Welcome to the Unconference Blog!

Going to an Unconference? read this:

Organizing An Unconference? look at these posts:

unConference Methods:

My Reviews of unConferences:

Media Coverage of unConferences:

Learn more about Kaliya’s work

Posted in unconference | Leave a comment

Community Mapping – Connecting Projects sharing Future Visions

At Personal Cloud Community Gathering  in August I designed a community mapping exercise to support different projects learning about what each other was 1) working 2) needed as a complement and 3) held as a long term vision.

Number of People: 10-100

Time:  Depends on Size of Group

  • Small groups 5-10 min
  • Medium Groups 15+ min
  • Large Groups 30+ min

Formats: Individuals first write answers to questions and then share with the whole group before posting on a wall.

Use of Method: This method is great for supporting a community getting to know itself better in several ways:

  1. There are two end products  * a list of future visions  * a map/list of what people are building and their complements.

  2. Inviting people to think about what they are doing AND how it relates to other things helps clarify people’s own focus.

  3. Asking people to read their answers to the questions out loud lets others who’s visions match/map connect to each other after the creation of the list/map.  Working to place map out the answers provides insights into collaboration opportunities.

Supplies: Big Post-It sheets 8×5.5  minimum 3 post-it needed per-person. Sharpie Pens to write with.


To begin we handed out the Post-it sheets and sharpie pens.

I both read aloud and had written on flip-chart paper:

photo copy 8In the future…

I will be using ______ OR

I created/helped build ______ service or hardware or _____ to enable an ecosystem

AND it connects to _____________.

Then everyone read their answers out and put them up on the wall.

Then we asked people to answer these two questions on two different Post-It sheets:

Futures Flip Chart

Today I am building/want to build ______

and it connects to ________ that exists already/needs to be created.

We invited everyone to read their statements out loud and post on the wall.  We then concluded the structured part of the evening  and devolved into networking and gave people a chance to read the statements on the wall and organize them.


We took the notes and typed them up. You can see the responses here on the personal clouds wiki.

Here is the image of some of the stickers.

Recommendations: You don’t have to start with the future question. I chose to because the community is very oriented to what could/should be and it was a good idea to get peoples ideas about that out first.  We then focused on “the now” and what people are building (or hope to be building).


Posted in How-To, Method | Leave a comment

Community Mapping – Organizational Affiliation and Involvement

Number of People: 30-500

Time:  Depends on Size of Group

  • Small groups 30-40 min
  • Medium Groups 1 hour
  • Large Groups 1.5 hours

Formats: Small group conversation self managed with Instructions in parallel over 1 hour and groups posting on to map in series over the course of the hour.

Use of Method: This method is great for supporting a community getting to know itself better in several ways.

  1. There is an end product – literally a map of organizations and communities that can be valuable to all in attendance and beyond.

  2. There is the process to create the map itself – posting notes on the wall and working to cluster them give people information on where they fit in the community

  3. The process to create the content of the map – this supports small groups talking with each other about the organizations they participate and why and helps create peer-to-peer connections and knowledge transfer about the groups in the community.

History: I created this method to support the 250 people who attend the Internet Identity Workshop #16 building a community map of the organizations they participate in.

Supplies: On each of the 20 tables, 10 sheets of paper 4.25 x 11 (so 8.5×11 divided in 1/2).

It suggested a scale from one end to the other for people to write down different groups they participate with.

  • Super Involved (On the Board, Staff, Spec Writer,

  • Involved  (Active Engagement)

  • Limited Involvement (Occasionally Participating)

  • Lurking (you watch but don’t post on a mailing list, you read a newsletter but are not a member).

For each table Post-it Notes pads (3×3 inch) that are 4 different colors and 4 different shapes.  To be picked up after the first part of the exercise is complete.

Process: We open the conference with an hour of community interaction in groups of 10 around tables. We put a constraint on the group make up – their must be at least 3 new people to the conference at each table and 3 people who have attended the conference in the past.

