What is a MeshWalk?
Posted by shannonclark on March 6, 2007
On March 20th I am organizing a Mobile MeshWalk in San Francisco.
An obvious question is “What is a MeshWalk?”
The short answer – a conference which is held in motion, outside, documented and captured digitally.
To answer that in more detail, some background. For over a decade I have been participating in and helping organize events in Open Space. First as a member of the Chicago Company of Friends, and later for a wide range of groups and businesses. While I have not been as deeply involved as many friends of mine (my good friend Michael Herman for example runs one of the leading websites on Open Space and teaches & consults in Open Space around the globe).
Each year, at least a day of MeshForum, the conference on the study of Networks which I run each year, is held in Open Space.
At MeshForum 2006 the last day was in Open Space. After a productive morning of discussions and sessions, we broke as a group for lunch and walked together from the space we were in (thanks to Ruby Red Labs and Adaptive Path) to South Park where we purchased sandwiches and continued our discussions while eating seated outdoors. Photos from this lunch are among the many shots from MeshForum available on Flickr.
The tone of the day was changed by these conversations held outdoors. Something simple about being outside, in the fresh air, in public, yet still talking about important professional matters.
I took note and began to design a full event format based on this simple insight. After Gnomedex in Seattle last year I held the first formal MeshWalk. We met for coffee at the first Starbucks in Pike’s Place Market and then as a group walked through Seattle to the top of Queen Anne where we stopped for a great brunch, then walked back down the hill. The conversations from that walk were wide ranging but by far the best which we had held at a fantastic conference. Our focus there was on our takeaways from Gnomedex, what we each were going to do next, and how we could help each other. You can listen to a part of the conversations from that first MeshWalk on the Queso Compuesto podcast which was posted by Giovanni Gallucci, one of the participants.
So, with that as the background, what makes an event a MeshWalk?
1. The event starts with everyone together – preferably sharing a light snack/breakfast/coffee. Brief introductions are made as a large group – and the outline of the MeshWalk is presented. Everyone receives a “hipster PDA” (i.e. notecards & binder clip) along with a pen. Participants have been encouraged to bring digital cameras and lightweight digital recording gear – but discouraged from bringing laptops, heavy bags etc.
2. For the walk the format is “Appreciative Inquiry” – which means that as one person talks the others in that group listen and only ask questions – in an appreciative manner. The role of speaker then rotates through the small group. As people walk, groups of 3-5 people naturally form.
3. Every 30 minutes or so, the MeshWalk naturally reaches a pause point. Often some large, usually public space, where the group reforms, some larger conversations may occur and then when everyone regroups, new small groups may form as the MeshWalk continues. The idea is that over the course of the MeshWalk you will change who you are talking with from time to time – and that these frequent pauses give everyone a chance to regroup and decide on the next leg of the walk.
4. The exact path of the MeshWalk is fluid – and not set in advance – but some major waypoints and destinations may be set in advance – to give the walk some destinations to reach and a broad outline of where the walk will reach.
5. The MeshWalk includes a group meal. Either at the end, or in the middle (or both) – the act of breaking bread together as well as walking together is a core part of the MeshWalk experience.
6. Everything said on the MeshWalk is done so in public – so a MeshWalk is a time to talk in a public way. The expectation is that conversations will be recorded, that the participants and the area around the MeshWalk will be captured in photos, in audio recordings, and in video.
There is no “walk leader” in a MeshWalk – though there is often a primary organizer. The role of the organizer is the handle the logistics, to set the tone, to help facilitate the experience – but the MeshWalk is “led” by each of the participants. While you can enjoy a MeshWalk in silence, you are enouraged to speak as well as to listen. In a way, a MeshWalk is a fully participatory event – everyone has a chance to talk and be listened to, to engage around a broad topic and to explore it as part of a group over the course of the MeshWalk.
The larger group conversations at a MeshWalk are chances to bring together the multiple smaller group discussions – and to share the world around the MeshWalk with each other.
For as the MeshWalk is about the people – it is also about the world (often a city) around the MeshWalk as well. Participants are encouraged to show that world to each other – to actively view the world and share it with each other.