New (proposal for) monthly thread: Meetup Reports

post by bartimaeus · 2014-01-12T15:50:07.423Z · score: 17 (18 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 12 comments

If you had an interesting Less Wrong meetup recently, but don't have the time to write up a big report to post to Discussion, feel free to write a comment here.  Even if it's just a couple lines about what you did and how people felt about it, it might encourage some people to attend meetups or start meetups in their area.

If you have the time, you can also describe what types of exercises you did, what worked and what didn't.  This could help inspire meetups to try new things and improve themselves in various ways.

If you're inspired by what's posted below and want to organize a meetup, check out this page for some resources to get started!  You can also check FrankAdamek's weekly post on meetups for the week.

Tell us about your meetup!

12 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by bartimaeus · 2014-01-12T15:52:02.579Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I run the Montreal Less Wrong meetup, which for the last few months has started structuring the content of our meetups with varying degrees of success.

This was the first meetup that was posted to meetup.com in an effort to find some new members. There were about 12 of us, most of which were new and had never heard of Less Wrong before; although this was a bit more than I was expecting, the meetup was still a really good introduction to Less Wrong/rationality and was appreciated by all those that were present.

My strategy for the meetup was to show a concrete exercise that was useful and that gave a good idea what Less Wrong/rationality was about. This is a handout I composed for the meetup to explain the exercise we were going to be doing. It's a five-second-level breakdown of a few mental skills for changing your mind when you're in an argument; any feedback on the steps I listed is appreciated, as no one reviewed them before I used them. People found the handout to be useful, and it gave a good idea of what we would be trying to accomplish.

The meetup began by going around and introducing ourselves, and how we came to find the meetup. Some general remarks about the demographics:

  • The attendees were 100% male. There were a few women who were going to attend, but cancelled at the last minute.
  • Only two out of the 12 didn't have a background in science. The science backgrounds included math, biology, engineering and others.

After a quick overview of what rationality is, people wanted to go through the handout. We read through each of the skills, several of which sparked interesting discussions. Although the conversation went off on tangents often, the tangents were very productive as they served to explain what rationality is. The tangents often took the form of people discussing situations where they had noticed people reacting in the ways that are described in the handout, and how someone should think in such cases.

The exercise that is described on the second page of the handout was not successful. I had been trying to find beliefs that are not too controversial, but might still cause people to disagree with them. Feedback from the group indicated that I could have used more controversial beliefs (religion, spirituality, politics, etc) as the feelings evoked would have been more intense and easier to to notice; however, that might also have offended more people, so I'm not sure whether that would have been better or not. If I were to run this meetup again, I would rethink this exercise.

The meetup concluded with me giving a brief history of Less Wrong, and mentioning HPMOR and the sequences. I provided everyone with some links to relevant Less Wrong material and HPMOR in the discussion section of the meetup group afterwards.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments, any feedback is appreciated!

comment by Ben_LandauTaylor · 2014-01-14T19:09:41.839Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That handout is excellent. If anyone is an organizer looking for a topic, you could totally just steal this one.

comment by bartimaeus · 2014-01-23T23:56:34.496Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have time to write a full report, but Less Wrong Montreal had a meetup on the 22nd of January that went well. Here's the handout that we used; the exercise didn't work out too well because we picked an issue that we all mostly agreed on and understood pretty well. A topic where we disagreed more would have been more interesting (afterwards I thought "free will" might have been a good one).

