discuss.

For GDPR, one might be a discussion about “what informed consent looks like from a user experience point of view”, or “what new skills you might need in your product teams to stay on the right side of the law in future”.

At this point, there are usually more topics than time and space to discuss them, and you need to end up with a list of topics to match:

  1. the number of breakout areas available for discussion
  2. the number of sessions per area

As an example, if you had three rooms, and enough time in each room for 3 sets of 30 minute sessions, you’d be able to cover 9 topics.

How to choose this

It’s common to use some kind of voting process, like listing the topics on index cards and then letting everyone either:

  • mark the ones that interest them with a marker near the list or
  • attach some kind of coloured dot to the topics that catch their eye

This is gives a quick visual indicator of the ‘winning ideas’.

After this, the organisers arrange these ideas into clearly visible timetable of what’s being discussed where, and when, essentially creating a multi-track conference of sorts.

Breaking out into smaller sessions

If you’re an attendee, you’re now free to go wherever is most interesting to you to join a discussion.

The law of two feet

If it turns out the discussion wasn’t what you expected, one of the key ideas for open space is the law of two feet – by coming to the event, you take responsibility for being in the conversations most useful to you, and generally speaking, it’s not considered rude to leave a session half way through if you’re not getting much from it.

We’re really, really keen on having some volunteers to help capture what is learned during the sessions – please get in touch if you’d be up for helping cover one session.

Re-convening and wrapping up

After the rounds of discussion, it’s common to invite everyone back to a central space, to allow time for people a chance to share any insights they learned that were worth sharing.

And after that, you’re free to go, hopefully having learned something useful, that will help you come up with an appropriate response to the meteor heading towards the industry that is GDPR.

Fancy it? If all goes well, there’ll be an eventbrite page to sign up to come to OMGDPR later on in April, but in the meantime, you can register interest below: