Last year was filled with wonderful opportunities where I met my personal learning network face-to-face none more so than my trip to the UK which cemented an idea in my head. That idea transpired into a meetup for Learning and Development professionals to meet informally, share their work and skills in a social setting usually breakfasts at cafes or after work drinks at the local pub.
You can read about how the idea came about – and why it’s named Third Place (there’s a story there) in my post, Third Place in Company and Conversation – A Place Where the PLN Gathers and Our First Meet Up with Third Place.
In the short time that Third Place has been up and running (since September 2013), I am surprised but also humbled that there are 125 people who have joined and we are in four cities. The events are organised by myself in Melbourne and by volunteers who approached me to run events in their own city. Tanya Lau (@TanyaLau) in Sydney, Matt Guyan (@MattGuyan) in Newcastle and Matthew Mason (@iDesignTraining ) in Brisbane.
If you’re expecting a whole plan on my intention of Third Place, how I came up with the idea, what my vision, strategy or mission, my detailed plans for the future…. – you may be pleasantly surprised.
I had the idea and just ran with it – but used my network to build and promote it.
Why Did I Create Third Place?
My driver for setting it up all stemmed from reconnecting with those feelings you get when you meet someone you can share, network and learn from. I wanted a “place” where people from all learning backgrounds, whether it was education, academic, vocational, industry or corporate to come together and share their experiences, challenges and opportunities because even in our own profession, we all do things differently. I didn’t want formality. I didn’t want training. I didn’t want anything that would be seen as ‘obligations’ or ‘expectations’…just a place where everyone is equal and everyone has a voice.
I wanted people to have their own “a ha” moments at these gatherings in the hope of engendering a curiosity to learn something new and meet someone they had met online – in person.
But there were some caveats:
- It had to be social, informal and conversational (if you wanted formal learning and structure, then consider becoming a member of an association)
- It had to be free
- It had to be free of vendors pushing products and services
- It was open to all – even if you weren’t in learning but had an interest in it, you’re welcome
- We don’t make any money from it – we are all volunteers
Ultimately, I wanted a space where people were free to connect with others, ask questions either openly or with connections made that they were afraid to ask, learn, connect, and who knows maybe work or collaborate on projects together in the future.
Little did I know that this meetup group was going to be my own network to support my own learning when I go freelance. Once again, that dawned on me much later.
How Do the Meet Ups Work?
Effectively, the team have their ideas of how they want to meet, time, place and details and they upload this information onto the Meetup tool. They have access rights to set up their own events when and as they require them. This is then communicated to members and they decide if they want to come along or not by RSVPing to the event. Simple.
What Happens at the Meetup?
It’s an informal gathering of people who are interested in meeting new people in their field or in other areas. At the meetup, all members are free to buy their own drinks or food and are introduced to each other and where they are from. Then it’s just sit back and relax – and just talk or listen. People invariably will start to talk about their work, their organisations, the projects they are working on, business cards are exchanged and stories shared.
You may think that because we are all in the learning field that the variety isn’t there – but it is.
I find it fascinating to hear how others have dealt with a performance issue in different organisations. For example, how we may have closed a skill gap in a financial services organisation would be different in a manufacturing plant so the variety comes from hearing the different work situations, constraints, environments and people that we all work with.
At every meetup that I have organised, invariably I’ve had ‘drop ins’ who saw the event and wanted to come along. Interestingly, all these drop ins were freelancers who wanted to meet new people or who were bored from working at home with only their cat for company and needed some social time but also an opportunity to network and tell others what they do.
How Do People Join Meetup?
Contrary to how Meetup works, I have used the engine in my own way.
For example, meetups work best if there is a Third Place set up in EVERY city which allows people to easily search for events in their own town. This would have meant multiple Third Place accounts in every city. The benefits are that others in that city could easily search for events and join.
However, I set it up differently to use the power of my network so that the people who joined actually already knew about it through social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebooks, blogs or through word of mouth.
That is, they actively sought it out and wanted to join.
My initial plan was to trial it out for a year to see if it’s worth getting separate city accounts or continue with the one account but then see the impact this makes on the community. (I have since contacted the Meetup team to see if I can create other Meetups using the same name in other cities and they said I can through the one account…but one step at a time).
Effectively, I wanted to create a spirit of community where people elected to join the group because they already had some connection to it via social media and that the meetup in person was the next step in the social process and the step after that being…
Co-Working…and maybe who knows the next step….Creating.
A funny thing was happening at the meetups. People were whipping out their laptops or tablets and actually showing their work. They were telling stories about what they were doing and working on which piqued the curiosity of others who may have been having similar problems, issues or concerns. It was like my social knitting groups all over again.
A recent visit to the co-working spaces at NAB Village and Inspire9 got me thinking about including an event that involves co-working. Indeed a few of the members had already expressed an interest to attend a co-working event. These members who were freelance saw the value of getting together and sharing what they are doing and a few mentioned quotes such as:
- “Some professional development events, conferences and courses are too expensive for me”
- “We don’t know what we don’t know – how do we find out what learning events are on in Melbourne?”
- “I like the idea of learning from others who are experts in that”
So my next event will be on Wednesday 23 April and it will be a co-working event and there’s going to be a small group of us going to try our hand at co-working and seeing what that’s like.
My intention is to live blog at the event and capture everyone’s thinking, reflections and quotes – who knows, I may even video snippets of it.
If the event is of value, then I will include more co-working events into ThirdPlace as an option.
But where to from here with Third Place?
I’d like to use it as an opportunity to model the new way of work – integrating the social with the work – and have it as the ‘test bed’ for those who are new to the concept.
I also want to use it as an example of application and tangible evidence of the power of networks in work and learning when the question gets asked by senior management. And it will. It’s only a matter of time.
Many organisations are slowly moving to the flexible work practices and integrated workplaces and in my experience, these provide great spaces to collaborate with others. However, I also find that I need to keep my skills up to date and connect with other experts in my field to learn from.
Organisations say they don’t want ‘experts’ but I’m of the opposite view. We need the experts to hone our skills and constantly learn. So if I can’t have the experts – the people who have established their own niches in their own learning field – at our place of work to learn from – I’ll have them in my network instead. In Third Place.
Coffee Cup: with thanks to CleOpatra https://www.flickr.com/photos/91842374@N00/3139602487