There is a great post up by YABOU that summarizes my survey of unconference methods.
At BayCHI last night Kaliya Hamlin, Identity Woman, gave an insight into the running of unconferences. This was great timing for the DCamp to be help in Palo Alto this coming weekend.
Kaliya defined unconferences as lying between a conference with a structured agenda and a cocktail party – this is where unconferences live. She outlined the important elements of a successful unconference:
The invitation and how it is framed, the wiki where ideas and tentative plans can be posted, as well as a list of who will be there (it has been amazing to see the list grow for DCamp), and the welcoming on the actual day. Kaliya gave examples of having public sign-in lists, big, sometimes illustrated. Name-tags are essential because identity is essential. Activities that have worked in the past have included having attendees represented by their caricature, and having people bring or develop logo’s related to their work.
The opening session is an important element too, and have in the past included rapid-fire intros, gathering together in a circle (no matter how many people), and using introductory games.
For agenda creation, Kaliya described how BarCamp, Brain Jams, and Mind Camp have all had folks stick their ideas up on white paper walls. Postit notes have been used at Open Space Technology, Internet Identity Workshop, Recent Changes Camp, and Mashup Camp. Agenda development is often done through public discussion – descriptions of what the agenda topic is and questions and answers around that. At this point topics get added to the agenda, and topics merge, and split etc. Wiki’s are used for archiving the schedule and subsequently the content that is generated during the event.
Sessions tend to involve activity, team work, and discussion. People need to be participating and learning, and like being a successful mentee – participants must drive the learning and make sure that they are in the right space to learn. To fuel all this, plenty of food (geek and otherwise) is an essential part of any unconference.
Unconferences do not have traditionally keynotes typically, or typical plenary sessions, though there is usually a closing circle where the highlights are shared etc.
Kaliya talked through lots of other interesting techniques and activities that have been used at these sort of gatherings:
o Interview and Sculpt – for creating an agenda for an unconference of 40 people or less. This is a time-consuming technique that works through the participants being interviewed prior to the event, and then an agenda being developed using the gathered data.
o Speed Geeking – like speed dating; but speed geeking! Essentially moving from project to project.
o Podcasting – to take the conversation outside of the event.
o World Cafe – lots of cafe tables, each table of people has the same question and they work on it with discussions and sketches etc. then after about 20 minutes one person from that table moves to the next. Interesting way that ideas and conversations develop.
o Dynamic Facilitation – where the facilitator supports the flow of conversations and charts concerns, data, problem-solving, and solutions.
o Spectrogram – where a semi-controversial question is asked and participants are instructed to spread (physically / spatially) depending upon their views. Then people are interviewed publicly about their perspective.
(Other techniques include Appreciative Inquiry, Collective Maps….)
During the evening we got a great taster of one of the kinds of activities that can take place at an unconference. Kaliya facilitated an activity where we got together in pairs to interview each other for 5 minutes each about our conference going experience, and when we had felt most alive, inspired, and proud. Subsequently we joined into groups of 6 and retold the stories of our partners to the larger group, pulling out the shared elements of what makes us feel alive, inspired, and proud at conferences. The results of this exercises can be seen on the Dialogue Map that was made using Compendium software.
Now I’m feeling more prepared for DCamp – see you there!
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