• Mainly about engagement and collaboration using social media and events, with some asides on living in London. More about David Wilcox and also how the blog started.
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Hi David--I think that your questions bring up an interesting point. Unconferencing is to conferencing what informal learning is to a training class. We've trained people to expect that someone else will structure everything for them, tell them what to do with it, etc. So when that doesn't happen, they're at a loss for what to do.

I have to laugh in a way that people would ask "what do we do next?" following an unconference. That's frankly not an expectation I've seen come from a regular conference. Everyone seems to assume that going to the conference was the beginning and the end. They aren't looking for "what's next" other than "when and where are we meeting next year?"

Maybe an ironic byproduct of unconferencing is that it raises people's expectations about what to DO with what they've learned. Unconferences and open space events are much more action-oriented, in my experience, so they do tend to leave people with the notion that there will be follow-up of a kind that typically doesn't occur at a regular conference.

It seems to me that you're pointing to the very real need to pay more attention to the information-gathering and sharing portion of an unconference. Unlike regular conferencing where presentations are prepared ahead of time and you send your PPT slides to the organizers to post on their website after everyone leaves, content is created during an unconference and there has to be a way to capture and share that. Of course with wireless, blogging and wikis, that's a lot easier to do, but organizers still have to be prepared to make that happen.

Interesting post and interesting questions to consider . ..

Thanks Michele, I think you have it exactly. If it is clear at the start that participants make their own results, that's fine. If it looks as if the organisers want something else, they have to play their part or look unorganised.

As an experinced Open Space facilitator (~120 events) I have long some to rely on Open Space as a process to use when you need to get things done actually. Of course it is a great tool for just getting together, networking and learning from one another. THere is no shame in holding a conference where the outcome is 130 personal learning journeys.

But some conferences offer up unique opportunities to build something and this is when a day of actual action planning can come to the fore. And the beauty about conferences is that there is rarely any expectation about external support for any ideas, meaning that the ideas that will survive will be even more sustainable because they will rely on the momentum and deication of the champions to see the light of day.

SO for those that are asking "what next?" I usually invite the conference sponsors to hold a specific Open Space session on "getting things out of the room" in which we invite that very question.

What mater sthough is that all of this is set out in the design. It is very hard, as a facilitator to be invited to work with a client group at the very last minute and be asked to make this kind of thing happen. It's much easier when we can put the expectation in the invitation, that something will come of all of this if you stay for the action planning session.

And ironically, even when we DO do that, very few people will stay, which tels me that by and large, the prevailing attitude about conferences is that people come to have their individual needs met, and that any collective action is just a bonus.

Design is easily 75% of my work as a facilitator, which seems counterintuitive if you know anything at all about Open Space gatherings, but making all of that unstructure work well takes an awful lot of forethought.

Much agreement with Chris. It's perfectly okay to hold an unconference with no expectations for follow-up. It's also acceptable to build in an expectation that all interested parties will continue the conversation through other media after the meat-space event is over. With the advent of technolgies such as Second Life or Live Meetings, it's even possible to continue to "meet" as long as interest remains.

I second Chris' and Maria's points. While nowhere near as experienced as Chris ( 20 or so OS events, mainly in the mid-90's), the key work I think is ensuring as much as possible the central question / invitation for an OS is indeed "central" to the thorny or intractable issues that have signaled a need for surfacing, reflection and imagining forward possibilities

... and then thinking through and clarifying the issues that may or will surface with respect to creating and holding in integrity the space that is opened, in order to facilitate letting go into the space that is ultimately created by the participants' passion bounded by responsibility and their self-organization of that.

As Chris says, usually involves "an awe-full lot of forethought".

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