Trust in the community – a brief history of unconference.
4 Key Takeaways:
About Mag Amond:
Mags is still retired and still pursuing a PhD (part-time) at Trinity College Dublin. Chairing conversations in Cong each November has become a favourite pursuit.
Contacting Mags Amond:
You can contact Mags by email.
By Mags Amond
CongRegation is described as an unconference.
What does this mean in terms of the growing community of Cong participants? At the simplest level, we don’t know the agenda ‘til we arrive. We begin the day with an outline of what may happen – each person has submitted a blog entry on the theme (this year it is Community), is allocated a number on arrival, and is handed a ‘dance card’ with their name one one side and a schedule printed on one side. All each one knows is that they will be offered a chance to speak their thoughts during one of four ‘huddles’ to which they are assigned over the day. The only micromanagement in this unconference is the allocation of participants to their venues throughout the day – a logistical necessity, as the spaces (of varying sizes from small to smaller!) are located across a small village. Each huddle has a chair (who has no idea what will unfold apart from sharing of a speaker’s thoughts, listening, and responding) to maintain a chaordic momentum and manage the time.
ConGregation is a situated example of the glocalisation of a global phnemomenon. Looking across and down the history of modern unconference formats ((oh yes, I have a spreadsheet!)), they fall into three structural bands
(i) broad discursive unconferences with long time slots devoted to community conversations in an agenda agreed at the start of the day (Open Space, World Café, BarCamp, EdCamp, CampEd);
(ii) narrower sessions with very short time frames and strict rules for each speaker (Pecha Kucha, Ignite, Gasta); and
(iii) hybrids with elements of both (TeachMeet, Pedagoo, BrewEd, MeetUp, ConGregation, Vconnect).
In terms of deploying the unconference format, at least five methods have crossed my horizon since I began to observe, each with varying degrees of openness and inclusion.
1 – Independent unconference events:
As in this annual event in Cong, most MeetUp, BarCamp, EdCamp, Pedagoo, BrewEd, World Café, and Open Space Technology gatherings are organised as stand-alone events, independent entities with open access for all interested parties to attend
2, 3,& 4 – Unconference events attached to conferences:
(i) many unconferences are doing what their names suggests and getting attached to an established conference as a fringe event outside the published timetable – some TeachMeets and MeetUp are organised this way; these may or may not be restricted to those attending the parent conference.
(ii) other formats have evolved within the conference setting: using an unconference format for some activities during the conference schedule – one way is to include a TeachMeet, Gasta, Pecha Kucha, or Ignite session to vary the pace, inject energy, and open the floor to voices and ideas that might not other be included.
(iii) another emerging idea is to offer a Vconnect session so that those not at a conference in person can digitally connect and join a conversation with those at the conference.
5 – In-house unconference events:
Many educational, community, business or special interest groups are adopting the unconference ‘caucus’ approach for team meetings and professional learning events. Access is limited to the relevant community, but speakers and presentation come from within the working group.
Switching the brain to unconference mode can take a while – timetables and agendas are built by assent and participant choice – some patience is needed, and confidence, and there may be bite marks on the teeth of a control freak for the first while. It can demand a leap of faith, and provide a giddy sense of freedom. Trust is the key – trust the community, let the community trust you, and trust yourself. Trust the CongRegation.