We’re trying something new to SMOFCons with our program this year. It’s based on the ideas of Open Space Technology — the people who attend a focused conference are more likely to come up with interesting and relevant ideas than any committee of outside people.
How it works: as our opening icebreaker on Friday (in the Fireplace Lounge on the ground floor of the hotel), we have people write down on individual sheets of paper items that they’d like to talk about. These get stuck up on a wall. Items that would fit well together can get combined. People then get a small supply of stickers (generally five or so). If someone’s interested in a particular topic, s/he puts a sticker on the sheet for that item. Or more than one — if you see that an item isn’t getting the support you want, you can put extra stickers on.
We then look at the items that have lots of stickers, and start putting them into slots on a timeline. At this point, nothing’s set in stone — we can move items around so that we’ll have a minimum of “You scheduled the only two items I wanted to go to opposite each other!” If an item has a huge number of stickers (as, for example, the Fannish Inquisition would have if we weren’t scheduling it as a special item on Saturday night), we can schedule it so that there’s nothing happening at the same time. We move things around, and lock the schedule down.
In practice at a convention about the size of SMOFCon, our Programming director, Tom Whitmore, has generally seen this take between one and two hours to shake out into a reasonable program.
No topics will be rejected a priori — if you think people might be interested in talking about it, bring your topics to the table when we’re generating topics. We won’t take a list of topics in advance; if people want to talk about potential topics on the SMOFCon e-mail list or in response to this post on the website, we encourage that. But the actual items we’ll do will come from what people propose at the convention.