Friday, July 17, 2009

Conference and World Café Meeting in Second Life

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a conference on "Using Virtual Reality for Stakeholder Engagement", which was organized by PublicDecisions, taking place in Second Life. Not everybody of my readers know what Second Life, therefore, I provide a short explanation from Wikipedia:

Second Life (SL) is a virtual world developed by Linden Lab that launched on June 23, 2003 and is accessible via the Internet. A free client program called the Second Life Viewer enables its users, called Residents, to interact with each other through avatars. Residents can explore, meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another, or travel throughout the world, which residents refer to as the grid.
Already quite early, Second Life attracted training providers, universities and other educational groups, and already more than a year ago, a World Café had been organized there. Yesterday's conference wasn't really a World Café but rather more a classical conference, with the following components

- Panel discussion on using virtual worlds for stakeholder engagement

- Field trips to interesting sites in SL for stakeholder engagement (I went to a project of Tufts university for citizen engagment in urban planning and the Centre for Virtual Native Lands, an education site about Native Americans)

- small focus groups discussion about the potential of virtual worlds in stakeholder engagement (this came as close as it gets to a World Café setting).

The conference went over six hours, quite a real and exhausting experience!

So, what are the pros and cons of virtual conferences/workhops in Second Life?

- Second Life facilitatates the use of either voice or chat technologies to interact. The quality of voice transmission is rather good, so the experience is quite close to meeting people.
- People identify with their avatar so it feels like "being there".
- Through integration of other media such as videos, embedded websites, information notes, etc. one can create an environment that supports different learning styles

- The barrier of entry is quite high, in particular for people who are not technology savvy.
- Creating the environment for a learning/meeting experience can be quite time and money consuming. However there are some places which are open for use to the public, in particular for non-profit organizations (Such as Squirrel Island). The organizers of yesterday's conference had quite a large support staff on site.

It goes without saying that Second Life conferences/workshops, like real life workshops need skilled facilitators to create an environment that is conducive for meaningful conversations.

I wonder what it takes to organize an Open Space Technology workshop in SL.


Hans said...

Thanks for providing your insights. I am looking forward to have a chance to have this experience myself. And: yes I think we always underestimate the effort and resources needed to prepare and facilitate a virtual event.In a real life event every one takes this for granted. This is probably a trap because you can access and participate - inspite of technical prerequisites - rather easily (from your balcony...) and then you loose the perspective of preparation needed...

And another one of your observations: it is tiring. Do we need more breaks, more structure, more or less of...? to cope with this?

Ana said...

I have attended several virtual meetings of different sizes and types. Small meetings, lectures/presentations, conferences, but never an open meeting and I too would love to see such an event. I have purchased an island with the intent of including meeting space and organization as one of the islands offerings. Would love to work on an open meeting.

Ana Herzog is my SL avatar name.

Lucy Garrick said...

Thanks for the post on SL experience. I think your photos turned out quite good. Were those take with the SL camera?

Holger Nauheimer said...

Lucy: Yes, the photos were taken with the "Snapshot" function of SL and sent to my own email account.

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