Photo: Ron Mader, Open Space Technology in Estonia
Unconference = A facilitated, participant-driven event centered on a specific topic. This can be conducted face-to-face, online or better yet, both!
An unconference engages participants without a formal agenda. Instead an unconference encourages attendees to organize their own agenda and action plans.
We use the unconference approach for Planeta.com’s tentpole events, Responsible Travel Week and Indigenous Peoples Week. There’s some structure, but the content, the substance of the dialogue is generated by the participants themselves.
We purposefully use the ‘unconference’ approach to open the dialogue with the public rather than selecting a few experts beforehand and have the crowd listen. Locals and visitors want to be more engaged, and this style of information sharing helps us all become future fit.
While some people would prefer more structure one of the advantages of giving up control is demonstrating the power people have in terms of articulating questions, creating their own presentations and videos, learning from others and being generous enough to share, like and praise the work of others.
Conferences and Unconferences
Too often traditional conferences are overly scripted without opportunities to engage one another. Participants tend to read at one another. Meetings are held behind closed doors without access for anyone but those invited. Time – and particularly face time – is too valuable to waste in such a manner.
Successful unconferences have facilitators who make everything look easy. It’s not as easy as it looks. Such events can get hijacked by people who just want to complicate matters. This is not a free-for-all. Think Open Space Technology, the pioneering methodology for getting people together over a series of questions to develop their own agenda for discussion and action.
Lessons learned: the unconference approach works best where there is face-to-face interaction. Online conferencing has many merits but the lack of physical interaction hampers engagement. It’s easy to like or share information, but collaborative efforts are tricky to develop.