[ This post is todo with Cambridge_UK meetups, and is probably of no interest to others. ]
At the meetup on 29th April, 2012, it was suggested that members of the meetup post a variety of meetup formats, so we can try them out systematically, and compare format to outcome. Because outcome depends upon not only format, but also the specific participants and the topic under discussion, it may take using a format more than once (or possibly having it used by a different group) to get a reasonable idea of how reliably a format contributes towards producing positive or negative outcomes.
I volunteered to kick the thread off with a couple of suggestions. I hope people will add other proposals in the comments. Deciding which formats to try when, and matching them to suitable topics, is probably best left to the cambridge mailing list.
Numbers seem to vary between 4 and 12 participants, but feel free to propose formats that don't handle that entire range. If too few people turn up, we can postpone a format to another time (or take it as a vote upon the popularity of the format, if the format for that meeting was announced in advance).
The timeslot is 11am to 12:30, but people should also feel free to propose formats for shorter periods of time.
Proposed Format : small group discussions
Required equipment : A4 paper, pens, countdown timer
Required time : 90 minutes
11:00 start a 10 minutes countdown timer
People arrive, chat, say what is on their mind and, most importantly, write down on paper (one topic per sheet) things they would be interested in discussing. Once the timer goes off, topic sheets may not be altered or created.
11:10 timer goes off
Spread the sheets around the room with a proposer by each sheet (any sheets for which no proposer volunteers get discarded at this stage). Read each topic out aloud, with no discussion/clarification/objections, clockwise from the position of the timer.
Set a one minute countdown. People stand behind the proposer of the topic they most want to discuss, in a queue. If a topic gets 5 or more people, the front 5 take a table and start talking. Set the timer for one minute again, and re-form behind the remaining available topics. Any turn no topic reaches 5 people, junk the smallest topic that has fewer than 3 people. Repeat until the room is divided into groups of 3-5 people discussing different topics. This process should require no discussion, or any talking beyond asking for reminders of the wording of a topic. When a table sits to talk, they are free to interpret the written topic how they like, or even wander completely off it.
11:55 timer goes off to remind people to take a 5 minute pause to put down feedback
On the back of the A4 topic discussion sheet (or on a pre-printed sheet, if anyone is that organised), have a column for the categories:
- I learned something I think will improve my own ability to think rationally
- I think the discussion came up with something that could usefully be posted to LessWrong
- There is an action I commit to taking
And have a row for each participant to put a tick or cross in each column.
12:00 discussion groups either continue, or break up, move about, etc. - unstructured time.
12:20 timer goes off for the last time
People join back into a single discussion. One person from each initial group gives a 1 minute summary saying what the topic was and if the participants generally felt it helped rationality either personally and/or generally. (The aim behind this is that other meeting groups, or even later mettings of the same group with different participants, may want to copy topics that worked well.) Circulate a commit sheet with columns "WHO", "WHEN" and "WHAT", so people can list actions they plan to take (and when they will take them by).
12:30 meeting ends - ajourn for breakfast
Proposed Format : skill focus
Agree online, at least 2 weeks in advance, a particular skill to focus upon, that helps achieve rational thinking (perhaps linked to a specific cognitive bias), and agree a volunteer who will kick-start the meeting.
The volunteer picks 10 minutes worth of material (eg a sequence entry) for everyone to have read, and the week before circulates it to the cambridge mailing list and prints out copies to take to the previous meeting for those who don't read the list, so everyone will know the format and what they're getting into if they turn up.
11:00 people arrive, read the material if they have not already done so, and the agenda for the meeting.
11:08 everyone participating goes upstairs to the separate space, anyone who doesn't want to (or arrives late) stays downstairs.
11:10 starter activity, a game or quiz or some sort (eg 3 rounds of prisoners dilemma, or one of the economic gambling probability decision things - whatever fits the theme and gets people moving and participating).
The rest of the time as specified by the volunteer for this particular skill focus, but probably including a general section (understanding the problem), a training section (practicing the skill), a 'share our real life experiences of this with each other' section, and a 'now apply the skill to my own life and commit to a plan' section.
Proposed Format : competitive planning or estimating
Go around the circle numbering off 1, 2, 1, 2, etc. to form two random groups.
Each group has 10 minutes to discuss how best to split 60 minutes up in order to come up with the best plan in that time.
Each group then spends 60 minutes planning something. The something might be "a summer punt trip", it might be "a freshers fair stall", it might be "a spreadsheet that people can use to make a rational calculation of whether it is worth their while spending time reading LessWrong." - the thing is decided in advance, and the same thing is planned by both teams.
In the final 10 minutes, everyone joins back together again, spends a few minutes presenting their designs, then discussing how well they actually spent the 60 minutes, and how they'd split it differently if they were doing the same thing again.
Estimate version: (equipment needed - pack of cards, or similar)
Split into two groups, as above, plus one person who will set three challenges. The challenge setter goes off to look up some facts (eg the number of tons of wheat grown by China in 2010), while each team spends 10 minutes discussing how they will make an estimate.
Cards are then dealt out - the person with the queen of hearts is the defector who is secretly working for the opposing team
Each group then gets 20 minutes to make the best estimate they can PLUS a sum of 'money' they are wagering on being closer to the true answer than the other team. The team must wager a total of 100 'money' spread over the three challenges. The estimate and the bet are written down and revealed simultaneously.
After the end of the three challenges, reveal the two defectors, who move over to stand with their true group, then calculate which team won the most with their wagers.