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BarCamp for Non-Techies, aka. The Discussion I Wished We’d Had

So yesterday was BarCamp Vancouver 2008. In typical BarCamp fashion, I proposed a session on the wiki called BarCamp for Non-Techies on the Monday about 5 days before BarCamp, and did not prepare anything whatsoever. Then, racing in on Saturday morning, I proposed it at the Scheduling Jam, and Boris slotted it in at the Revue Stage. The pitch (theoretically) was talking about holding BarCamps and Unconference-type events for large organizations, but didn’t quite get that across as well as I would have liked in the jam itself.

2 o’clock at the event rolled around, and we had a very respectable-sized session full of people who were willing to drag chairs on the stage so we wouldn’t have to deal with the theatre stage-audience setup. It was a great session and I got some great comments about the forthcoming SkyTrain Unconference – but it was also completely not the session I’d proposed! And while I think there’s lots that is interesting about the work with TransLink, I really would have preferred to have had a chance to learn more from others about what they want to do, and how they feel the organizations they worked with have ran with the unconference or open space methodology a little differently.

So rather than have too many regrets about that, I’m going to post a list of questions here that I wish I’d had the chance to ask people and see if we can get some discussion happening here. Please chime in on a comment here or on your own blog if any of these questions strike your fancy!

  • Unconferences are great for getting ideas coming from everywhere, but there’s a world of difference between unconferences aimed at getting the public interacting with members of an organization, and getting members of the organization to interact with each other. What are the difficulties, challenges and benefits of the methods for each group?
  • What have people found most and least effective in the non-tech unconferences they have participated in? Are there some fields that glom more readily to the unconference methodology than others? I’m imagining groups or organizations or professions, for instance, that already have a focus on learning, sharing and collaboration might make the leap easier than fields that may value some things over those so-called soft skills.
  • What are some indicators or signs that an organization might do well with it; or conversely, what are telling signs that an organization might have a really hard time making good use of the methodology? If so, why is it, and what might change this?
  • How important is the technology to the unconference, and then to the larger agenda of increased transparency, accountability and open culture? Is it as big a deal as some of us make it out to be as a tool of reflection and sharing, or is it actually secondary to the primacy of the conversation and the desire for change?

I’ll leave what was actually said at the session for the next post, because it is deserving of a lot of reflection.

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