In the late 60s I became a fan of “participative politics”. First in the small “ward” to which I was elected; then in 1971, as chairman of a major municipal Committee in a shipbuilding town of 70,000 people organising annual Conferences; and, in the early 80s , convening six large Conferences of community activists in a Region of two and half million people. Reports and actions followed. Focused, communal talking has, for me, been an important social glue.
I’ve now stumbled on the idea of “Unconferences” which apparently
sprang out of the experience that many conference goers have – that the real value of some conferences comes from the conversations over coffee and lunch rather than the lectures themselves. Lectures didn’t engage and often inhibited discussion – one person standing at the front of a room of peers holding forth.
Conferences reflect the power structure of an organization - the distinctive feature of “unconferences” is set out in this table
Before I knew what was happening, I was in a world of “barcamps”, “brewcamps” and knowledge cafes - all of which reminded me of the idea of World Cafes which I had last heard of almost a decade ago in a book called The World Café – shaping our futuresthrough conversations that matter (Berret-Koehler 2005) which described the dialogues taking place throughout the world by using an informal format (set out like a café) of small tables at which 4 people sit initially to discuss a question which has been carefully prepared. After 20 minutes everyone (save one) changes places – and the previous conversation is summarised.
But the world café site seem no longer active with their last high profile activity (in Prague) being last year
Further thought took me back to the Search Conferences (described in this paper) of Eric Trist and Fred and Marlyn Emery
There’s clearly some money to be made from this structured searching and its easy to be cynical.
Time was when you needed people for such events – but Open Source seems to have changed all that