We asked people to write down on their sheet of paper at least three organizations they are involved with in an appropriate spot on the spectrum.

When this task was completed we invited someone from the table to come and get a stack of post-it notes whose shapes matched the ones on the sheet of paper.   (I would recommend having 4 shapes each with their own color. The reason for shapes and colors is to support those with color blindness being able to navigate the exercise).

People were asked to transfer the names of organizations (on their long sheet of paper) on to the right shaped post-it note depending on their level of involvement.

With this complete two things happened:

  1. People at the tables were invited to share with each other the organizations they were involved with and why.  This is a self facilitated conversation.

  2. Over the course of the hour those at particular tables were invited to bring up their sticky notes and post them on the wall map.  After this is complete in small groups they returned to their seats and to continue the conversation about their involvement in organizations.

The exercise is complete when all the tables have posted their stickies on the wall. A small group can continue working to organize the notes into clusters putting similiar organizations near each other.


Here is the Map that was generated:

It has 500 post-it notes on it.


Recommendations: This map has 5 shapes and more colors we recommend having 4 colors and 4 shapes.



This was note that was sent to participants ahead of time to prepare them for the exercise:

Preparation for IIW

We are planning our interactive learning and community exercise for the opening of IIW and would like you to do some thinking on the plane ride here to prepare.

Many of us are involved in a variety of organizations working on the key problems, challenges and opportunities that Digital Identity poses for people.

What are the organizations and communities that you are involved in?

You will each be asked to share (in writing) about at least three of them:

  • One you are very involved in (on the board, leading a committee, devoting many hours a week to…)

  • One you are active to peripherally involved with.

  • One you are lurking (you are on the mailing list but never post to it, or you just get the newsletter and never go to any meetings.

You can have more than three (you could have dozens) but each person should be prepared to write down three.


– Kaliya

Posted in How-To, Method | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Online Community Unconference: Its Back! & We’re Producing It

I am really excited to be working with a super awesome crew of leaders of the Online Community Manager Tribe – or OCTribe. We have been considering reviving the event and the pieces have finally come together to do it.

May 21st at the Computer History Museum

Registration is Open!

Unconference.net is stepping up to produce and facilitate the event because we are keen to support the learning community for community managers. Creating face to face events for online communities is one of our specialities. Many online communities are self moderating and the generatively and aliveness of how they work is matched by our unconference methods when they are face to face.

For this event we are using Open Space Technology.

The leaders/co-organizers are all rockstar community managers:

The conference was originally produced by Forum One and I contracted with them to help design and facilitate. That event itself grew out of an invitational summit they hosted annually on online communities. I actually attended one of these in 2004 as a replacement for Owen Davis who I worked for at the time at Identity Commons (1).

I plan to bring my Identity Woman hat with me to the event and forward topics of digital identity and personal data forward at the event and hopefully get some of the amazing expertise on identity and reputation to participate in NSTIC.

Posted in My Events, Open Space | Leave a comment

Culture Shifting

Culture is shifting. Top down hierarchical organizations are being ousted by flatter, more social, and participatory organizations that can discover and optimize value flows — thanks to the ability to use social methods to empower anyone within the organization as well as anyone connected to the organization to source value for the organization. This is way beyond social media as Zappos and Wikipedia demonstrate very clearly. To learn more about this culture shift, explore Nilofer Merchant’s writing on the Social Era in Harvard Business Review blog or read her book, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra.

I have spoken with clients who see the value seeping out the cracks in their current organizational processes. They know they are so busy talking at their own clients or not listening to the right people outside their organization for feedback they need to improve their offerings, retain their clients, and optimize where they spend their money. Some clients know they need to do things differently if they want better results. Sound familiar?

Unconference is the answer to the question you are asking yourself: “How do I put social era practices into effect in my organization?”

Culture doesn’t shift quite overnight, even with the shocking fast spread of viral memes. What is one step you can take to transform the culture you have while mitigating the risk that it will all explode?

