Thursday, June 21, 2007

Simultaneous updates... (Sean)

Uncharacteristically, Louise is typing her post here even as I am typing mine. We'll see whose post makes it in first, although Blogger dates them from the time we start typing the entry, so hers will predate mine no matter what.

I have only a few key observations about today:

Plenary was brief, to the point, and on time. Distinguished visitors were introduced, and President Bill Sinkford presented his annual report. You can read that on line elsewhere, but the gist was that the organization needs a vision, which we all must come together to create, and he shared with us one possibility -- his own. Mighty applause was forthcoming several times throughout.

Another key element of Bill's report was the "Now is the Time" fundraising campaign. Again, you can read this on line. Suffice it to say that we were moved by the focus, and we are considering shifting part of our annual giving, which last year went in large part to UUSC, to the new campaign (call it "leverage" if you like).

The remainder of plenary was the introduction to OST.

The opening OST "domain" sessions went OK. There was some confusion, as the program indicated a 10:00 start, but Ginny indicated a 10:30 start during plenary, which was barely over by 10. So at 10ish, we were wandering around the lobby areas, and were told that the sessions would start at 10:30 -- no problem.

At 10:30 we went in to one of the appointed rooms. The entire assembly was randomly divided into ten rooms (although people were free to deviate, so Louise came with me to my assigned room). I counted about 70 people in the room, and mostly the same number of people wandered in as out during the first ten minutes or so.

Our facilitator, who happened to be fellow CLFer Lois Reborne, did a good job explaining the procedure, and, after a brief Q&A, people started submitting ideas for break-out sessions. An unfortunate limitation of the system was that session titles could be no more than 40 characters (including spaces) in length, leading to some weird titles. Our "domain" submitted 24 sessions, and, from that group, 12 were drawn at random. (Each other domain also chose 12 sessions). Those whose submissions were not formally "selected" were invited to post their topics on a board in the main hall and try to gather a group of interested people to discuss them. Within the 24 submissions, there was a good deal of subject-matter overlap, and thus it remained in the 12 random selections.

The whole process lasted only 22 minutes, which amazed me. We adjourned, and I spent a few moments afterwards typing my notes, and looking at the program to see if there was a regularly scheduled session I wanted to attend. Finding none, I wandered out into the lobby, and noted that several other domain rooms were still in session. I very casually went into two of them, noting the attendance at about 70 or so per each, and saw they were involved in much the same process as our domain had just finished. (I did think it was odd that we were done so far ahead of everyone else.) So my quick math is that, out of 5,000 or so people at GA, 700-800 participated in the "domain" phase of OST, and 120 sessions were selected at random from, perhaps, 250 submissions, with lots of overlap.

I then went to the exhibit hall, and then we had lunch. (And, don't get me started on how there are not enough food venues in the CC to feed 5,000 people who all have the same lunch hour. I was fortunate to have arrived at a cafe ten minutes ahead of the crowd.)

We attended a 1:00 session on volunteer leadership opportunities (can you say "suckers"?), and then headed to the nominal location of the information boards to get the skinny on what OST sessions were scheduled when and where. The idea being that the 120 (ten domain rooms times twelve topics per domain) formal break-outs were to be scheduled in 20 rooms over six time slots, the first of which was slated for 2:45 this afternoon. When the 1:30 scheduling announcements had not appeared by 2:10, we walked down to the OST headquarters room to get the straight skinny. Of course, normal start-up pains had the whole scheduling process a little behind, and, after getting all the information we could (from none other than, again, Lois), Louise and I stationed ourselves outside OST HQ to fend off the madding crowds, give out as much information as we could, and insulate the OST people so they could actually finish the schedule and have even a chance of getting it published before the start of the 2:45 sessions.

Somewhere during this crazy half hour or so, I chatted with Lois about the time difference between our domain and the others, only to find out that Lois had started her session at the program-indicated time of 10:00, while other facilitators started at 10:30. Just by sheer coincidence, we had entered the room (around 10:30) at a natural break in the proceedings when it seemed to us like we were coming in at the beginning. (What we missed was more OST explanation and what I like to call "Kumbaya" -- let's all get in touch with ourselves and the moment. Oh well.)

By the time the schedule was done, and Louise and I had handed out a couple hundred copies to frustrated GA attendees (and pointed countless others to the electronic screens around the CC with the same information), we had neither the inclination nor the stomach to actually go to a break-out session. (To be honest, none of the topics caught our interest, and, lacking a mandate from CLF to advance any specific agenda, we had no basis for choosing.) Nevertheless, I felt compelled to continue my observation of the OST process (if for no other reason than to report it here), so I popped into a random break-out room (I don't even know the topic) for a few minutes to check in. There were 13 people, mostly passionately engaged in discussion, although two seemed to be just observers. A one-session sample does not a survey make, though, so I won't extrapolate the observation until I have been in at least one more break-out.

Exhausted, we went home for a while to rest, walk the dog, and regroup. We returned to the CC to handle CLF booth duty for the 6-7 hour as we had previously scheduled. We always enjoy working the booth with CLF staffers Beth and Iris, who always seem genuinely glad to have us there.

After the exhibit hall closed, we went downtown on the Max for a nice dinner at upscale Portland City Grill, on the 30th floor of the US Bancorp Tower. The food was excellent and the service impeccable (even in the lounge -- we couldn't get into the dining room on short notice), although there was a little mix-up in the kitchen with regard to my "no mushroom" request. The waitress made it right by comping my entree, and the manager also came over and bought us a round of drinks, a classy gesture. So two thumbs up from us (in case any other GA attendees reading this blog are looking for a nice dinner venue).

Tomorrow is another early morning, with Plenary beginning at 8:30.

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