The Big and Small of Creative Innovation (or how not to facilitate a panel session)

I’m spending the next couple of days here in sunny Newcastle on the NSW coast attending the Creating Spaces Conference to get the full low down on Renew Newcastle and it’s spin offs across the country.

After a 5am start, 3 hours drive, flights Adelaide-Melbourne-Newcastle, and a tour of some of the Renew Projects, quick (delicious dinner) I arrived at the first panel session, you guessed it, entitled ‘The Big and Small of Creative Innovation’.

An impressive panel line up including Marcus Westbury (co-founder of Renew Newcastle and man of many things), Tim Horton (Board Member of the Australian Design Alliance and the Integrated Design Commission), Dr Ianto Ware (founder of Format and former CEO of Renew Adelaide, currently Live Music Coordinator of Sounds Australia), Chloe Beevers (Project Manager, Arts and Culture Local Government NSW) and Gaye Hart (Chair of Regional Development Australia Hunter).

Sadly the impressive panel was let down by a less than impressive facilitator, who having some interesting insights himself, would have been better on the panel rather than facilitating. I’ve attended far too many panel sessions in the last little while, where the facilitator has asked closed questions, made too many direct comments and all in all not really facilitated the panelists stretching their thinking muscles and bringing the audience along for the ride. It was rather aptly summed up in the closing moments of the panel, where a wiser and more vocal woman than me commented that it would have been nice to hear less of the facilitator and more of the audience engaging with the panelists.

*Update: The facilitator was on today (13th March 2013) as well and obviously took last night’s feedback on board by staying true to the facilitator role

Having said that, there were some incredibly insightful comments from the floor and the panelists themselves, which overall I feel can be summed up with the following:

There is the beginning of a movement that understands cities are in transitition. Really vision should set the rules, not rules set the vision. – Tim Horton

I learned by being terrible and failing (at being in a punk band). I will fail at more things in the future.  – Dr Ianto Ware

What is the price of failure? If it’s high, a small number of people can attempt to try. What is the price of entry? If you need a large amount of capital then 90% don’t have access to try. We want to try lots of things. We learn by doing, we don’t learn by excluding. How do you invest in things that might not work? – Marcus Westbury

Collaboration is how we get things done. Be a broker in terms of connecting people in the community (talking about the role of local government) – Chloe Beevers

Uncertainty is an actual, real thing. I don’t actually know what might work. We support a whole range of things and the small percent that work reflect very well on me. – Marcus Westbury

All of the panelists spoke well and passionately about their work, however I was a little disappointed to see the panelists agree on everything.  I didn’t expect (or want) a shouting match by any means, but I felt that the panelists were all so well matched and on the same side of the issue, that there was little opportunity to dig deeper and really unpack any of the issues. I would’ve liked to have seen some of these ‘regulatory baddies’ on the panel, the ‘no-people’, or even just someone like my taxi driver from this morning who couldn’t really see the point and would provide a counterpoint and question to the discussion.

The reality is, we’re all going out into communities that don’t always understand what we’re doing and why, and in some cases can be downright hostile, it would have been nice to see a different point of view on a panel of this nature – or at least a new angle.

I’ll leave you with this photo of my ‘haul’ of goodies until tomorrow


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