There can be substantial benefit in using online collaborative tools to enhance and document proceedings during events; so much of what is said can be relevant to people who could not attend the event, as well as to participants who want to track sessions in which they did not participate.
The use of online tools at events is predicated on two assumptions which must not be taken for granted:
- The presence of ubiquitous and robust wireless network access, as well as hardwired ethernet access. If there are limited connections to the network and thus to the online venues, the use of online tools is not as advisable.
- The ability of all participants to have access to devices for viewing and contributing to the online venues. If only a minority of participants have the capacity to access such resources, a de facto and counter-productive "digital divide" is manifested. While not everyone has a computer they can bring to the event, encourage participants who can to bring laptop computers if online tools will be used in the proceedings. In addition, make sure there are adequate numbers of "public" computers for those without laptops, as well as adequate power outlets for laptop users.
Pre-Event Collaboration offers the potential to make optimal use of "face time" at events, but organizers should be mindful of the trade-offs and issues in depending on pre-event collaboration.
At the Event, collaborative tools provide a powerful additional dimension to the proceedings.
- Wikis are superb for logging notes from sessions, allowing participants to introduce themselves, ask questions and share resources, and generally recording the proceedings of the day as well as subsequent outcomes. By allowing participants to post transcripts of conversations and ideas in progress, wikis offer all participants visibility into a range of discussions, and allow those not initially present to contribute their thoughts later.
- Some participants may want to utilize IRC to talk to other participants during the day, especially when wireless internet is available. This establishes a "back channel" where not all participants have visibility into what is being said.
- A rich compendium of collaborative tools can be found at http://idrc.aspirationtech.org/index.php/Collaborative_Tools
- Bellanet produced a "decision making grid" that outlines some of the collaborative tools that are available. It's a concise and useful summary of what's out there: http://www.opendevelopment.net/6
Remote Access allows those who can not be present, as well as those who have participated in previous events, to read and contribute to the wiki and listserv, and to offer comments on any IRC channel that was active.