The Digital Agency for International Development

Jazz Talking: The Agile & Participation Event

By Alan Jackson on 28 September 2011

For a while I've felt that the Agile methodologies from the software development world share a similar outlook to the Participatory methodologies from the international development world.

So we came up with an idea for an event. Wouldn't it be great to get an expert from each discipline and have them talk to each other, in front of an audience?

Last night, thanks to support from the Humanitarian Centre, and our two esteemed guests, our idea became reality.

Alistair Cockburn, Agile guru, sat on a sofa next to Robert Chambers, expert on Participatory approaches, in front of an audience.

I thought it was fantastic and we've had a lot of positive feedback about the event. It was so good, I found myself afterwards wondering if this is in general a good format for an event.

So I wanted to write a post about the form of the event, rather than the content.

After the event I was chatting with Alistair and he'd already been thinking along similar lines. We called it a "Jazz Talk". We were drawing an analogy with two jazz musicians improvising.

Jazz Talks

Here's the format -

1) Get two affable speakers from different disciplines 2) Sit them on a sofa in front of an audience 3) Let them talk about the relationship between their disciplines 4) Periodically interrupt them with "Kibitzers"


A "kibitzer" is a person who comments on the conversation.

"Kibitzer" was a term Alistair came up with. I had to look it up, literally it means an observer of a card game who gives (unwanted) commentary.

There's two types of Kibitzer. A "content kibitzer" gives comment on the content of the conversation. In the event last night I played the role of one of the kibitzers and asked the question "How do we get funders to engage with agile / participatory proposals?".  All of our kibitzers last night were content kibitzers.

Talking to Alistair afterwards, he was keen to push the idea of a "form kibitzer". This is someone who gives a commentary on the form of the conversation, not the subject matter. For instance, "I liked how speaker-A extended speaker-B's questions to the audience", or "Can we hear more from speaker-A?". I think form kibitzing is less natural but likely to be shorter. It also potentially plays a facilitatory role in guiding the conversation and could help address issues like one speaker dominating the conversation.

Perhaps a mix of both types could work. Each commentary would start with a short form kibitz followed by a content kibitz.


Here's a suggested recipe:
  • a 90 minute conversation
  • kibitzing every 15 minutes (eg 5 interruptions)