US Social Forum 2010 - Ideas for Next Time

I went to the US Social Forum this past week in Detroit along with the Energy Justice Network.

It was nice to see so many people and to get a taste of the industrial (and labor) spirit that defines Detroit.

There were over 1000 workshops. Unfortunately too many of them were on the same topic and targeting the same level of expertise. Having workshops on the same topic is fine, as keeping the size down to twenty people is great for participation. However there needs to be more advanced workshops with narrower and deeper coverage of topics. Also there need to be working groups that come up with action plans (or the beginning of action plans). I attended two People Movement Assemblies and frankly think that they should be replaced by working groups. The Tar Sands assembly was just like a long workshop (it had great parts and also a lot of "intro to activism" time that should have be cut). I also attended the Techies assembly where we spent the time drafting around eight principles (which I fear won't be read by anyone).

The workshop scheduling was poorly done. Often all or too many of the workshops on a single topic (Palestine, nuclear waste/mining) were scheduled for the same workshop slot. I think the problem was caused by the decision to have a Theme for each day. This idea should be dropped!

The Solution
What we really need is speed-date style networking. I think during the entire conference (eg 4-10 hours/day) there should be a room where you can go and meet someone for 3-5 minutes, and then rotate to the next person. If you did this, you could meet 10-20 people/hour and then follow up with longer conversations by exchanging phone numbers. Or there could be a computer system where you could simply remember the ID number (or name) of each person you wanted to talk to again - and that would link with their contact info.

This could also be done on an issue or geographical level. With 10,000 people in attendance, doing a geographical breakout wouldn't work for most states (too many people), but speed dating would!

I also feel that 4 hours of speed presentations (see speed geeking) would be great. I'd like to have 5 minute presentations of websites, where a small group of people (say 3 participants and one presenter) gather around a computer. The presenter gives the presentation ten times in a row and 30 people get to see it in a hour! These fast paced presentations are very stimulating!

(Unfortunately for many people this would require a consistent internet connection. The wireless which was available in the main venue had a strong signal, but the internet part of the connection would often take 10 minutes to load a regular webpage. Perhaps the wired internet connections were better - I didn't check. A way around this is to do power point presentations on the laptop or to host the site locally on the computer).