An Unconference is a participant-driven meeting. This methodology is suitable for any subject but is particularly important for subjects that require creativity and innovation. The sincere sharing of knowledge requires that participants feel comfortable and at ease. This is why, in terms of logistics, it is very important to have an adequate, comfortable and hospitable space for the sessions and the interaction. An ideal space contributes to a better flow of the sessions, the discussions and connections that are created. Within this ideal space, other conditions play an important role, such as readily available snacks and refreshments.
While all kinds of conferences usually aim to share ideas and knowledge, not all give room for substantive interaction between participants to allow the creation of new knowledge and the unleashing of ideas.
From the very beginnings of what we now call UnConference, one of its traits and a central element to the concept remains the same and fairly simple: the participants are not mere listeners; they can also actively engage in the discussions, bring in their own input and most importantly interact with each other in a peer-to-peer dynamic. This methodology reflects the emerging modes of governance that embrace diversity and interdependence of interests through authentic dialogue, particularly useful in approaching the more complex issues that arise in the Information Age. Authentic dialogue can encourage reciprocity, new relationships and creativity, in turn creating shared identities, new heuristics, and innovation.
The theory and practice of UnConference aims to create room for this interaction, based on the premise that great ideas emerge when people are given the room to interact and meaningfully engage. Admittedly, important decisions, partnerships and innovative ideas are often born not during a conference keynote speech but during breaks and corridor talks. The UnConference framework maximises the potential of “corridor chat” and allows for the creation of connections and interactions that unleash ideas and actions.
While in conventional conferences the agenda is decided in advance and cannot be modified, for the UnConference, the agenda is decided just before the start of the event and can be altered along the way; it is developed by the participants themselves, who are invited to suggest sessions and fit them into the schedule. Topics can be suggested some days before the conference through different online platforms such as Wiki.
During the event, different sessions take place simultaneously: smaller discussions, workshops, mini-presentations etc. The person who suggests a topic will introduce it and then explain why they are interested in talking about it. The participants decide themselves which sessions they will attend and if they feel that their session is no longer interesting, they can move at any moment to a different session, or take a break, all resumed in the “two feet rule” that suggests that everyone at any point can take their two feet and move to a different setting.
Crucial for the success of an UnConference is the presence of a strong facilitator: the facilitator takes responsibility of welcoming the participants, explaining the methodology, and smoothly coordinating the day’s activities.