An event. Time bound. Clearly sculpted with well honed and proven structures.

  1. Playspace. An event takes people out of the everyday practices of the organization where habit change is going to be hardest and allows for a playspace to try out something different. It is time based, so the risk is limited to the time given to the event. Some organizational change attempts, being open ended, reverberate through time without having easy escape hatches.
  2. Iterative. Along with all this social era stuff is the Agile virus. We have to move too quickly to adapt in the rapid changes of most marketplaces. Do something small that you can learn from quickly. Learn from what works and what didn’t, then try again. Make it a low risk investment by keep it small and time-based, so should it fail (and it rarely does on the whole), the ramifications are localized and easy learned from in future iterations.
  3. Process. Process is the structure you were looking for. There are proven processes that help increase your chances of producing value. The whole Social Era shift is about moving from answers to questions, outcomes to processes, nodes to flows. Maybe you used to rely on content. Content is in constant flux now. Trust the process instead. Unconferences have structures that encourage many-to-many interactions instead of one-to-many interactions. They are structures, and people have been using some of those methods for 30 years. It isn’t a new (high risk, great unknown) thing, it might just be new (not regularly practiced) in your sector.
  4. Culture is practice. Culture can’t be decreed from the top nor the bottom of an organization. It lives in the practices of the people of the organization. An unconference not only gives the organization a story about being participatory, it gives people an opportunity to practice being participatory.

Let’s talk about how participatory process can be an effective means of getting the right people to provide the right kinds of information to increase your value flows.

Posted in Collaboration, Uncategorized, unconference | Leave a comment

Facilitating Chicago Bioneers

Bioneers Open Space principleFor the 2012 Great Lakes Bioneers event in Chicago, we provided part of the facilitation team for an open space. We worked with local facilitator Gretchen Neve.

Chicago Bioneers is an affiliate of a longstanding conference, Bioneers based out of Northern California. This first Chicago event pulled in 700 people for a densely packed 3 days of talks and workshops.

Bioneers Welcome

As this was an open space within an existing conference with a dense schedule, we didn’t do the usual open space opening and closing. We knew participants were going to come to the open space randomly without staying from start to finish, so we had to provide enough simplicity that anyone walking in could jump right in. We used simple signage to support self-organizing. And we actively engaged with people exploring the space and joined into sessions, helping to take notes or explain the process to small groups.

Chicago Bioneers open space set up

The Marketplace was highly visible from the entry to the space, which was position next to the main stage of activity sharing a large room with the bookstore. Also, book signings were held in the area, which helped bring visibility to the space. It is so important at an open space within an existing conference that foot traffic brings people serendipitously to the space.

The challenge of running open space for this event, in hindsight, is that so many of the attendees were students eager to hear a speaker or participate in a workshop. The open space format was also new to many of the attendees. We provided a brief open space intro to the conference organizer to present from the main stage. We encouraged speakers and their handlers to invite people to gather for open space for further discussion of issues. A briefing on open space was listed in the conference program. And, we provided basics about open space to the website, so people could understand what to expect before coming in.

We hope that the second year (November 1-3, at Roosevelt University in Chicago), our more experienced participants lead more action groups that use the open space area to convene for forward movement together.





Posted in Comments on a Conference, My Events | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Facilitating Consensus process

The Occupy movement is talking a lot about consensus process. There are some commonly held misconceptions about what consensus is and isn’t, how and when to put it to best use. A fellow facilitator, Tree Bressen, who commonly leads consensus process wrote a great 2 page document outlining the mistakes commonly made by those new to the process that we recommend.

There’s been a lot written already on consensus, so instead of re-writing, take a look at Starhawk’s posting on an overview of consensus.  What she doesn’t say is that consensus is a system of governance – in other words a way of making decisions in a group.

Continue reading

Posted in Method | Leave a comment

Digital Death Day

We are facilitating Digital Death Day at the Tropenmuseum on 11/11/11 in Amsterdam! Please join us!


