Thinking about the ThingsCon ecosystem

We just had the second edition of ThingsCon in Berlin a few weeks ago, and are still busy wrapping up lots of loose ends. We’re also getting to the point where it’s time to take a step back and look at where we stand. This is the first of (most likely) a longer series of snapshots of exploring these questions.

Before going any further, I’d like to stress that the following are just some of my personal thoughts to help me structure and keep them for later. This blog post is not a preview of what we’re currently planning, nor does it necessarily reflect the team’s thinking. The four of us – Max, Emu, Simon and I – are thinking hard about where to take ThingsCon, but we haven’t made any decisions yet, and all relevant announcements are going to happen over at (which is about to get a little relaunch, too). This, right here, is a snapshot of my mental notepad, and nothing more.

The story so far: The emerging ThingsCon ecosystem

  • For two years, we have been building a strong basis for a ThingsCon ecosystem that brings together a core community of IoT innovators.
  • This community is highly networked and collaborative, and includes members from super diverse backgrounds (incl. grassroots activist, corporate R&D, academic research, independent practitioners and designers, industrial/product/UX designers, hardware and software development, manufacturing, startups, VCs…)
  • I’d consider the ThingsCon ecosystem an open-ended, long-term project, aiming to create value for all stakeholders, always aiming for a win-win-win and sustainable solutions (taking a cue from the ).
  • ThingsCon should and can be a platform for a wide range of collaborators, and an incubator for projects with a positive impact on both industry and society.
  • One aspect that sets ThingsCon apart from other more industry-driven communities is a culture that thrives on strong ethical considerations, particularly on sustainability, diversity, inclusivity, and empowerment.

This would mean there are a wide range of possible activities to explore. By default, we’d be working iteratively, always testing and learning and incorporating learnings into the process, and share results and insights openly so the larger community can profit, too.

So let’s take some of the elements and activities we’ve done so far and put them into perspective as parts of a larger ecosystem:

  • ThingsCon conference: The anchor and focal point of the ThingsCon community. Hundreds of international participants – with a regional focus on Europe, but a truly global footprint – gather in Berlin for several days of workshops, presentations and networking activities. Here, we discuss the big issues, get to know potential collaborators, energize the community.
  • ThingsCon local events: In addition to the core conference in Berlin, we run local events to help connect local innovator communities with the larger community of practice. The first local ThingsCon event was ThingsCon Amsterdam with local partner as a one-day event with about 100-150 participants. We’ve been looking at other options, too, incl. in Africa and South America.
  • Knowledge sharing platform: Openness and knowledge sharing are an essential part of community building. All talks at ThingsCon are recorded and shared publicly online, for free, on our website Speakers and workshop hosts are encouraged to also share their presentations, slides, write-ups and insights to be distributed through the ThingsCon platform.
  • Ongoing conversation online: Through blog, newsletter, Twitter and Facebook the conversations keep going around the year (clustered around the hashtag ), and we can use this to highlight and draw attention to noteworthy efforts and initiatives by community members. One example of an initiative that was launched at ThingsCon 2015 and has been gaining significant traction online and offline is the , a manifesto and ethical guideline for designers of connected services and products. To our peer group, all of this is obvious and practically the least you can do. But that’s not the case everywhere, so it’s worth acknowledging.
  • What else? In theory, whatever we can do to help create value for the community members, the industry, and society at large. Given the right partners/funding structures/opportunities, this could include anything from an ongoing educational program (an academy of sorts) to more smaller community events to an accelerator program to publications… you name it.

That last point – the question what’s worth exploring to expand the ongoing event-focused activities – is the one I’m most fascinated by; there’s so much potential there, but where to start? And how to make it work in a way that is sustainable, both financially and in terms of effort?

The one thing that is clear to me, though: This community with its strong organically emerged focus on sustainability and ethical considerations is unique, and worth fostering.

We set out to build to build an event so that we wouldn’t have to travel overseas all the time, and thus contribute a little to a more regional community. Instead, or maybe on top, we’ve provided a space for another kind of community to emerge. One that is less defined regionally and more in terms of mindset. That’s fantasic, and humbling, and something I’m immensely grateful for. Let’s see what’s in the cards of ThingsCon’s future.

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