An unconference, also an Open Space conference, is a participant-driven meeting.
The agenda is created by the attendees at the beginning of the meeting. Anyone who wants to initiate a discussion on a substantive topic can ask for time and space. Unconferences typically feature open discussions rather than having a single speaker at the front of the room giving a talk, although any format is permitted. This form of conference is particularly useful when the attendees generally have a high level of expertise or knowledge in the field the conference convenes to discuss. The aim of an Open Space meeting is for every issue of any importance, with someone willing to take some ownership for it, gets announced to the community and those interested can support and collaborate to bring the issue to a conclusion. As work progresses, notes and pictures are posted so the wider community is also kept abreast of developments so they can comment or join in as appropriate.
I recently facilitated a conference on the Nike campus for WE and crec; communiteis that are part of IFMA who had come together under the banner of Designing for the Experience. They were very nervous at not having an agenda for the second day of the conference but I knew OpenSpace would work well with this great crowd of seventy designers, architects and workplace strategists and consultants.
Not only did we create a dynamic agenda but the levels of contribution and passion exceeded everyone's expectations. Comments from participants during the closing session included: OpenSpace exercise is really engaging, eye opening, best conference I have been to in a long time, learned more at this conference in one day than a whole year of ..., like the un-conference approach.
So if you are thinking of using OpenSpace, here are some tips for the moderator. More on the OpenSpaceWorld.org website. Key elements include:
At the conference, I also explored the concept of GO DIGITAL; using apps and tools to keep everyone at the conference up to date on what was happening in the other rooms. At past conferences, I had used OneNote (a shared note taking environment) but I wanted to go further than just note taking. We chose #slack and spent time during the first day making sure people were familiar and pictures and comments were being shared. Each workshop had several attendees with an assigned role to ensure an outcome was reached. These included:
That left everyone else able to contribute to the discussion and collaborate on the outcome, remembering to be in the moment and respect the discussion. Or leave according to the law of two feet above. If you want to see how it went, take a look at this short video from the event:
Many, many thanks to all the conference attendees.
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