Beyond the panel discussion

Beyond the panel discussion
: I sat on a panel yesterday with the best possible panelists — people of stature with experience and plenty to contribute; the best possible moderator — who knew how to keep the discussion going; and the best possible audience — with interested people who asked good questions.

But it struck me that we need to move beyond the form of the panel discussion — because we can.

When I ran a panel at BloggerCon, Dave Winer got me break the form by insisting it wasn’t a panel; everyone in the room had plenty to contribute and was part of the discussion; there was no panel or everyone was on the panel.

At ETech and Bloggercon, I’ve watched the back-channel discussion on IRC (particularly Joi Ito‘s channel) with fascination.

With just a little added software, I think someone could blow up and reinvent the panel discussion:

1. Give the entire audience a back channel (and, of course, wi-fi). Give them a chat channel and wiki so they can share comments and resources.

2. Display that back-channel to all, including the panel (and don’t be bothered by a little good-natured heckling).

3. Allow the audience to post questions from the first moment and allow the audience to prioritize those questions. (A wiki could do that.)

4. Put on the panel an advocate of the back-channel who acts as another moderator and brings up the good questions and arguments and refererences from the audience, including those not in the room.

5. Whenever possible, webcast the panel and the back-channel to get more expert input from the world.

6. Create a simple ap that allows the audience to vote on topics of interest for the panel: discuss this first, then that, then that.

7. That ap should also allow the audience to vote on whether they want more or less on a topic: keep talking about this or move on, please (or, yes, every panelist should answer the same question or, no, don’t bother).

8. If the panel has guts, it could allow the audience to vote on favorite panelists (from whom do we want to hear more?).

9. With or without technology, as soon as possible, open the discussion to all.

Somebody clever could take open-source functionality and package it for conference givers. I’ll take a cut.