Herding cats….. the definition of an unconference?

This was going to be a post wondering if I’ve been attending unconferences for many years, and they have just been called ‘meetings’….organisation ‘free’ meetings.

Wikipedia on Herding Cats
Wikipedia on Herding Cats

However the word unconference caused such confusion amongst some of my associates that I’ve focused on herding cats. They got the idea of unconference versus herding cats instantly, and it’s also an opportunity to link to the best ever internet cat video.

Is an Unconference just an Organisation ‘Free’ Meeting? I mentioned these observations to one of my more unreconstructed associates. They found the notion of an unconference extremely perplexing, if not disturbing, and demanded a detailed explanation.

To give my explanation a bit more credibility I quoted directly from a relevant website, one that lists the following unconference rules.  Probably a bit of a contradiction I know, (like an anarchists rule book?) but here goes:

  1. Whoever comes are the right people,
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have,
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time,
  4. When it’s over, it’s over
  5. The Law of Two Feet (“If you are not learning or contributing to a talk or presentation or discussion it is your responsibility to find somewhere where you can contribute or learn”).
  6. Like all ‘laws’ or ‘principles’ at an Unconference, participants should feel free to break any or all of these rules  if they feel that they are not contributing to the intellectual rigour or content of the event (a direct quote, honest).
Unconferences Lovely Boy?
Unconferences Lovely Boy?

As I finished the last sentence I knew I was in trouble (the look in his eyes and flared nostrils gave it away). So, very rapidly I explained  how the unconferences I’d attended to had actually functioned. ……………

There was no structure, anyone who wanted could attend, there was no agenda and no clear idea of what they wanted to achieve as an outcome. It starts when you feel like and finishes when it finishes”.  Silence!

He slowly sucked air in between his teeth and then responded, ………..

UNCONFERENCE?  ….. That Lovely Boy…… (dramatic pause) sounds like every meeting, every conference or bleedin workshop, I have attended in the last ten years!” and off he stomped (the law of two feet huh?).

For balance, it’s worth a look at this guardian article from April 2011, the future of council training. It talks about the rise of unconferences how they are “Encouraging those determined to learn by attending out-of-hours unconferences, and paying for themselves to do so, are the kind of people who will be the innovators of the future, the ones equipped to lead through digital times, driven only by the need to deliver better, more efficient services”.

So, What’s PONT?

  1. Maybe I have also been unknowingly attending unconferences for years? The description of the rules and how they function did sound spookily familiar.
  2. They will get more common here in Wales, it’s inevitable. Just look at how many are happening in London right now (a 2011 prediction).
  3. Unreconstructed man will fit right in. He’ll just make enough noise, stomp around a bit and get the whole unconference will follow his agenda.

Here is the link to the fantastic herding cats video


About whatsthepont

The things I’m currently interested in are: 1.How people learn and share knowledge; 2.Social Media, Web2.0 whatever you want to call the world of the internet; 3.Better public services.

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