Using Ning for Open Space harvest

I spent most of this past week in Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland, joining with Ella McQuinn in facilitating the Gros Morne Institute’s International Summit on Sustainable Tourism.  The conference covered four focus areas of sustainable tourism using the same half-day design for each segment: 1.5 hrs of Keynote and Panel followed by 2 hrs of Open Space.  The final half-day session saw the group of just over 100 delegates converging on action items and next steps. 

Several weeks ago I started a private Ning site for the gathering with an invitation to join sent out to all registered delegates.  Forum discussions were started surrounding the four broad focus areas of the conference and a pre-conference profile questionnaire allowed delegates to get to know one another prior to showing up.  Additionally, one of the conference organizers started to blog actively and many delegates chose to upload various travel photos – such is the nature of the sustainable tourism crowd, I’ve learned.  All of this activity – with 70% of conference attendees active on the Ning in forums, discussions, and leaving notes for each other – occurred before the conference ever started.

One of the challenges as Open Space scales is how to harvest learning from the individual sessions in a way that informs the whole, without resorting to time-consuming verbal harvests by session hosts.  To address this challenge, first we had session hosts complete written harvests that were typed by volunteering students and enlarged to 11×17 output, then placed around the room.  Then each host took the time, during meals, breaks, etc., to record a brief (2-5min) video synopsis of the conversation using my Flip Video camera and a mini tripod.  These videos were uploaded to the Ning during the evenings and conference delegates could review the videos the next morning.

Now that the conference is over, delegates can use the Ning to further their discussions and initiatives – while automatically informing the community of their efforts and allowing the conversation to grow.  All keynote speeches, panel discussions, and Open Space break out session videos are available for ongoing review and reference on the Ning – along with the PowerPoint slides and other supporting material from the conference. (At least they will be available once I get it all uploaded.)

All of this to say, I simply find Ning to be exceptionally useful for this sort of thing.  Conferences are supposed to be about connecting, learning from each other, and then – with any luck – collectively moving some initiatives forward.  And if that’s what you’re after with the conference you’re organizing, it seems to me that the little bit of time and energy needed to invest in a Ning site is incredibly well spent.

Previously posted on

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