Finally, six months after the event took place, we were ready to compile an innovation report for ASK14 that took place in November in Kyiv, Ukraine. Why that is relevant? Not only was it pretty much my last big event for the European Youth Parliament (EYP), but it was also the best one I ever attended – because I was able to shape and design it with all the experience I gathered in the last decade. All possible thanks to a magnificent team. But what did we do?
When the organisers approached me to join the event in an executive position (in EYP-terms ‘president’), I’ve had heard rumours already. The conference was originally planned earlier in 2014 in Kyiv but then history happened, and both the national and international bodies in EYP raised a stop sign.
Nevertheless, or maybe because of the political turmoil in Ukraine, the team of organisers, with some of them being long-term companions of mine in EYP, pushed for making the event happen nevertheless – and they succeeded by organising a marvellous event.
Going to Ukraine, again and again
When approached I felt honoured, but I was also torn apart, because I had told myself that I wouldn’t do such an event anymore (because of age, boredom, lack of motivation – pick one). But this was somehow different. Since my first trip to Ukraine in 2005 I got a special relationship to Ukraine (and also because of very special person, that got more intense in later years). Having followed the political development closely, this obviously increased my interest and willingness to go back to Ukraine.
So, I agreed rather quickly – but with a certain condition: everything should be done differently. As much as I still value the format, programme and approach of EYP to youth education, I also stopped being involved because of its lack of innovation, and in particular its lack of willingness for external reflection and learning structures. Luckily both Anya and Roksolana, as well as Kseniia who joined at a later point, were on board for this – because the special situation would need and be able to cope with new approaches.
This was also the thematic approach we went for: finding new approaches ‘inspired’ by the current situation in Ukraine, which made us end up with a title and theme: Agora on Security Kyiv 14 – re:thinking security and hacking old paradigms, or short ASK14. The topics of security being discussed in Ukraine was obvious, yet we wanted to find a more modern and systematic approach to it. Funnily enough, the by-then-new President of Ukraine, Proshenko, called for new security strategies during our call for participants – oh well 😀
When proceeding with the concept, we had to tackle a lot of risks and insecurities, both from the organisational side and the content perspective. To handle those we decided to go for as much empowerment and freedom within our teams as possible. From my content perspective, that would mean a lot of involvement and creative power from my team of moderators.
Once assembled, contrary to standard EYP-procedure, they were responsible for the design and focus of their topics to be discussed with the participants, which we named ‘dimensions’ to emphasise the interconnection them. Having a pre-developed list with the organisers, the mods were than able to create a topic of their own interest and expertise, assisted by the international bodies who are usually in charge of the topic development.
Freedom through empowerment
The design of the event was similarly focused on exchange and empowerment. Our basic belief was that our participants would come with a certain set of interests and expertise too, which they would like to share with each other and not necessarily limit themselves to just one dimension – at the same time we also emphasised the interconnection of the different dimensions. Accordingly we created opportunities to interact on a topic level several times.
We included several un-conference formats into the programme. During a barcamp the participants had the chance to share their knowledge to others, also beyond the initial dimensions. A world café, where we invited experts to, emphasised the interconnection again, encouraging to give feedback on the other groups.
I guess from an EYP-perspective our biggest change was the way we created our final product. Firstly we went for ‘Final Reports’ instead of ‘Resolutions’, because innovation sometimes starts with a fresh name to break old paradigms. Usually, in EYP, participants would only come together on a content level during the final day of a conference, debating their resolutions in a competitive way, although seeing them for the first time.
More freedom means more work, less control
We agreed that the competitive approach was not very helpful to find common solutions. We also agreed that the standard bullet-point list format was not very helpful, because at the same time we have an enforced consensus, which leads to dropping out new ideas that might not find a majority (yet). Instead we agreed that our final documents are continuous text, with some basic chapters, that allowed the participants to evolve certain paths of thinking, although they might not have lead to good solution, but shed light on a certain aspect of the topic.
This would obviously increase the work for both the participants and moderators massively. Therefore we split the final event into two. For the first, members of the working groups would present their major points in a short presentation, which would also include questions to the other participants. After the presentations, another world café would take place where participants could already give feedback, self-moderated by the participants. This sort-of-final stop would also allow the moderators to start typing their groups’ texts the night before.
With this feedback in mind, the groups finalised their texts and the moderators had the chance to finalise the documents afterwards, which went quickly considering the amount of pages produced by each team (ending up with around 5 pages per group). The second part of the final event, which we named ‘symposium’, had more debate elements, yet we emphasised the constructive approach of the event. Instead of voting (which is hard on a longer text), they participants had a chance to incorporate more changes in their work in the end, making the product a very collaborative one.
Overall this was tricky, and we would know how this would turn out. But thanks to a very talented and connected team of moderators we managed to involve participants intensively and still have a fluent process for all. This was still very experimental, and there are several points still to be improved, but looking both at the debates and the results, the content produced by the participants was deeper and more evolved than usual, in a comparable time frame to standard events.
If you want to have a deeper look at the event and the things we did differently, you can have a look at the innovation report and the final reports themselves. Personally I just hope some of the innovations will stick around and find their way in standard routines and concepts of the marvellous work EYP does.
I’ll leave you with some quotes from the evaluation forms:
“The symposium and Final report concepts were excellent. By not limiting committee work to a single solution various possible solutions were considered and political consequences discussed.”
“Amazing quality produced by amazing organisers for amazingly concentrated hard-working people at amazingly beautiful venues.” (Delegate, Estonia)
“Innovative, professional event that made a contribution into my way of thinking and life in general.” (Delegate, Ukraine)
“We all inspired each other during this high-quality session.” (Delegate, Switzerland)