Northern Lights 2014

This is the second Northern Lights that I’ve co-organised with Bruce, and the fourth event overall.


One of the things I love about this conference is the way we shape it to encourage people to talk to each other. This isn’t just ‘listen to the expert on stage’ territory. This is ‘find people who share your interests’ territory.

Open Space

Nearly half of the day is reserved for ‘open space’. During open space we have four breakout rooms set up for short talks / discussions / panels proposed by attendees.

This was so popular this year that we had to find two extra rooms. The sessions were:

  • Wearable Technology – Try it on
  • What would you do with all the data?
  • Open data about organisations – create once / Use many model?
  • Block chain tech
  • When to reinvent the wheel
  • Government websites
  • What do students want from internships?
  • 3rd sector communication mechanisms
  • Get rich
  • Hacker spaces in Africa
  • Open mapping / open street map
  • Space radios
  • What should we teach first year computing students?
  • Retelling classic Scottish stories through tech
  • Horizon 2020

The wearable tech session involved the opportunity to try on Occulus Rift and Google Glass thanks to one of our sponsors – IFB – so we inevitably ended up repeating that session throughout the afternoon.

Open space makes it much easier for people to start talking to each other. It’s often the conversations that provide the most valuable takeaways from a conference, but it’s too easy to simply turn up, sit through the talks, and keep yourself to yourself.

By reducing the 100 or so people around you to a dozen or twenty on a side track, it’s much easier to introduce yourself, find common ground, and start sharing ideas.

I wish every conference had some open space. It’s easy, you just need some post-its.


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