Summit Up: Interview with Allen "Gunner" Gunn
From July 29 - 31, Gunner acted as facilitator for the Joomla! Leadership Joint Summit in San Jose. His unique background of techie, open sourcerer, and non-profit enthusiast made him the perfect person for this role. Here Gunner talks about his history with Joomla!, the experience of the summit, and his inspired vision of technology and the internet. Gunner is Executive Director of Aspiration.
In a few words would you please describe your involvement with Joomla! as a software and a project?
My first direct involvement came in 2007 at the Joomla! Core Team Summit held at Google. I got to work with all the team members for a full week, followed by JoomlaDay West on the weekend. After that I started working in an ad hoc advisory role and was involved with the next JoomlaDay West, and JoomlaDay Las Vegas. At Aspiration we run Joomla! on answr.net, one of our sites where people can ask questions about non-profit tech.
Your bio states your goal of using technology for social change. Would you please elaborate on that?
When I first encountered the internet I became passionate about its potential to magnify worthy causes like the environment and human rights, and engage a broad base of people who cared about those things. So I set up a free server for a bunch of non-profits to understand how technology can magnify their impact. We address questions like how to use technology and how not to use it. We educate organizations on why proprietary solutions are problematic, and promote minimal solutions. Solutions need to be sustainable and maintainable.
What were the particular challenges apparent to you as you approached the Joint Summit?
I've had the privilege to work with Joomla! for a while, and have always been impressed by the federation of its governance. I was mainly aware that the different parts of the federation have different needs and visions of what is better and more effective. Above all I was aware that these are brilliant and passionate people who have a perspective on core issues of how Joomla! is envisioned and governed. They all want the project to succeed, and the problem was not the challenges themselves but finding the time to work through them.
Did being a developer yourself give you particular insight into dealing with the dynamics of the Joomla leadership teams?
I think so. I certainly have empathy for the mindset of developers and understand how developers want live meetings to go - not boring and not like jail! When I design agendas I make them algorithmic. They are recognizable to developers as processes that generate outputs that are useful as inputs to subsequent processes. I also empathize with the need for time well spent. Developers tend to be passionate about either being at the keyboard OR being out doing what's fun. So I have a moral mandate to make live events interactive and focused on what all stake holders want to talk about. It's not just circular talk. We get things done.
Was there an “aha” moment for you in the Joint Summit?
Yes. The immediate, final spectrogram* where we wanted to see how people felt about some of the proposals. It was a vision of dramatic solidarity. I was amazed to see so much alignment, compassion and respect. I am grateful people were that real and that unified in the work we had done.
You clearly master the role of “Facilitator”. How did you come to perfect those skills?
Theft! I've learned from some amazing facilitators. I lift their best material. Most influential for me has been John Sellers of The Ruckus Society, whose approach deeply respects the group and lets the group inspire one another. Over the years facilitation blurs into teaching. I've always had a belief that education patronizes the student. The collective students are smarter than I am. My job is to help them get the most out of our time together. I try to maximize our "in person time" by tapping all the talent and passion present in the circle.
What are some of the conference facilitating techniques or approaches you use that you feel are the most effective?
First and foremost I have everyone sit in a circle. It gets me accused of being a northern California hippie! Looking at all the other faces present creates a profound boost in understanding each other. I also love the spectrogram. It's an epiphany - a visceral, fun, collaborative way for people to say where they stand on an issue. I always use it to loosen up the room. I am proud to have invented "speed geeking" - getting tech projects to explain themselves in a short period of time to the benefit of all. And finally, I love Post-It notes. They are the ultimate data storage units!
Any closing thoughts?
I love watching Joomla! go forward and grow up. I am deeply grateful to be able to work with the amazing folks in the Joomla! community, and am impressed with the way the leadership, the community, and everyone in the Joomla! network work hard to make sure that fun is a core community value.
As a Joint Summit participant I was privileged to experience firsthand the energy, sensitivity, thoroughness, momentum and above all, fun, of a Gunner-facilitated gathering. Thank you Gunner for the unique role you play in the story of Joomla!
*spectrogram: a technique where the room is divided into two extreme reactions to a statement. One side of the room signifies strong agreement, and the opposite side represents strong disagreement. Participants place themselves between the two sides of the room at the spot on the spectrogram that best represents their feeling about it. They are then given the chance to express why they chose to stand where they did, which occasionally inspires other participants to shift their position.