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We’ll be running an unconference at IDCC again this year and have over 75 people registered for the event. Some of you have definitely been to an unconference before, but for others it is bound to be a new experience. This blog post provides an introduction on what to expect and how to get the most out of it.
What is an unconference?
An unconference is an unstructured event which is scheduled on the fly depending on the needs and interests of people on the day. The idea is to allow the attendees greater flexibility to shape the programme so they get something useful from the event. You can run group discussions, work together on creating common resources, provide tutorials and share the issues you are facing in a safe space to get advice and support from peers.
Attendees have found the unconferences we run really rewarding. It can be scary as you don’t know what will happen, but I’ve found that bringing people together and helping to facilitate discussions is enough. There is so much knowledge in the community at large that just having time and space to share questions and concerns and get insights and reassurance from others is incredibly valuable.
How do this work on the day?
On the day we will begin with pitches to create a programme. You can see some photos of how we did this in Melbourne. The audience will collectively decide which ideas to go with and when to schedule them to best suit most people’s interests.
Session will either be run by the proposer or another volunteer if the person who had the idea is uncomfortable leading. DCC and DRI staff will also be on hand to help. We’ll ensure up-to-date information is provided online once the programme is set and assist people to find the relevant breakout rooms. You decide what structure and format to adopt. These could be:
- Group discussions
- Knowledge café style dialogues
- Tutorials or mini workshops to teach something
- Demonstrations or show and tell
- Writing sprints to develop resources
- Rants, raves, self-help counselling sessions….
Coffee will be available all day and you are encouraged to approach the event casually. Obviously, you will get the most from contributing to breakouts, but if you’ve had enough or discover a different topic of interest which you want to discuss, by all means drop out of sessions and do your own thing.
Where can I contribute?
You can start to share ideas now if there are particular topics you want to discuss or see covered. We will also have a board at IDCC so ideas can be shared during the conference. Don’t worry if you can’t think of anything ahead of the unconference but have an idea on the day. Pitches can be made during the event too so there will always be an opportunity to contribute your ideas.
What are the rules?
There are no major rules and this can make people uncomfortable. It’s for you to determine what should be discussed, when and how. All we ask is that you are respectful to colleagues and provide a constructive and creative space for collaboration. Some tips are provided below:
- If you have an idea you would like to discuss, propose it in advance or on the day
- Talk to others during the conference to explain your idea. This can help you to develop the concept and get others interested. This can be particularly helpful if you have a topic you want to discuss but don’t feel you have the answers or don’t want to lead the session
- Share your views by voting on ideas so we can define a programme that suits everyone
- Provide a friendly space which makes it easy for others to contribute, but please don’t compel anyone to speak. Some people are shy and prefer to contribute in other ways.
- Be creative and use the whiteboard, sticky notes and materials provided. Try to make the session interactive where possible and facilitate different styles of contribution.
- Be understanding if others aren’t interested in your idea and it doesn’t get picked.
- Don’t be offended if someone leaves your session early. They may have expected something else or have conflicting appointments.
- Remember there are googledocs for the notes. People may want to leave email addresses to follow on the conversation later or to capture key links and messages.
- Tweet / record a soundbite from the session. We will come around to record feedback from the session.
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I agree with Gavin that ‘well managed data leads to higher quality research’.
I liked the summary by Tanita Casci (Head of Research Policy at the University of Glasgow) of what good research is like: “Good research is research that is well-planned, well-executed, well-documented, and widely shared.”