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Reflections on the Michael Albert U.K. Speaking Tour


Michael Albert's two week speaking tour of the U.K. is now over. It was a whirlwind tour over two weeks starting in Sussex, then London for 5 days then moving up to Cardiff, Birmingham, Lincoln, Leeds, Bradford, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Nottingham. The talks were generally well attended. Audience sizes ranged between 30 to 150 people and the topic of most talks was on Participatory Economics, a new type of economy centered around participation, diversity, equity, diversity and self-management. The purpose of the tour was to generate interest in participatory economics. There were also talks on Strategy and the Media.

It was the first time I have been involved with organising a series of speaking events and it may be useful for others to read about our experiences and learn from some of our lessons.

PLANNING THE TOUR

It started about a year ago when some of us had the idea of inviting Michael Albert over to give some talks on Parecon and also meet organisers here in the U.K, like myself, who are involved with the project for a participatory society u.k.(pps-uk) – a group of people motivated by participatory society method of analysis, vision and strategy.

Michael kindly agreed to do the U.K. speaking tour and we started to make plans. Setting the initial dates wasn't that straight forward. We needed to arrange a series of talks at different locations and make them fit into a schedule, so after some initial attempts and delays the idea was suggested to fix a date with a major event in London, the Anarchist Bookfair in October and then to build the other events around this one. It turned out to be a very effective approach which I'd recommend to anyone else thinking of doing anything similar.

Another approach we took was that individuals or groups either involved or loosely connected with pps-uk would organise talk/s in their area and be responsible for covering accommodation and transport and any other expenses. I am involved with the London group so I made a list and contacted a bunch of universities in London. Others also did the same. Over the year talks were setup at various locations and we moulded them into a schedule. Getting closer to the tour we pushed for final confirmation of talks and had enough to go ahead with the tour.

The months leading up to the tour took up a whole lot of my time. Since I am a website designer I put up a website for the tour (www.ppsuk.org.uk/matour) in order to show the list of tour dates, with information about each talk and general information about the tour. I chased up talk organisers for clarification on the time, location, title and description of their talk/s in order to update the website with the latest information. My brother created a flyer for the tour which we put up on the website for anyone to download and use for promotion. The information from the various talk locations such as accommodation, contact and transport details needed to be collated into a spreadsheet with information which I also did.

We spent the week or two before the start of the tour visiting universities, bookshops and other centres in London, handing out leaflets, putting up posters and drumming up interest. We also contacted other groups.

I discovered that organising a speaking tour requires a whole lot of time and energy! The experience of organising this tour has given me some invaluable knowledge and skills that i can use in the future if i take part in doing anything similar or that i can share with others.

LEADING ON FROM THE TOUR

It was a very ambitious project of ours considering the number and level of committed people involved with pps-uk. It did take away time from doing other work but we are hoping the benefits will have paid off. We have a long list of emails we collected from the tour that we will enter into our mailing list.

In London we are planning a 'newcomers' or 'introductory' Event which will consist of a social event and an interactive workshop on vision and an introduction to par-society ideas. The whole experience has raised some serious issues for pps-uk that we will need to address about our purpose and methods that ill write about in another blog.

LESSONS

In the London group we have listed some key lessons we have gained from the tour:

Better promotion of the tour was possible:
    – posting leaflets out and phoning instead of personal visits;
    – creating list of groups that we should inform in good time and make an effort to get response from each;
    – in general sort out promotion well ahead of time, not in the last 2 weeks.
Equitably distributing tasks:
    – Jason was the lynch-pin of the tour organisation in London (driving, accommodation, the website and flyer
                    design), and while many of these tasks were handled by Jason for practical reasons, this was not optimal;
    – In future, especially as the group grows, more effort should be made to share tasks in a fair and balanced
                     way in keeping with PPS principles (perhaps mentoring inexperienced members in new tasks);
                  – We need to be mindful of the way projects are structured and make sure all voices are heard on this issue.
Financing:
    – for practical reasons the bank account was not sorted out in time to be used on the tour;
    – this will provide a way to make financing less haphazard next time.
Other:
    – other projects were also left on the sidelines during this time (although person-hours are scarce at the moment!)

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