We are coming up to our major Congress, now two weeks away, and working on our assessment instruments among other things. We feel keen to gather as much data, information and feedback as possible from the thousands of participants attending to help us learn more about them, their ideas and opinions, and to make decisions about future work and future Congresses. But what are we going to do with all that information?
Lizzie and I spoke yesterday with our Monitoring & Evaluation officer about a draft feedback form for participants attending the set of 54 Learning Opportunities (skills building workshops) that will be held on site. We asked everything we were interested in in an innovative way, so that the form was a learning intervention in itself, helped people tap in on what they were learning and practiced summarising it for people (e.g. If you met a colleague in the corridor on your way out of this workshop, what would you tell them that you learned?) Our M&E colleague usefully pointed out that our questionnaire was mostly qualitative and would generate reams of results that would be time consuming and costly to crunch. Did we want to think of a few ways of getting high quality and more importantly shorter responses?
Yesterday we received an email from a former colleague and fellow blogger, Michelle, asking for an activity to help teach the skills of synthesizing and making summaries which she could use in a communications course she was giving. We had never really done that and it struck me as a challenge; synthesizing is indeed an essential knowledge management skill, useful for everyone. How can we help people take lots of information and crystallize the most essential elements for themselves and others?
I read a recent article on the new trend for Micro-lit, which is both an art form in itself and a practice of using just a few words to synthesize, what in otherwords, would take many other words. This has been inspired by the oft-cited 6 word novel that Hemingway wrote on a dare: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Now there are 4 word film reviews, 12-word novel contests, etc. The trend must be a backlash from today’s information overload, as well as people’s increasing comfort writing text messages, using Skype Chat, Twitter etc. People are getting better at saying a lot with just a few words.
So how can we take advantage of this – well, for our assessment we decided to ask people a few questions in a different way, such as “What 5 words would you use to describe this learning opportunity?”, and for Michelle, I suggested a couple of synthesis activities, such as writing a Haiku that summarizes a session participants had earlier in the training (I’ve had participants write systems haikus), or to pick an article out of the newspaper and write a one sentence review. Or what about a 6 word bio for yourself?
As writers, bloggers, trainers, facilitators, and colleagues the words we generate compete with the steady flow of information that sweeps through our lives. We need to think more about the other end of that information production process – to what others can do with that information – and to help them out a little by synthesizing our selves, and potentially helping them to do it too through the questions we ask.
So why is this blog post so long? Maybe I should have written a 5 word blog post instead:
Think more and write less.