5 Mar

Can crowds get cleverer?

Chris Elmitt, MD of audience engagement specialist Crystal Interactive and speaker at our last Masterclass, demonstrates how technology can improve the wisdom of a crowd:

As both a qualified teacher, and someone who has been to more conferences than he cares to mention, I love watching inspirational people teach others to do something they couldn’t before. There is little more satisfying than picking up a new skill or piece of insight that you know you’ll be able to use after an event. But what happens when you try to make a whole group cleverer; to make people collectively more effective at executing a task? And can technology help? If we could make groups better at something using technology, we would be able to demonstrate a very solid ROI for organisers.

I decided to run a little experiment at last week’s excellent Masterclass organised by The Queen Elizabeth II Centre in partnership with Zibrant. The event was called ‘Let us engage you’ and brought together 30 event professionals to look at best practice ways of engaging attendees before, during and after events.

To see who spoke, and to view some of the content of the event. In my section, dealing with engagement in the live event, I shared a model with delegates for building engagement into the agenda design process (click the ‘Content’ icon in the app). In my model, the agenda items can be broken down into four different areas, and each can be done passively or actively. These are:

Imparting, receiving or generating new information

Learning/ teaching a new skill

Changing the mindset of the audience

Generating new ideas

The app shows examples of agenda sessions which show how to achieve each of the objectives in active ways.

In the session, we worked on the ‘Generating new ideas’ objective, and I wanted to see how quickly delegates could generate ideas, and then to see whether, as a group, we could improve performance. For the test, I wanted something simple and fun which everyone could throw themselves into with no prior knowledge, so we started by brainstorming “101 uses for a paperclip”.

Each of the 30 delegates used one of Crystal’s iPad Minis to input their ideas anonymously, and everyone could see the list of ideas in real time both on their own screen and the main screen. I have no idea what a par score for this activity is, but was not entirely surprised when the group hit the 101 uses in a little under two minutes.

There were many obvious ideas, but also some extraordinary ones. Did you know that with a piece of silk, some water and a paperclip, you can make a compass? My interest, though, was in the second part. We debriefed the initial activity, discussed how the session had worked and developed some new approaches for a second round: this time brainstorming “101 excuses for being late”. This time, the group hit the target in a little over 45 seconds – halving the time it took them to complete the task.

The whole activity took approximately six minutes. While I don’t pretend that we solved world peace in that time, I think we demonstrated that it is possible to design large group processes where we not only harness the wisdom of a crowd, but also improve on it.

Chris Elmitt is Managing Director of audience engagement specialist  Crystal Interactive, a company that helps meeting owners to  connect with their audiences in live and virtual environments.  An experienced facilitator himself, Chris is a pioneer in developing and applying technological innovations that enhance communication and build communities around the meeting space.

To explore this type of option, contact Interface’s Sarah Page on 020 7798 4118.


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