What KM Conferences Can Be

I have to give kudos to Ark Group Australia for their just-finished “KM For the Experienced Practitioner” conference in Melbourne. It’s especially important that I give kudos because I’ve given them a bit of a hard time in the past on various listserves and here on Green Chameleon.

There were two reasons for giving them (among others) a hard time: (a) sponsorship-driven content sandwiches just dealing the fake hard sell between the real stories; and knowledge-sharing-unfriendly formats of talk talk talk from the podium, in closed rooms with no natural light and poor opportunities for interaction. I haven’t been alone in this critique, other experienced KMers have said very similar things.


And all credit to them, they have listened, in small ways at their big conferences (I am sure the economic crisis may have helped, as marketing budgets from the happy-story sponsors have dried up and sponsor power over the programme evaporates – illustrating by the way the inconstancy of spin), and in big ways at this small conference, chaired by the inimitable Michelle Lambert of the KM Roundtable.

First big listen is the focus on the experienced practitioner: for years the sponsor-driven model has put most of the focus (and budget) on big picture keynotes and cases, great for entry level practitioners, but ultimately unsatisfying for experienced KMers, who want more depth and grit in the tale.

Second big listen is the way the conference proceeded: the focus on attracting experienced participants justified devoting a good part of the programme to “interactive” sessions where the participants could share, or work through issues or questions together and not just listen to the invited speakers (this is where Michelle Lambert’s ability to orchestrate came in handy).

In fact, I was given so much confidence by this that I took the risk of delivering my “international keynote” as a dialogue where I probably occupied very little of the speaking time allotted … to claim the unofficial newly coined title of “keynote listener” (I haven’t seen the feedback, so I have no idea how most people felt about this).

It was a small group, about 25 participants, which was good to build rapport, but I am sure the model has legs even for larger numbers.

The third great benefit (I am not sure if it was a listen) was the way the Ark Group team brought together some of the most interesting, pragmatic and honest KM practitioners in Australia today, either as participants or as speakers. Yes, there were a few participants who were relatively new to KM, but the calibre of participation was so high that we had some of the most progressive conversations (I felt) about what knowledge managers should be doing collectively about our practice, rather than individually in our separate functional roles, that I have seen at any conference. Ever.

An expression of this was the informal evening meeting we held a couple of nights ago, convened by the inimitable and disrespectful Cory Banks, and hosted by the ever-generous Arthur Shelley, where we looked at how to set up a resource for knowledge managers to find and contribute useful resources and share their insights. Another expression was the final conference session where Shawn Callahan and Michelle Lambert volunteered to set up a monthly peer coaching teleconference for the founder participants. This gives me great hope for the future of KM as a profession.

In my early shots at the sponsor-driven commercial KM conference model, Dave Snowden, great balancer as he is, pointed out that companies such as Ark Group should be appreciated for creating the opportunities to bring thought leaders as keynotes into regional markets, to expose practitioners to new and leading ideas. In this new phase, I feel there’s a new role emerging for companies such as Ark Group to bring experienced KM professionals together to build the kind of peer-learning opportunities we experienced this week in Melbourne. I hope they find it profitable. They have my support.

1 Comment so far

Keith De La Rue

Patrick -

Hear hear! 

I did enjoy your “keynote listener” session - thanks.  And a pleasure to catch up with you as always.

My thanks also to Ark, who invited me as an attendee.  Disappointed that I was only able to attend the first day, due to other commitments, but glad that Andrew Mitchell was able to take my place.  I have yet to go through all of the comments on Twitter from the participants!

Posted on February 11, 2009 at 09:54 PM | Comment permalink

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