Tom: I have a very full-time day job, and I love it. I get to work on energy policy ideas and energy policy research for the 50 states. [On ShareYourself, all of the projects] you see me posting are unfunded project ideas, many of which I know to be absolutely practical. I know that these things will work. There may already be working examples of people elsewhere in the world already doing the things I'm talking about, but I would like to have an opportunity to expand on those and document that expansion, and prove what's happening and why it's happening, and make that go further. I'm also very near what most people would consider to be retirement age, so that's giving me more of a sense of urgency.
Can you tell me about the ComCap conference?
Tom: The most important mission of this conference is to figure out productive ways that small investors can move more of their investment money and savings away from Wall Street and the multinational Corporations (and what I love to call the trillion-dollar roulette game of the stock market) and instead, make those investments in local places that are going to improve the local economy.
For me personally, I’m always looking at the triple-bottom-line ideas, trying to make certain that all these changes and moves that we're making are supporting both the financial and economic aspects of what it means for businesses to operate, plus the environmental and ecological aspects, plus the ethical and equity issues. As I'm nearing retirement age, I would love for my retirement funds to be doing good things to help my own community, and not playing around in multinational corporations doing a lot of things I don't even know about. That's why I think the conference itself is so important. My personal financial advisor is on the Board of Directors of this organization, and that person is Angela Barbash. She's a board member of NC3, and her company's name is Revalue, and she's here in Michigan helping me to make decisions about what to do with my own investments. It was partly because I knew her that I learned about the conference, and then, learning about the conference, I realized a lot of people who share similar ideas will be there. That's what caused me to contact the conference organizers and ask them about Open Space.
So what will your role at the conference be?
Tom: They have set aside time for us to host Open Space, which means helping people identify the projects that they are so passionate about that they want to start working on them, and then hopefully find other people who are also interested enough in those same ideas that they're willing to start doing some work on it.
So, in a sense, it’s kind of a speed dating operation. The whole reason Open Space got invented is because we spend so many hours organizing these conferences, going to them, paying for them, listening to people tell us what we already know, and then so little time is spent doing the thing that everybody really wants to do - which is to find their tribe and start working on the projects. We're trying to show how this might work for this kind of conference, and we're trying to do it in a way that lets us evaluate how effective it might be to do this in anybody's conference so that they'll have an opportunity to start embracing Open Space in this way, if they want to.
How exactly will Open Space work?
Tom: Open Space was designed to work with, essentially, pencil and paper, and a wall that people stick paper to. So, part of our experiment here is to see whether those functions can be replicated successfully enough by the ShareYourself platform that people could sort of abandon all those paper and pencil, or paper and marking pen ideas, and move straight to an Internet platform for doing this work.
What outcome are you hoping for with introducing Open Space to the ComCap conference?
Tom: We have known about this idea called Open Space for a long, long time. There have been thousands of meetings. But, it seems to me that the ShareYourself platform opens an opportunity for Open Space - that all these people who want to participate don't have to be in the same place, nor at the same time (like at this conference.) They can just sort of overlap with the computer system and still be able to self-organize and do productive work. So, if in fact other people seem to have that experience, and it seems to work that way, then I think what we're doing provides a very valuable addition to the practice of Open Space meetings, that we will share with the Open Space meeting world, in a way, so that hopefully other people can emulate that. And we'll see where it goes from there.
There’s also the question of how we define whether this is a success. And that, to me, is a very interesting question. Stu and I are talking about how we evaluate what we're doing. We want to pull off this conference event, and then be able to share with the Open Space world how it worked. So some way of determining success or failure will be important to think about, and we do plan to have some way to ask the participants information, both about how much they participated in the Open Space part of this conference opportunity and how much they liked it. If we come to the Community Capital Conference next year and the people organizing it start to say, "Gee, that was really good. We want to do more of that next year," that'll be one indication. And if we start to see a lot of people join up and participate in the ShareYourself network, and one or more of the projects makes progress towards completion, that's another area.
Can you tell me more about yourself and what else you’re doing on ShareYourself?