comment by Fionna · 2014-01-13T19:20:49.209Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I’ve lurked on this site since 2010, time to post something. In hindsight I should have taken notes at the meetup, rather than posting this from memory. Next time I may. I attended the Portland meetup on the 11th. I’ve been sporadically going to the lesswrong meetup here in Portland for the last 2 years. I can at least mention the demographics. Over the last 2 years when I attended a meetup I was the only female out of the 4 or 5 attendees (unless one of them brought their wife). I was also the only person who was not a programmer. I will admit these 2 things probably influenced my decision to not always attend. At the most recent meetup, there were 15 -20 people, I’m sure one of the other attendees has a good count. There were only 2 other women. There was also a much broader mix of background/education, not everyone in attendance was a programmer or a CS major. If we kept the turnout like this, I would attend much more often. The group was large enough we had to split into 2 or 3 groups and people mingled between the groups to meet everyone. I was involved in or at least listened to a talk about what is possible or impossible and why (mind reading for example). One topic was political system setups that are resistant to power and places to test theories, and there was a short discussion on how to donate to do the most good (helping those in Africa is more cost effective than helping American poor specifically). We all talked about interest or projects we are working on, that was the best conversation starter and lead to many of the interesting sub-discussions. We also talked a bit about how to get people to come regularly, since that has been a problem with our city’s meetup.

comment by eggman · 2014-01-12T19:25:25.412Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

In Vancouver, we're starting a Sequences reading group, because we're getting a bunch of new friends interested. Additionally, we have multiple CFAR alumni at our meetup, so that might lead to some interesting projects going on. I will attempt to take notes on this stuff, and I will either post it here, or generate a report about it in the future. Either way, I'm grateful for this reminder that taking notes and reporting them is something worthwhile. Thanks.

comment by eggman · 2014-01-13T21:42:28.094Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Meetup report from Sunday: you'll notice I posted a meetup for a discussion group for Politics is the Mind-Killer.

I.

For the last three years, the meetup has existed, but it wasn't so much of a 'rationalist community' as it was a 'philosophy and science fiction ideas discussion group'. There were about twenty people on the mailing list, but the average attendance for a meetup was 4-7, drawing from a pool of, like, 12, who ever showed up. It was mostly the same people over and over again. The highest number of people in attendance ever was at 9, probably.

This autumn we tried something different. We're trying to coordinate our meetup announcements, and generally invite more people. Attendance is regularly at least 10, and one time there was sixteen. We haven't adjusted for the meetup having more people, so when we overcrowd the cafe where we usually meet, we migrate our friend's house.

The problem is that we've brought in so many newcomers that we don't know how to prevent the meetup form diluting into a bunch of people spinning their wheels while they talk about vaguely intellectual sci-fi memes. Veterans of the meetup are mostly tired of that. We are also the problem, which is frustrating.

However, someone suggested the idea of a Sequences reading group.

II.

My friends who suggested that meetup, and who I assumed would plan it, were very sick this weekend. So, I shouldered the responsibility. It was still an engaging afternoon, but it didn't go as planned.

Since we chose a location that couldn't fit all the people who showed up, we lost an hour to re-planning and moving around. I read the subsequence "Politics is the Mind-Killer" myself, and since I organized the event, I was assuming I was going to lead the discussion. What I was hoping for is that I could go over the major posts one by one for, like, ten minutes, and people could break into groups to discuss them. I didn't know where this would lead; the purpose of the group was to have a commitment to actually reading Less Wrong material, but I didn't know what we were supposed to actually do once everyone got to the meetup.

Since not everyone had read the sequence, I thought I would provide some examples of debates where political mind-killing happens. We went through a few examples, went through several more, and then we talked about the specifics of each issue. This went on for two hours. By the time people were talking about heliocentrism, and how to determine the status of a foetus, I realized this was far removed from talk about biases in political discourse.

I cannot find a source now, but I recall reading that it's a pattern in social psychology that conversations with more than six people naturally break up into two conversations. I've observed this doesn't hold for what appears to be a roundtable discussion where everyone assumes it's polite not to interrupt anyone else, even if it's only two or three people talking for ten minutes at a time about memetics, or something only they know about. The problem is the other ten people in the room are bored for a hour, and don't learn what we would hope they would learn, or anything else. In the future, I would hope that another friend and I can coordinate on giving the same presentation to two distinct groups at the meetup, so multiple conversations where everyone can participate evolve, rather than just one where at a given time only two people are participating.

