When’s a conference not a conference
Much has progressed towards holding an “unconference” in Missoula. An Unconference is a self-organizing event where the participants create the agenda in a transparent fashion. The format encourages dynamic content and participation in a way that a closed agenda event can not. The great people at Missoula’s own ModWest have been early supporters of having a BarCamp here. ModWest is an internet and web hosting, one of the top 10 web hosting companies in the world. Right here in our small city of Missoula! The people there started a Web 2.0 social networking site that has been featured at the Wall Street Journal. It’s a way for people to set up fun polls. There is a poll on that site for the theme of the BarCamp. The number one choice fits well with the idea that it be a convergence of art, technology, and community.
On the technical side, I attend the JavaOne conference every year since the year after it started. This month I also went to a new offering, an unconference barcamp like event called JavaOne Camp. This was my very first unconference, and it was facilitated by the wonderful Kaliya Hamlin, also known as the Identity Woman.
Kaliya was kind enough to invite me to attend the Internet Identity Workshop. Since JavaOne Camp had few attendees, I was not able to experience the full beauty of an unconference using the Open Space method until I went to the IIW. It was awesome! All these techies gathered in a circle and then lined up to describe the topics they would discuss and put them on a big sheet that set the agenda for the day. And then people met and talked and wandered between events. This amazing unconference happened with some preparation, but much less than a traditional conference, and the interactions were so much richer than is usually feasible at a more traditional conference where the agenda is hard wired before the event begins.
At the event, Kaliya introduced me to the wonderful Lisa Heft who is an Open Space facilitator and trainer of Open Space facilitators. I was amazed to learn that Open Space has been used in corporate board rooms, technical conferences, intentional and co-housing meetings, between Israeli’s and Palestinians, with United Nations groups, and more.
Having returned from the San Francisco Bay Area and both the JavaOne conference and the Internet Identity Workshop, I was able to do some Drums for Peace last Saturday. The leaders of the excellent peace and justice center in Missoula, the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center, Betsy Mulligan-Dague and Ethel MacDonald both were enthusiastic about holding an unconference in our town. We have the wonderful Missoula Art Museum in our town that Ethel mentioned might be a good space. We’ll see, I joined the MAM last Saturday and they have some very nice community spaces in the museum.
Turning back to the technical field, which is really more my home, there is the Missoula Web Discussion Group which meets once a month. Several members of this group are interested in getting the unconference going. We’ll see where this train goes, but it has been a great ride so far!