Our increasing digitality means that we will increasingly be forced to come face to screen with the various dimensions and complexities of Digital Death.
Held in the inspiring setting of the Tropenmuseum’s exhibition Death Matters, this conference will be primarily concerned with provoking discourse around the social, cultural and practical implications of Death in the Digital world.
Thus stimulating a reconsideration of how death, mourning, memories and history are currently being augmented in our technologically mediated society.
‘We hardly know what life is how can we hope to understand death?’ -Chinese sage Confucius (fifth century BC) More…

Posted in My Events | Leave a comment

Facilitation at MassTLC

Kaliya and I have been working with the Mass Technology Leadership Council. For the past few years they have been doing an unConference on Innovation in the Boston area.


MassTLC uses a combination of Open Space Technology and hybrid one-on-one expert meetings to create innovative spaces for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other funders, start ups and general tech innovation.


Open Space Technology has thousands of practitioners worldwide and is often used to generate change in organizational cultures. The agenda is generated live, the day of the event, by the attendees, with support from a facilitation team. This real time process means that the topics discussed and presented are live and fresh, coming directly from attendees in the current environment.


When MassTLC was trying to conceive of how to organize the 1-on-1 breakout sessions, they wanted to pre-organize the sessions, with entrepreneurs requesting specific experts, and trying to work out logistics around who would meet who where in advance. The challenge in doing this, identified by the unconference.net team, was that some of the experts likely to not attend at the last minute. The question became: how do you manage those logistics?

The solution was to draw inspiration from Open Space Technology and its “day-of” agenda craetion. When experts arrive in the morning, they get a card with space for entrepreneurs to sign up to meet with them 1-on-1 in clear time slots, using available and marked locations.

When the entrepreneurs arrived, they are be given a corresponding number of stickers with their names and could then sign up to talk to any of the experts who had posted their availability for meetings. No one was left out and no one was over booked.

Entrepreneurs were given a booklet ahead of time with names and bios of all the experts intending to attend, and their expertise. This helped the entrepreneurs make some choices in advance, limiting the logistical difficulty of clogging up the agenda walls and supporting making choices for same day connections while creating potential for future connections as well.

Design highlights

Self organization: Real time self-organization within a structure which gives freedom to the attendees

Structure: Appearance of being “unstructured,” but not actually formless so that attendees and experts have support in that freedom

Development: Changing and upgrading an intact system which supports staff and organizers in having confidence in collaboration.

Choice: Self-organizing attendees creating useful connections, making competent choices

Accountability: Attendees take clear responsibility for themselves within the space freeing up both organizers and attendees

Clear communication: Clear and common signaling mechanisms make the space cohesive and the ability to flow between ideas and sessions

Innovation: A change in brand was not necessary, just updating methods generated openness which creates consistency for staff

Posted in Collaboration, Hybrid Events, Method, Open Space, unconference | Leave a comment

Want to see us in action?

We have two unConferences coming up in the next couple of weeks and we invite you to come to one of them.


The first is the Internet Identity Workshop: http://www.internetidentityworkshop.com/ October 18-20, 2011 in Mountain View, CA.


The second is Friday, October 28th, 2011 in Boston, MA for the Mass Technology Leadership Council:  http://www.masstlc.org.


Two different events and two sides of the country. If you’ve been thinking about running an unConference, we invite you to come on out and watch us work. Contact us, or leave us a comment for more information.

Posted in Collaboration, Interactive Event, My Events, Open Space, Speaking, unconference | Leave a comment

Unconference Ignite Talk

I gave this talk at the Bay Area Ignite in January 2010.

It gives a great over view of what an unconference in the style I do is. All the other presenters at this Ignite evening were women and I took the opportunity to invite attendees to She’s Geeky the women’s only technology science, math and engineering conference that I founded that was next happening  at the end of January.

Posted in Method, Open Space, Presos/Videos, Speaking, unconference | Leave a comment