How do you structure an unconference? That’s a self-organised conference – one where the participants take responsibility for making what they want to happen, happen.
As I’ve been organising my first online unconference, I’ve been realising and re-realising that this question isn’t trivial. People may say they want freedom, but in fact nobody (or perhaps, just hardly anybody) will turn up for a blank piece of paper.
Certain things need to be in place for people to feel comfortable. And when it comes to the online world, perhaps even more than the face-to-face world, different people need different things.
When travelling for face-to-face events, as a global culture we’ve settled on the “international hotel” format as something that will make most travellers happy, most of the time – private rooms, clean white cotton-rich sheets, controllable heating, not too much noise, flush toilet, warm shower, decent wifi etc. We don’t always get that, of course, but there’s a standard expectation out there.
Online, we’re still sorting that out. It’s like hotels were in the Seventies – every hotelier had a different idea of where the focus should be. Hence, purple polyester sheets.
It’s been particularly interesting to be the initiator and host of Metaphorum 2016. I’ve been acutely aware that every structural choice I make will be loved by some people, loathed by others. If I choose Facebook as the gathering place, I’ll encourage one group – but if I use Slack, I’ll encourage another.
And, not-choosing isn’t an option. As the host, I need to make some choices and tell people what choices I’ve made. I need to introduce the technologies to anyone who hasn’t met them before, as well as introducing people-based processes such as Open Space Technology.
And that means that a low profile isn’t an option, either. I’m front and centre of this project, whether I like it or not. I may as well start to enjoy it.
- Many thanks to Deborah Hartmann Preuss for hosting the Mastermind group that helped me to tease out this insight. Much appreciated!