I was on my way to dinner near Canal Street in New York a few weeks ago when I came across a big white tent and poked my head in to see what was going on. I’m glad I did, because I stumbled onto “Talking Transitions,” a project designed in part to solicit the opinions of New Yorkers as the city makes a transition from long-time mayor Mike Bloomberg to newcomer Bill de Blasio.
It was a non-partisan effort — planning began months before the November 5 election — and it was funded by a passel of non-profits and foundations. Organizers scheduled dozens of panels to discuss issues — ranging from the city budget to public arts programming to schools to affordable housing.
I have lots of thoughts about those topics — which I will keep to myself here. What was interesting to me in terms of our industry was the number of techniques organizers used to help visitors express themselves, and how much fun it was to participate.
There were rows of iPads, collecting anonymous information about the demographics and opinions of visitors, as well as bulletin boards where visitors could pin up their thoughts.
A video booth allowed one to simply talk into a recorder or send a photo of a whiteboard bearing a handwritten message. Volunteers were on hand to talk over the issues and to demonstrate how to use the technology.
Thousands of people participated in the event, according to the project website. Attendance was a little sparse when I was there, and maybe just because it was the dinner hour.
It occurred to me that meetings already have brought together most of the needed ingredients for creating similar or scaled-down versions of the project: space, Wi-Fi, and most crucially, crowds. And meeting organizers often struggle to get feedback through channels like post-event surveys conducted via apps or by email.
So why not crank things up a notch — or three — and give your attendees more choices in how they let you know what is on their minds. Make surveys fun and interactive and something they can do by themselves or as a group.
Who knows? They might even like it so much they let dinner wait.