Technique of the Week #002 Unconference

This week’s technique is the unconference.

What’s it all about? 

An unconference is a collaborative affair where people come together to discuss a common issue.  It stands out from traditional conferences because the participants set the agenda and lead the discussions.  It is similar to Open Space events.

How does it work?

A day or half a day is selected to gather people together to discuss a topic of interest.  For example, how do we improve children’s services in Careville (made up name)?

An introductory presentation starts the session, opening up the discussion and setting up the ground rules.  This could be followed by a few, short, inspiring presentations or stories from people to set the scene and fire participants’ imaginations.

The event is broken up into time slots and break out areas.  This is then presented to participants as a grid of opportunities for dialogue.  People from the audience are then invited to suggest topics for discussion in each of the time slots.  Normally they would also be willing to facilitate the discussion too.  Eventually (and this does happen) all the time slots are filled, some sessions happen more than once and this is fine.

People vote with their feet and attend the sessions they choose to.  The sessions themselves are semi-structured and facilitated by the person(s) who proposed the topic for discussion.  Participants are free to move between sessions, once they have contributed or heard enough, there is no obligation to stay.

How to prepare?

Be prepared to be flexible.  Ideas and topics for discussion will emerge on the day.  It is helpful to have prepared people in advance so that they may come with some ideas or at least a willingness to go with the flow.

When to use?

“The unconference* format creates space for peer-to-peer learning, collaboration and creativity.” So you need to do it when you are prepared to learn and collaborate with your stakeholders.

This technique is also very transparent.  It opens up the agenda to the people present and demonstrates that as a decision making body, like a CCG, you are prepared to learn new things and be influenced by people’s opinions.

When not to use?

If the scope for influence and creativity is very narrow.  Holding an unconference in these circumstances would be very frustrating.

Find out more

Here’s some more from our friends at So-Mo

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