Guest post by Elizabeth Short, an intern in Interactive Cultures department, currently studying MA Event and Exhibition management. She was asked to help organise the Digital Britain Unconference and is going to share some thoughts on how to go about organising one.
When I was asked by Jon to help organise an unconference about Digital Britain there were instantly two things that came to mind about the event. 1. I had no idea what an unconference was and 2. I hadn’t read the document on Digital Britain. This obviously was a challenge not to be taken lightly as the event needed to be organised within a week.
Firstly a structure must be decided upon. Whether or not to structure the unconference or/and how to structure an unconference is particularly difficult. The nature of an unconference is to be unstructured and to a point un-organised so how to you make everyone happy and ensure that key points and panels are discussed?
By having no structure whatsoever there is no guarantee that all of the key points will be raised during panels and having a published list of panels would turn an unconference into a conference. After deliberating no structure, semi structure vs. a structure, a middle ground was decided upon and posted on wordpress in a call for panels.
Promoting the event
From that point onwards there are several key ingredients that need to be in the mix in order to make the event itself happen:
- A wordpress blog
- A suitable venue
- EventBrite – for managing bookings
Finding a suitable venue wasn’t particularly an issue, Birmingham and Birmingham City University have some great venues and it was a case of formulating a list and contacting them for availability and price. In theory an unconference could be held at any kind of venue as long as a wireless internet connection (for live blogging and tweeting), is available along with plenty of plug sockets.
Once all the above have been set up, utilising social media networks for advertising the event and gaining panels and participants is at the forefront of the organisation. The event was advertised through blogging, email and Twitter. Further marketing on Facebook could have been utilised but this relies in some way on already existing networks and for this instance was unnecessary. Other groups that have a longer lead in for this type of event may want to use this networking tool to aid them.
The event itself ran reasonably seamlessly once those who needed an internet connection could get online. Discussions were centred around the digital Britain five objectives and panel discussions ran to time although discussions could have gone on longer.
The format of an unconference is an interesting one as there should not be a technical format at all. This kind of unorganisation could be well suited to different events as it allows discussion to flow freely between and can throw up interesting discussions and can lead to further debate. For any organisation wishing to hold a conference to stimulate debate and ideas this kind of event would be perfect.
From an events organisation perspective and unconvention is relatively easy to set up as long as you can attract like minded people to attend and talk at an event. For organisations that do not have an option to a free or low cost venue, I can only imagine that using a wifi pub/bar or having access to a meeting room in a library would be the only way in which the event could have a space for the meeting.
Unconferences & the events industry
In my opinion an unconvention cannot be a money making exercise and would not work as a commercial venture. Sponsorship, providing it was with a relevant and unbiased party would be a good way to bring in money, but in this economic climate sponsorship can be hard to find. Within Birmingham there are arts organisations that do hold Artists talks and discussions that attendees are charged a nominal fee to enter. This no doubt brings needed funds into the organisation but may only help facilitate payment for a key speaker rather than make profit.
Unconvention currently is a trendy word to use and whatever the connotations of this are, holding an unconvention is an excellent way to gather informed opinions and spark debate.