Experiences with unconferences

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This topic contains 6 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Sterling Whitehead 8 years, 10 months ago.

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  • #98106

    Gary Berg-Cross

    Increasingly I find myself attending unconferences and I wonder how we can make them better.

    Most of us start off with this Wikipedia level defiinition:

    An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered around a theme or purpose. The term “unconference” has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as high fees and sponsored presentations” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconference

    At at the end of a recent one those of us who were left were discussing the experince and how to make the next one better. The GovLoop community probably has a good deal of experience here and ideas to offer. To get the ball rolling I’ll offer up a few of the tips that I had seen before I attended my first one. People may elaborate or improve on these. (See also http://www.unconference.net/unconferencing-how-to-prepare-to-attend-an-unconference/)

    1. Get a team of kindred, motivated people together

    2. Get “nice” sponsors who can “help”

    3. Structure the venue for comfort that favors socialization and participation

    4. Set what ground rules (e.g. creating sessions, schedules etc.) you need upfront (see http://www.scottberkun.com/blog/2006/unconferences-and-limits-of-participation/ for some guidance)

    5. Trust the attendees-group

    6. Get the word out

    7. Frame the event so as to set a pleasurable expectation

    8. Don’t attempt one unless you have first attended one

    Gary Berg-Cross

  • #98118

    Sterling Whitehead

    Great stuff Gary. I’m actually planning an acquisition unconference right now called BuyCamp. I’d love your input.

  • #98116

    Gary Berg-Cross

    Thanks for the response. I see that you had on your BuyCamp site 6 useful rules to guide things:

    1.No ties or suits. This is Informal City. Enjoy it.
    2.Any participant can give a speech. Just show up early with good ideas and post them on the speech board before others do.
    3.Interrupt speakers at any time. No hand raising.
    4.If you don’t think you’re getting anything out of a session, just walk out and go to another one. It’s not a big deal. It’s not rude. It’s just how these things work.
    5.Show up to learn, not to promote yourself.
    6.Follow-up action and results are stressed. This isn’t for talking heads; it’s for do-ers.

    I guess one of my own experiences concerns # 5 (Show up to learn, not to promote yourself) which is a good generaly guidance, but I often see something in between these contrasts emerging as people offer their own experience and learning to others when it is situationally appropriate and hopefully invited. The fact that we use various tools such as “pads” to capture notes often useful here as a person who has something to “say” can get it down in the notes.

    Sometimes it is a bit akward when rule 3 is involved (Interrupt speakers at any time)…One has to be mature to know when an interruption may cut off a chain of reasoning that is important to the speaker. If sessions where people respect one another this happens less. Still I worry that as unconferences become more of a norm and widely used we will have issues with people who are quite full of themselves.

  • #98114

    Sterling Whitehead

    You have a very good point in the last sentence of your last paragraph, (“Still I worry that as unconferences become more of a norm and widely used we will have issues with people who are quite full of themselves.”).

    Perhaps we can solve that problem with an Ego Gallery, where people post complaints of people that promote themselves one too many times. (Maybe the Ego Gallery can be tripped by a specified number of different people voting on a someone, like votes from 10 different people).

    Also, maybe the Twitter back channel can help alleviate this problem. The channel just needs to be prominently displayed.

  • #98112

    Gary Berg-Cross


    Two creative ideas. Perhaps an Ego Gallery will seem too strong a method to some. I wonder if anyone has tried importing something like this rating idea from posting sites.

    BTW, it is not always a seemingly negative quality like Ego that can frustrate discussion. I was at one session where the person “sponsoring” the topic (if that is the name for the role of creating the topic, starting the session and remaining a the front of the room with a mic) niceky made the point that people were coming up with many diverse ideas and not deeping the existing ones. That’s not always bad, but it can frustate some that want to come out a session with some fixed product, agreement or position.

  • #98110

    Christoph Berendes

    Gary – Good points. Which of the unconferences you’ve attended did one or more of these well? How?

    How you rate http://participationcamp.org, just concluded, on your points?

    Glad to see you mentioned Kaliya aka @IdentityWoman. She’s done some impressive work in this area.

  • #98108

    Gary Berg-Cross


    I’ve attended both transparency canp and participation camp recently and thought well of them both as being low barrier and cost effective ways of kindred spirits getting together to discuss things and network.
    I believe that the unconference form is evolving and there may be a family of types in the future. I’d like to help that evolution without damaging the good aspects. One thing to improve is the productivity of the last half of such meetings where people ar fired up and may be heading in several directions and one wants to harness this before the meeting ends. One thing I’ve seen is session reports that presented early enough to not only be discussed but to see the relationship between different sessions, some of which one may not have attended since there are simultaneous sessions.

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