Report on the Noshers' Network at BiCon 2002

As described in the article about the "fitting & misfitting" workshop, I was thinking a lot in the run-up to BiCon 2002 about what people need in order to feel at home at BiCon.

Programme blurb

This didn't actually make it into the programme, because of an obscure executive cockup which occurred after it had left my hands. But this is what the programme could have said :-)


Getting to know new people at BiCon

Lots of people are at BiCon for their first time... or have been before, but this time haven't come with their friends... or simply want to get into some interesting conversations with new people. Going to workshops is one good way to meet people, and this BiCon we're also experimenting with two* new meeting-&-mingling catalysts:

Noshers' Network

This will be a very short event, taking place at the beginning of lunchtime and again after the evening plenary. Anyone who wants company over the food break can announce their plans here and gather like-minded lunchers.

Example announcements would be
"I'm thinking of getting Indian takeaway and I'd like to swop stories about coming out as bi"
"I've got picnic food I'm gonna eat in the gardens, and I'm not bothered what we talk about".
"I want to meet other bi parents, and I want a sit-down meal, but I don't mind where".
If you don't want to make an announcement, just listen and pick a group to go with.


* The other one was the "conversation stickers" idea. That didn't seem to catch on very much, though, so I'm not bothering to write it up, or at least not right now.

That pretty much describes my original idea, although it mutated somewhat as it went along.

It was also meant to have been in the programme timetable. My original suggestion was "5 or 10 minutes into the break, for 5 minutes", with the criterion that the start time had to be late enough for people to walk back from the furthest-away workshop venue.

However, I'm aware that in practice, at least one of the evening ones got moved later by half an hour or so. After a day of workshops, people often want to go back to their rooms to dump stuff, have a wash, get changed or whatever, before going out to eat. So maybe that would work better in the scheduling. Further experimentation required there :-)

Other setting-up

Besides the programming, there were a few other bits of prep.

Meeting point sign

I did a sign using some extremely bright neon pink paper, which read as follows:


(in big letters:)
Noshers' Network
Meeting Point
(in little letters:)
If you want company over the lunch break or dinner break, be here a few minutes after the break starts. People will get into small groups according to any particular kind of food they want and anything particular they want to talk about.

The sign stayed up all the time, so that even if people had missed the announcement, they still had a chance to find out about the idea by seeing the sign.

At BiCon 2002, the plenary room opened onto the entrance hall to the venue, and the meeting point we chose was just outside the plenary room door. That way, it was pretty central.

Plenary announcement

I described the idea briefly at the opening plenary on Friday, and asked for a reminder mention at the evening plenary which directly preceded the Friday dinner break.

I think I probably would have done this even if it had been in the programme: partly because some people don't read the programme, and partly because if you want to be welcoming, it helps if people see a human being talking to them.

Co-organisers

Alex <lj user=ippola> and I agreed to both be organisers of it. Our plan was just to be there and sort of egg people on to organise themselves. We didn't necessarily want to be at every single one all weekend, but we reckoned we could co-opt people to take over, if necessary, from the people who turned up.

"Town crier"

As the group began to gather, Alex went round the entrance hall and the nearby bits of the courtyard going "Noshers' Network, over here! Anyone else for the Noshers' Network?"

What happened

There were probably between 10 and 20 people at each of the first two meet-ups. In the event, no-one seemed to be at all bothered about having any particular topic of conversation, and I think the group divided purely according to what people wanted to eat. E.g. a contingent for the pub and a contingent for picnicking in the garden.

In a way, the group didn't need us, or certainly not after the first couple. It pretty much took on a life of its own after that. Though I'm not sure that anyone did the "town crier" bit when we weren't there, so there may have been a few more people who would have joined in if that had happened.

Conclusion

I would definitely recommend that this, or something like it, be kept for future BiCons. I don't think it's necessarily reached its perfect form yet, but something along these lines.

Ingredients I would keep:

Ingredients I might change: Ingredients I might add: Further discussion of this may happen on the BiCon community at LiveJournal. I'll post a link here when it does.

Reasoning behind the Noshers' Network idea

From an email describing my thoughts before the thing was invented:

"... a sort of mingling and/or announcements opportunity.

you see I think that one of the primary things that stops or inhibits people from making new friends at BiCon is the difficulty of identifying the _other_ people who are looking for new people to make friends with or hang out with for a bit. If you just assemble them all in one place, it immediately makes it much easier for everyone. I think it's much easier to say to someone "wanna go to lunch with me" if you already know that they are in the market for _someone_ to go to lunch with. and conversely it can be very quickly disheartening to make a couple of people offers and find they've already got plans with their existing friends which for whatever reason can't include you.

I also think that lunchtime is when people start to really feel the difference between knowing people to hang out with and not knowing people. It's not so obvious during workshops because you're all thrown together then anyway to some degree.

I've seen a similar thing done in other contexts (though never with an official meeting point, just someone standing up at the end of a session), and it does seem to work. I also think that just being in one designated meeting place would lead to a lot of people immediately hooking up with people they've already chatted to earlier (e.g. in a workshop), without any further formal structure at all."

So my original reasoning was all about the social aspects of it.

However, it had a benefit as well that I hadn't foreseen, of just making it easier for some people to (a) remember to eat, and (b) find somewhere to eat. In any random group at BiCon there are often people who by getting there early, or going off for a scout around while others are in workshops, or by living nearby in the first place, have sussed out the eating places. So it's very handy for those of us who run around like blue-arsed flies at BiCon to be able to tag onto someone who can guide us to some pre-researched nice nosh :-)

Credits

Thanks to Alex for being my co-organiser and Warren for thinking of the Noshers' Network name :-)