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

This entry was posted in Collaboration, Hybrid Events, Method, Open Space, unconference. Bookmark the permalink.