Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Introducing Unconferences

Through Connie Crosby's blog, I stumbled on a relatively new phenomenon, the Unconference (it maybe started in 2005 o4 2006). Connie links to a book here about them being written by wiki, which is so like an Unconference. The link in the title to this post takes you to posting explaining the ingredients for a good Unconference (hereafter UC).

UCs are put together on short planning schedules, through brainstorming with a group of "influencers and innovators" in the field.

UCs seem to be held in borrowed venues, with much less expensive food sources (because they are in company HQs on the weekend, for instance, they don't have to pay hotel food rates).

The meals are either dealt with by the organizer or catered cheaply, either in the venue or with a prix fixe menu at a nearby restaurant.

You can see from this last that we are talking groups of 100 or so, not thousands!

You'll have to read the post at Kaliyasblogs to get the full detail. But it appears to answer a lot of the dissatisfaction I sometimes hear at the big annual meetings -- I have griped with colleagues about:

1) Why do we have to select programs a whole year in advance? New issues are addressed somewhat with the "hot topics" selection, but our field moves so quickly these days, this sometimes seems totally inadequate.

2) The program gets so unwieldy; lots of stuff I am not interested in, and then everything I want to attend is scheduled at the same time;

3) The meeting is so big!

4) It's nearly impossible to schedule an unofficial break-out group, and if you have an "official" meeting, food is horribly expensive.

5) I'm so tired of panels and talking heads!

Well, regional meetings improve on most of those issues. They are smaller and can be more nimble than the big annual meetings of national organizations. But an unconference is more informal, nimble and cheap than any conference I've been to. The mantra that drives them is the Rule of Two Feet: Any person not either learning from or contributing to a discussion, should use their two feet to move to another group discussion. The other, huge difference, is that the discussions are much more inclusive -- the audience is part of the presentation. They also help shape the agenda and sign up the day of the conference in a discussion session. Wiki, podcasting, blog posts with lots of viewer tagging, and a technology to set the agenda, called Open Space Technology. It all follows the participatory, self-organizing ethos librarians associate with Web 2.0.

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