In the 18 months or so since I’ve worked at Nesta we’ve hosted probably over 100 small events (by small I mean for around 50 and 150 people). Yesterday we cranked things up a couple of notches and then some, and hosted the Innovation Edge conference at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Over 3000 people registered, I’m not sure how many people turned up in the end but needless to say it was a lot. Somebody said to me that there were 3000 people who didn’t really know why they were there – it was meant as a joke however on reflection I think that is strangely a good thing. What other forums exist to convene such a diverse crowd – I think we need more opportunities like that.
The highlights for me, and most people I think, were Tim Berners Lee, Bob Geldof, and even Gordon Brown, and the exhibition space too which was buzzing. They all managed to make a big meta subject like innovation very real and voiced strong opinions in different ways. Several people have commented that the panel discussions were less successful and I have to agree (though I only attended 2). It’s really hard to have an interesting and intimate conversation with 700 people in the room – a challenge for many big conferences and something we’ll need to learn from. Next time I’d be keen to combine the big name keynotes from the likes of Tim, Bob and Gordon (sounds like a Cornish folk band to me!) with a much more fluid and informal afternoon session.
The video and audio from these sessions and the rest of the day can be found here.
The whole day was also rather bizarre for me as I was manning the conference twitter account. Twitter, for those that haven’t heard of it yet, is a service for people to communicate through the exchange of quick and brief comments. You can see the outcome from the experiment here (though you’ll need to scroll back to posts yesterday). There were at least 150 people tweeting. I have mixed feeling about this experiment. I do feel strongly that social media are changing social dynamics at conferences, as they are elsewhere, and we should embrace them. However I don’t think I’ve seen it used brilliantly yet. It was interesting if not a little distracting to engage with it during the sessions. It can be, and unfortunately it was at times yesterday, used rather negatively. However I think we have discovered a new phenomenon of at least one reported case of post event twitter hangover. It did enable me to meet up with a bunch of twitterati in several of the breaks, none of whom I knew, but was a great way of networking at such a huge event.
We’ll now surely revert to hosting a series of smaller events as before, for some time including hosting Tim Berners Lee in person on July 8th, which I’m very much looking forward to (more details on that shortly). However, on balance, I think its good to have a big bold event like Innovation Edge once in a while and based on much of the verbal and virtual feedback I’ve seen today, I think we pulled it off.
As always, I’d be very keen to hear your views or opinions on the day, how it could and should be different next time round, and on the use of social media at conferences etc…