The Modern Chautauqua

Of Conferences, Chatauquas and Boundary Objects, at Green Chameleon, discusses the relationships between small independent conferences; large-scale commercial events; academic sessions and then muses:

If the KM conference scene really is a complex ecosystem, then the failure of any element of it can have unpredictable, perhaps negative consequences. If the role of the conference really is to perform a boundary object role between different communities (vendors, experienced practitioners, corporate sponsors of KM, novice practitioners, thought leaders), then anything that fractures the communities and sends them into self-serving spheres, will surely drive the profession into stagnation and decline.

At the moment, it seems to me, out at the periphery, the cracks are already showing on the walls. Unless the stable centre recognises this, and unless we find new models for the economics and formats of conferences, and new models for collaboration and interaction between communities, my fear is that these cracks will spread. I hope I’m wrong.

The article also refers to those American traveling cultural shows called chautauqua.



I had read about chautauqua in Nine Shift (recommended reading):

In 1920, chautauqua, those great cultural and educational programs that traveled from rural small town to small town, bringing history, music, and entertainment to an agrarian society, had its largest attendance. Some 25 million people were said to have attended a chautauqua that year. The following year they folded, never to put up a chautauqua tent again.

It’s fascinating to look back and see what is taken for granted at a certain point in time. In 1920, with millions of people going to chautauqua, you probably would have the majority of Americans not predicting their demise. Yet, one year later, chautauqua are finished.

Perhaps the commercial conference will follow the same path. Who knows? Looking into the past can show us that we too should not take current conditions for granted. Personally, I’m drawn more to the unconference.

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