Running an unconference – case study

Messy collection of words describing the EYC unconference

Running an unconference for people using the web for their good cause brought together other 70 people to learn from each other. Common Knowledge organised and faciliated the one-day event.

Setting the scene

Volunteers who look after websites for clubs and community groups don’t usually pay to attend training. Nor do they take a day off work. Yet the work they do is vital. Keeping schedules up to date, engaging volunteers and supporters and recording history are valuable roles.

Providing a training opportunity to boost the skills of people and makes connections between others so they can keep learning was something that Wellington ICT wanted to support. As part of its capacity building programme a range of regular talks and a regular conference weren’t seen as being enough to meet needs.

In early 2010 it was agreed that an unconference modeled on barcamps and similar events being run in the tech community would be hosted. Key considerations included pricing (which was set at $0) and hosting the event on a Saturday to make it easier for volunteers to attend.

As we wrote at the time “Wellington ICT believes this style of event is a good match for community group webmasters. The Trust wants people to get to know and learn from each other.”

How Common Knowledge helped

Stephen Blyth, of Common Knowledge, was engaged to organize and facilitate the EYC unconference, held on Satureday 21 August 2010.

The main responsibilities included

  • Design of programme, preparation of a project plan and full control of the project
  • Execution of a marketing plan, including production of marketing materials
  • Participant liaison, including coaxing people to suggest topics they wanted to cover
  • Recruitment of a team of volunteers
  • Event production, including organising facilities, catering and materials
  • Unconference facilitator, including detailed programme design and MC role on the day
  • Prepare post-event report and evaluation.

Ultimately, Common Knowledge was responsible for producing a highly interactive event with a satisfactory turnout.

What was achieved?

Agenda board for the EYC unconference

The idea of taking a peer approach to learning appealed: 93 people signed up to come along. Many people suggested topics that’d like to learn about on the day (20 suggestions in all).

On 21 August it was a the first fine day after a bleak winter, so not everyone came who registered. Over 70 people turned up and co-created a rich learning experience. Participants came along from a wide range of community organisations, businesses and academia as well interested individuals.

There was a real buzz as people left the main gathering space to confront a blank agenda. Once the first person was brave enough to write up a topic, we were away. Sessions ranged from having handful of people to over 20.

Writing on the Common Knowledge blog, the conclusion was:

The recipe worked: throw people together, with some priming, then turn it over to the participants. During the day I picked up on several comments about how people were effectively self-moderating the sessions. People were genuinely able to raise questions, queries and concerns.

Feedback about the event was very positive, and Wellington ICT was encouraged to organise a follow-up unconference (something that it hasn’t managed to do at the time of writing).

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