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Evaluating Diversity in Unconference Participation

One thing I’m thinking about today as we continue to cobble together the details on the SkyTrain Unconference is diversity. This flared up as a topic of discussion in the Web 2.0 world more generally a while back, with many high-profile bloggers like Jason Kottke looking at the gender breakdown of speakers at conferences, and Chris Messina doing the same for ethnic diversity.

I find it interesting to note that these posts are mostly talking about traditional conferences. But what about for unconferences? When the barriers are officially set at zero and it’s all about self-selection, how do we make sure it’s not the same people who are most likely to self-select themselves who show up? And I’m also not blind to the fact that the mechanics of the unconference participation method themselves are heavily cultural and even to some extent gendered. Despite my obsessive interest in them, I’m seldom the most active participant in the room at the unconference (unless it happens to be something I have a lot of experience with, like, oh, education and technology), so I’m very aware that there the format, as awesome as I think it is, is in and of itself a bit of a barrier to be explained.

This is a different part of the process of outreach, and it’s the part where my unconference experience from the tech world starts to wear thin. An entity like TransLink needs to be able to reach out beyond tech – and I’m happy to say I think we have started getting out of just the social media corner, even if that remains the forefront of the effort. But how to go out even further, to those people that aren’t watching Breakfast Television or reading the 24 Hours?

I’m making this my challenge for the coming week: to round out the participants with some diversity in age, ethnicity, transport mode, occupation, location, and education level. Time to get in touch with everyone I’ve ever met in my entire life.


  1. don’t know what to say about diversity other than we need to discuss it more and ABOVE ALL take action

    Posted September 19, 2008 at 11:39 am | Permalink
  2. This is something definitely of import to me, and BarCamp is something that grows in value and quality *with* diversity, not without it… to that end, we put up a page to gather ideas awhile ago:


    Please do contribute to it as you undertake this project!

    Posted September 19, 2008 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

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