Last week, I attended the Forum One Online Community Unconference in Mountain View, California, a gathering of online community practitioners - managers, developers, business people, and tool providers, - to discuss experiences and strategies in the development and growth of online communities.
There were about 150 people in 60 sessions, and the format was unconference, a conference where the content of the sessions is driven and created by the participants themselves on the day, rather than by the organizers in advance. For those who don’t know what an unconference is, the process worked like this:
1. At the beginning, we all sat in concentric circles.
2. The facilitator briefly re-stated the theme of the gathering and the process we would follow.
3. Participants briefly introduced themselves – name, location, company and a “tag line” (a few words or a phrase that describing themselves – some were very humorous)
4. The facilitator invited attendees to identify any issue or opportunity related to the theme and reminded those that wanted to raise a topic of their responsibilities:
• The person who posts the session, was expected to have a passion for the topic
• They must show up and start the session.
• They must also make sure that a writer is appointed and a report of the discussion is done.
5. Then, those attendees willing to raise a topic
a. Stood up and announced their topic to the group
b. Came to the center of the circle
c. Wrote the topic on a sheet of paper (there was a whole bunch of paper and pens in the middle of the circle)
d. Posted the topic on the wall, choosing a time and a place for discussion.
The wall became the agenda for the meeting. Some duplicate or very similar topics were combined by the participants. Time slots and rooms were negotiated.
When all the topics had been posted, the sessions started and everyone went off to attend those individual sessions in the allotted rooms and times.
The sessions lasted about 45 minutes to an hour. If you were not getting anything out of a session, you could (and several people did) switch to another one. All discussion reports are to be compiled in one report and sent to participants sometime after the event.
The whole process worked very well and I think that it’s an ideal vehicle for user group and community discussion. Rather than the organizers decide on the agenda, the membership decides. It’s you who gets to set the agenda, take the session or meeting in the direction you want, and move on if you’re not getting your needs met. Have others had success with unconferences or have you run into problems? I love them but have they in fact, NOT met your needs?