I think some people were engaged. I think a lot of them will come back. I don't want them to think this is just a bunch of guys talking about things irrelevant to their lives, and they'll eventually get bored. The meetup has already had that problem. Reading facial expressions, and seeing people browsing their smartphones, I could tell a few were consistently bored. I suspect some of them left earlier than they otherwise would have felt inclined to because it was a stagnant conversation.

I don't mean to make it seem like the meetup was awful; it wasn't different than others. However, I was hoping for it to be something other than a generic discussion without a topic, and that is what it was. I want people to leave a meetup feeling like they've gained a valuable tool they can use to avoid mistakes in the future, not asking the question 'what do you mean by "rational", anyway?". So, I'm focusing on what went wrong, and I'm hoping for suggestions from others.

Note: edited for markup corrections and grammar.

comment by Ben_LandauTaylor · 2014-01-14T18:59:31.429Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is a great summary with lots of specific, actionable detail. I successfully transitioned the Boston meetup from "philosophy and science fiction ideas discussion group" to "awesome vibrant community," so I'll give some feedback.

The most important thing in making the transition is to have content at the meetings, such as presentations or focused discussion topics. It sounds like you're doing this already, and having some trouble with the execution. Some suggestions:

—Relying on people to prepare ahead of time doesn't work in practice, since not everyone will actually do the homework.

—Having someone prepare a talk is a great way to provide background info and a focus for later discussion. I bet a 10-minute, well-rehearsed presentation on mind-killing would've improved this meetup dramatically. Doing this reliably does take a bunch of work, so it's good to have several people willing to share the responsibility.

—It's really good if you can set up the space in a way that encourages people to break out into individual conversations. My best experiences at meetups have been in conversations with 3-5 people. It's also helpful if you explicitly establish the social norm that it's appropriate to leave a discussion when you're not engaged, both because listeners don't have to politely sit through stuff they don't like, and because speakers can trust that people actually want to hear what they're saying.

I'm happy to answer any questions or help brainstorm for future meetups. If you want to talk more, PM me to set up a Skype call or something.

comment by eggman · 2014-01-14T20:17:00.260Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks a lot for the input, Ben. The meetup has people trying to be heroes; we just need more practice. I'll install those social norms. I'll PM you if I have any more questions.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-01-14T17:15:23.975Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

See also: LW Organizers Google group.

comment by curiousepic · 2014-01-16T19:59:13.941Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And the newly formed Facebook group.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-01-14T17:14:05.896Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's been posted elsewhere on LW before, but here's a brief meetup summary + attendance of the DC metro area group, for approximately one year now. We hold weekly meetups, typically in a museum courtyard, and seldomly at people's homes. Attendance varies, but the average is around 10. Frequent meetup activities include, in no particular order: structured activities, suggested-topic discussion, games+social meetups, and lesson-type activities led by one person on an area of expertise.

In addition to the actual meetups, we've had a weekly role-playing group (drawn from the same pool as meetup regulars) since Spring 2013, and we occasionally organize "extracurricular" group activities including but not limited to mega-meetup travel. Typically, group events snowball from someone mentioning something and people expressing interest, Doodle polling happens and we decide on a date and other details. It helps that we have people willing to be leaders by fiat, to move things along.

Because of the RPG being held before the meetups, and more often than not, eating out and post-dinner social/hanging out, our meetups may informally last for 8+ hours, although people often leave early, or before or after dinner.

I can try to go into detail on specific meetups or activities, if people have questions.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-01-20T23:03:14.872Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Vienna, 2013-12-18 -- we had a room in Cafe Votiv, and Axel explained to us quantum physics. He is very good at this; he understands physics, and as a rationalist he does not add the typical nonsense that usually comes with this topic. We even had some experiments with a laser pointer (I didn't know previously you could do quantum experiments just like this; outside of the lab). -- He definitely should do a YouTube video on this topic.

Bratislava, 2013-12-20 -- we had a presentation on social system, orphanages, adoptions, and professional families; by a former Member of Parliament. We discussed some ideas on altruism afterwards.