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I posed a question in several forums on July 1, 2009 requesting ideas about how to run an unconference. As I receive permission I will repost the best responses.

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R. Mark Moore
Learning Strategy Consultant, Foodie, Traveler, and Aqua-Adventurer


First and foremost, set expectations on what an "unconference" is. There are too many people who use the term and have no clue. At least by setting expectations, you can have uniformity.

Second, make sure you have strong facilitators. I don't mean strong as in overbearing control freaks. I mean strong in skill set so they can bring a topic back into the fold when needed. Just because it's an unconference does not mean there isn't structure. Some facilitation is needed to ensure everyone has some involvement (even if they are observers) and to insure that the few do not ruin the experience for all involved.

Finally, if you haven't read the book "The World Cafe" by Juanita Brown - I wholeheartedly recommend it. It's an easy read and outlines the principles for an unconference very well. Tailor the principles as required for your size, venue and scope.

Cathy Baber
Experienced Curriculum Designer, Trainer/ Facilitator


I have never run (or attended) an unconference. . however, I ran across an article you might find helpful:
http://www.scottberkun.com/blog/2006/how-to-run-a-great-unconferenc...


Mike Venn
I help businesses achieve improvements in leadership, strategy, and change.


One possible technique to explore is that of Open Space Technology. A useful source I have found in facilitating these is "Open Space Technology: A User's Guide" by Harrison Owen. In brief, you convene a number of people around a specific issue. Then the participants determine who has something to say/discuss around that issue and the "convener" posts a time/location for his or her discussion. Everyone "votes with their feet" showing up to the topics that interest them. The convener is then responsible for capturing and summarizing the discussion.


Gail Lesnieski
Sr. Analyst, Organizational Development


Exactly, a facilitated approach to convening on a broad topic with shared interests (not predetermined before the event) then gathered together by choice to create actions and desired outcomes of those who want to participate.

David Rosenberg
Principal at Kokua Associates


Paul, knowing little about unconferences myself, I went to Wikipedia and got some good info. Among other things they provide a nice linked list of facilitation techniques which may help to answer your questions about tools, support and measurement. Check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconference .

One more thing about measuring results. What do you want out of it? Numbers of attendees? Leads? Answers to or suggestions regarding specific issues? Fun? What you want helps determine what and how you measure.

Mike Venn
I help businesses achieve improvements in leadership, strategy, and change.


I have facilitated a session in the past using Open Space Technology and found it to be a very powerful technique. It was done with folks physically present and using nothing more sophisticated than flip chart paper and markers. People were really energized with the results.

I looked up uservoice on the web and the techniques of Open Space Technology might have application with it. I think the technology equivalent of the Open Space Technology technique might be having a variety of webinars posted and hosted, but an asynchronous approach like using uservoice certainly holds potential.

Sonia ● Di Maulo
Feedback Enthusiast & Performance Improvement Professional

Thanks for your note. In searching for inspiration on the unconference, I found the following article which includes some good successes and leasons learned.

http://www.digital-web.com/articles/understanding_the_unconference/
From Sherry Heyl

To Mark's point about setting expectation, you REALLY have to know who your audience will be and if they are ready for an unconference. I have often referred to SoCon as a hybrid. In Feb 2007 the audience we were wanting to attract had never experienced an unconference. Even when we were planning the 2009 unconference most people wanted some sort of structure before committing to coming to the event. So - know what your audience will want and what they will be comfortable responding to.
Charlotte Grinsztein
Corporate Solutions at the Corporate Education Group


I too was wondering what an "unconference" is so here is the Wikipedia definition "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. For example, in 2006, CNNMoney applied the term to diverse events including BarCamp, Bloggercon, and Mashup Camp.[1] The term is primarily used in the geek community. There are parallels with science-fiction fandom, in which a low-key convention with less structure is called a Relaxacon."


Karen Minor
Senior Manager, HR, Learning and Career Development at Chrysler Financial

I have done events where topics are posted around the room with a facilitator or leader at each area. People move to the area of interest. Another method is to have tabletop discussions, with the topic posted in the center of the table. Sometimes I find it useful to put time limits on conversation, encouraging people to move on as opposed to just allowing the groups to flow where they want. Both approaches have merit.

Energy and noise tend to be high with this format. I do not recomend a hole day with the open format unless there is plenty of space. I also recomend a flex area, for introspection or pick up groups with no designated topic.

Some people prefer the time for a more thoughtful discussion, and a private room may seem like the way to go. Still, the energy of the noise, the movement of people voting with their feet and the "discomfort" can lead to some interesting results.
Paul, the folks over at Learn Trends have run several "unconferences." http://learntrends.ning.com/ One session was on (or is that on) for 24 hours.
Thanks, Don. Tony Karrer and I have been talking for a few weeks. I am looking forward to his event on the 23rd. The TAG WLS will be doing an unconference on 8/22. I look forward to some kind of relatiionship between TAG and ASTD when the time is right for both.
Tony knows his stuff.

Paul Terlemezian said:
Thanks, Don. Tony Karrer and I have been talking for a few weeks. I am looking forward to his event on the 23rd. The TAG WLS will be doing an unconference on 8/22. I look forward to some kind of relatiionship between TAG and ASTD when the time is right for both.

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