Sessions at the South By SouthWest conference are classified as keynotes, solo presentations, panels, core conversations, book reading, or trade show events. In my initial planning of sessions to attend, I shied away from the Core Conversations, as I worried that the non-structured format would not offer the insights as more planned sessions. As it turns out, these are some of the most interesting of the event.
The Core Conversation sessions take place in an intimate setting: there is often a table or a circle of chairs, and the moderator makes sure the conversation is inclusive and non-combative. I attended sessions on “Social Networking and Health: e-Patients, Data and Privacy” and “Privacy and Personalization.” Unlike a more formal panel or presentation, there was no great take-away message from the session: it was truly a conversation, with many diverging opinions and concerns.
Does this format work for other conferences? I’m not sure: at SxSW you have a level of passionate, intelligent, insightful individuals who are interested in engaging and working out some of these challenging subjects. This is not a conference where people attend to have knowledge imparted on them: with some hope that they will learn through being ‘taught to’. In each of the conversations we had individuals from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, interested in sharing and learning from others. Were we able to solve any of these challenges? No, but I expect we were each able to leave the room with a better perspective of how others see the challenges. These were some of the topics I most enjoyed chatting with others about later, because there was no single logical flow or outcome.
In the social networking session on health care, many participants talked about a movement towards transparency, whereas my own view is that the key benefit of social media in this realm is to allow individuals a more anonymous outlet for support. In Privacy and Personalization we had quite a spirited debate about individual responsibility and contextual relevance of information. I am completely satisfied with leaving these sessions with MORE to think about, than being presented with the opinion of an “expert” on the subject.
This was my first time at SxSW so I was not entirely sure what to expect from the event. I could not have anticipated that so much of the value would have been not from the big name presenters in the packed auditorium, but in the small spaces with other delegates.