Beyond unconferences

Alastair Somerville is doing some interesting thinking about the assumptions we easily make when organising conferences. He’s pushing at the limits both of more conventional events and of unconferences.

It’s an oddity that even though both types of event reject established ways of doing things, they remain wedded to fairly standard corporate concepts of event organization…. Even in unconferences, the ghosts of timetables and event organisation show through.

I love that use of the word ghosts. Ghosts are spectral, they’re almost not there… but they have a lot of impact. I know when I use Open Space, I try to suggest the timetable is just a guide, that conversations don’t have to stick to it. But just having it there has an impact; it’s funny how people do seem to keep to it. It’s one of the reasons I disagree with those who think Open Space lacks structure; I think it has more than we realise and perhaps – as Alastair is suggesting – more than (or at least different from) what we really want or need.

At some level, you can’t not have structure, there will always emergent structure but I really like the discipline of attending to what there is. Alastair goes on to imagine some other ways we could organise events, challenging the conventions of time and place.

What I’m interested in is discovering what would happen if instead of using conferences as our template we used drama or performance art?… If we created an event not of timetables but of narrative and place?

I’m excited by Alastair’s experiments and looking forward to an event he’s organising in the spring. I’m hoping to organise one or two events later this year which really play with conventions about how we meet, with more exploration of ways to connect beyond our clever thinking and ideas.

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