I think we need to get out of the box, here. One of the original purposes
of inkshedding at a conference was to find a better alternative to the usual
conference experience. But from the beginning I've thought about the
Inkshed Working Conference itself as an opportunity to rethink the way we
come together to share ideas -- and by "share" I don't mean the usual "I
tell you and you go away with my idea"; I mean discuss, learn from and learn
One of the things I never anticipated was how valuable the inksheds as
documents would be to presenters -- but it's clear from this discussion that
they've valued by lots of people for those reasons. My view was (is,
really) that they were most valuable as a medium for exchanges among the
audience and the presenter, exactly like a question/discussion session, but
deeper and more reflective. I still think that's their main function (when
we can carry it off). I used to be troubled when I read inksheds that were
conceived as "feedback" and addressed the presenter directly. I'd thought of
inksheds as public discourse. More recently I've come to think of them as --
at least potentially -- individual talk in public (like a question to the
presenter in a conventional session: it's couched as though it were
one-to-one discourse, but we all know it's for everybody in the room. Or a
TV talk show). New functions for old entities (Charles Darwin, call your
The question we're dealing with here, then, seems to me broader than "do we
need to have fewer presentations?" or "should we have some concurrent
sessions?" or even "how often can we inkshed?" I'd argue it's more like
this: "How can we maximize the extent to which the ideas, reports. takes,
findings, provocations that people bring to inkshed have the greatest
possibility of engaging everyone in serious, thoughtful discussion, and thus
benefitting both the person bringing the ideas and the rest of us?"
Inkshedding's traditionally been a powerful tool for that. But there are
other considerations, other structures, other ways to use writing.
One of my favorites conference structures, for example, which we've never
tried at an Inkshed conference, is the structured panel discussion based on
pre-read papers. My first (only) encounter with this was at a conference in
Germany in the late eighties, and they worked it like this: we all sat
around a huge table (there were nearly 50 of us). We had all read -- or at
least seriously skimmed -- all the papers to be dealt with in a session. At
appropriate points in the discussion, moderators invited the authors of the
papers to remind us what they'd said, in five minutes or less. My memory is
that a completely unprepared-for moment, Gebhardt Rusch, one of the
co-chairs of the session on literary reading, said, "Ah, Perhaps Vipond and
Hunt's research is relevant here. Russ?"
It was an amazing experience. Unlike any conference I'd attended. It could
have used inkshedding, too . . .
Another possibility is to take posters seriously. They're taken seriously at
scientific conferences. I remember a poster by Vipond and me that I
presented at an international congress of psychology in Australia in 1988:
some of the best discussion of my work I can remember occurred in front of
that 4X8 panel.
There are other possibilities. As Marcy noted, at Inkshed 14 we built time
into the program -- lots of it -- for people actually to _read_
presentations that were listed on the program, so that we could share our
experience of them (and so that the presenters could be "on the program" in
both the technical, getting-funding sense, and also in the real, let's talk
seriously about this sense).
We need to think . . . well, I already said it: outside the box.
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