Spark the Change Toronto recap

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend and speak at Spark the Change Toronto. The theme for this year’s event was “Constructive Connection – Building a Resilient Organization through Networking.” This conference definitely got me out of my comfort zone. I was able to see every talk, because the conference was single track. Over the course of the two days, I was struck by two major themes: respect for lived experience and being the change.

I typically participate in technology conferences. These are analytical environments where speakers are encouraged to present facts and figures. Spark the Change Toronto was completely different. Speakers presented their unique experiences as stories instead of facts. Many talks included questions from the speakers encouraging the attendees to consider the speaker’s points in the context of their own lives, both professional and personal. During and after each talk, attendees generously showed their gratitude for the speaker’s story. Because each talk was centered on stories and lived experience, the Q&A was never a debate. How could I seek to refute the lived experience of another?I may have a different story, a contradictory set of experience, but in now way does that invalidate the lived experience of another. This mutual respect made the environment feel very open and generative. When I first submitted to speak at the conference, I paid a lot of attention to the second phrase of the theme, “Building Resilient Organization through Networking,” but by the end of the event, I realized the importance of “Constructive Connection,” the far greater benefit we receive from sharing and respecting stories rather than asserting individual experience as universally applicable fact.

The second theme I observed was around building resilient organizations through creating space for individual change, i.e. being the change rather than seeking to change others. There was little to no talk of “scaling.” But there was much talk of understanding your own motivation for change, and helping others find their own personal motivations for change. The references to transformation were scant, but there was much talk about finding your place in a change much bigger than any individual and respecting the unique roles of individuals in the change of large organizations, groups, or even societies. While you can model change for others, you cannot actually change anyone but yourself. Maybe that’s enough…

As I reflect on my experience at Spark the Change, I am struck by the value of cross pollination between communities, especially communities with similar or complementary goals. I look forward to bringing a respect for lived experience and a focus on individual change to the technology focused events I attend in the future.