The Monster Map: How We Made & Shared a Network Map of 1,250 People

Part One – The Event

Hosted & organized by the Bush Foundation, bushCONNECT is a curated large-scale day-long event at the historic Guthrie theater in Minneapolis that brings together local community leaders & change makers to equip, inspire and connect them. The third annual bushCONNECT took place this May. It was expanded to 2 days because of its popularity.

Attendees make up a long who’s who of regional change leaders, including all current & past Bush Fellows, Bush Foundation Leadership & Education Program cohorts, Community Innovation Grantees & other types of Bush Foundation grant recipients. In addition, local organizations groups apply to be ‘recruitment partners’. Recruiting partners represent various communities, from peoples of color to arts & civic organizations. They’re assigned blocks of tickets to give to chosen members of their communities, ensuring a wide diversity of leaders and innovators are able to attend.

Bush Foundation also partners with leadership programming partners for bushCONNECT, who apply to offer a range of workshops, speakers, and other programming activities on a range of innovative leadership topics.

In all, nearly 900 people are hand-picked to be invited by someone who knows them, registration goes fast, the 100+ General Admission tickets sell out in something like less than an hour, there’s always a long wait-list, and between the invitees, general admission, the recruiting & programming partner representatives, and Bush Foundation staff & board, over 1,250 people are in the building for most of the day.

Clarity Facilitation and Greater than the Sum have had the honor of being programming partners for bushCONNECT since the beginning – providing a network map of all those 1,250 people attending the event, and their connections to one another.

The Space

During the day of the event, we had a team of 10 local network weavers – a diverse group of local community leaders actively weaving intentional change networks, and consultants who support network weavers as the bulk of their professional work. This group of creative, collaborative, connection-oriented people make the event, for me, a gift-in-action – pure pleasure.

This year our team was situated at the end of a broad, well-travelled corridor. We had the usual trade-show-type row of tables, but with a row of couches behind the tables, so our pals could sink in together with us to re-connect, keeping us close to the action if needed, but off the beaten path. The couches were a nice unexpected surprise (Thanks Ryan!)

There were several computer monitors on and in front of the row of tables – from large overhead monitors, to medium monitors on stands that many people could see at once, to smaller desktop monitors & laptops. Team members accessed those monitors & took turns sharing the map with small groups & helping individuals navigate the map to find themselves, their connections & see who they might want to meet.

That was our island in an all-day, non-stop stream of people eager for ideas, inspiration & connection.

The Updates

We knew, from year one, that until people saw the map, there would be minimal interest in being on it or sharing relationship data. But once they saw it, they’d be annoyed if they didn’t have the option to add themselves to the map. We also knew that the more people on the map, the more relevant it would feel & the more interest it would generate. So we designed our process, from the beginning, to be updatable during the event.

That meant having the API link handy, being able to pull live data from the API, restructure it so it fit the required format, load it into the mapping tool, re-run all the algorithms and output the results to the web.

In the middle of a river of people.

We knew that would be a challenge, but we didn’t think it was worth doing (or would be successful) if we didn’t. Not in that context. So we made it work.

If people looked at the map & found they weren’t on it, we were able to promise that if they did a couple simple things, they’d be on in a couple hours.

Order from Chaos

But we were not just about the mapping. Our collective message was about weaving change networks – with mapping as one useful part of that effort. It was about maps as a tool for visualizing, understanding and supporting social ecosystems – and we modelled ecosystemic-ness in our team process.

The group developed an adaptive, flexible order out of what would otherwise have been simply loud chaos. (one veteran team-member described it as ‘state fair meets high school cafeteria’). They co-created a layered approach to what & how we presented. At any given time 1/3 of the team would be on the outside edges of the map presentation space  talking with attendees about the importance of networks & weaving change networks, another 1/3 would be close enough to observe the maps, answering questions & explaining to onlookers what network maps are, what can be learned from them and how they support the network weaving effort, and 1/3 of the team would be engaging up close, 1 on 1, often with a few onlookers, directly with the maps – helping people find themselves, filtering to find others of similar interests, etc..

Those roles, or stations in the layers, were defined according to team-member’s experience, preferences, technical skills & extroversion – enabling us to engage the event attendees where they were, from our own strengths, sharing the network lens broadly and easing them into only as much technical stuff as they wanted.

The team even developed & coordinated a coverage strategy that ensured they all had ample break-time, and left Tim & I free to interface as needed with others outside of our presentation, update the data, troubleshoot technical issues, & help new people get their connections on the map.

For one day, we got to be a functioning, high-flow mini-ecosystem – something I, for one, hunger for more of.

To be continued in Part Two – Tools.

Thanks to Chalonne Wilson, Sindy Morales Garcia, Bo Thao-Urabe, Robert Belton, Ernesto Velez Bustos, Janne FlisrandKristin Johnstad, Kirsten Johnson, Bill Richmond, Michael Bischoff & Tim Hanson for helping share the Network Lens and making a big job so much fun!

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