I attended my first Knowledge Café tonight, hosted by the Knowledge Center for Sports Netherlands. It. Was. Amazing. I will, without a doubt, be trying to replicate this back home.
The night began with four innovators each making a 1-minute pitch about a sports-related product or program to us, the audience sitting in chairs around them in a half circle. We had to choose the pitch we thought would be most likely to take off. After we made our choice, each of the four innovators took turns speaking more in-depth about the product or program. They still had a time limit, and as they approached it, a jazz band began playing, kind of like “cutting us to commercial.” During these “commercial breaks,” other speakers took to the stage, briefly speaking about sports-related statistics and trends taking place in the Netherlands, like recent drops in youth participation, increased technological interests, increased economic and racial segregation in sports club membership and governance, and a lack of women and girls’ participation in sport. There were also actors who would “interrupt” the innovators’ presentations by making absurd recommendations and generally just making us laugh. We eventually talked about what we liked about all four products/programs, though instead of passing a microphone around the room, we spoke into a “chatterbox” – an orange cube that had a microphone inside it. (See picture.) When we were done sharing our thoughts, we threw the cube to the next person who wanted to speak. After a wine and cheese break, we once again chose which product or program we’d support. Some people stayed with their original choice, others changed their mind based on the information they received. At the end, we found out that the products or programs were real – some of them just getting into production, and others just about ready to be implemented. The innovators pitching them were from the actual companies making the product or designing the program. We were essentially a wine-sipping focus group, thinking critically about specific sports-related challenges in Dutch society and discussing the proposed innovative products or programs with these issues as our backdrop. It may sound nerdy, but it was more fun than I ever could have imagined. I came away feeling like I was ready to invent something big – and that the steps I’d just taken at the Knowledge Café were the same steps I would use to develop and to assess that big idea and to turn it into a reality. What a spectacular, innovative experience.