To create an event that builds community, unleashes initiatives, and helps solve problems, we combine some of the methods described here, as well as others we find or create.

Open Space

Open Space is at the heart of almost every unconference we design. It allows groups from 20-1000 people to create an agenda live in less than an hour for a complete multi-track conference. Participants are given simple guidelines that help the day flow. Then, at the close of a day, everyone gathers together to share what unfolded.

PDF: Introduction to Open Space in professional contexts.

Slide Show: Introduction to Open Space slide show that I did for the International Telecommunications Union. It complements the above the PDF.

UnPanel (also called Fishbowl or Samoan circle)

Similar to a traditional panel, there are 4-6 discussants on a topic. Instead of facing an audience in a row with a moderator, however, the discussants sit in a circle with the audience in concentric circles around them. This witnessed conversation on a topic can be quite powerful, helping to bring clarity and shared experience to everyone attending.


This is an interactive whole group exercise that helps highlight the range of perspectives in a group. There is a tape on the floor with agree at one and disagree at the other:

agree |—————–|—————–| disagree.

The moderator asks a somewhat controversial question and directs participants to take a stand on the spectrum. The moderator then interviews people at different points on the spectrum about the opinions they hold. This process creates a shared experience while demonstrating the range of opinions in a community. It can serve as an anchor for additional conversations.

Speed Geeking/Rapid Demo’s

Presenters do a five minute presentation/demonstration for a small audience. After five minutes, the audience moves on to the next demo/presentation. This repeats for a full hour. This format is a great way to see many short demos in a row with advantages for both side: presenters refine their pitch through repetition; the audience moves from demo to demo, efficiently using their time while exposing themselves to different concepts.

Sounding Boards

This is a method that we innovated while designing the MassTLC Innovation 08 conference. The goal was to support experienced entrepreneurs and new entrepreneurs meeting. Conference organizers identified forty people as experts attending the conference; they then invited young entrepreneurs to apply and selected sixty of them. Experts were given a tent card with three spaces; entrepreneurs received a sticker to apply to these ten cards. Entrepreneurs signed up to eat either lunch or dessert with an Expert. Before they picked up lunch, they met each other in the hallway – like you do at an airport when you don’t know what the person you are meeting looks like.

World Café

The tables are set like a small cafe with 4-6 people per table. A conversation is put forward. with attendees spending 20 minutes at a table. At time’s end, a host is chosen to stay behind and summarize the conversation to the next group that comes to sit at the table. The other people move on to different tables and another round of conversation happens. At the conclusion of three rounds, the conversations are collected.

Value Network Mapping and Community Mapping

This is a great tool for understanding how value flow– both tangible, (money & contracted deliverables) and intangible (informal information and gifts) – occurs in a system. It can be a powerful way to develop a shared map how a system works and created the basis of understanding how to evolve a system.

Visual Journalism/ Graphic Recording

Using a large sheet of paper the graphic recorder documents the activities of the community using images, symbols and words. This is a way to do documentation of large group reports following a day of open space, a world café or understanding a value network map.

Appreciative Inquiry

AI asks what is working in your community. This is done through the development of an unconditional positive question – inviting innovation and imagination. Surfacing what is working in a system/community it is an interview process that can be extensive and done over many months or an hour of inquiry. There are three core phases discovery, dream, and design.

Polarity Management

This model for mapping systems can give powerful insights into early warning signs when negatives begin to happen at either negative pole. It also provides understanding for next actions to come into balance – doing the positive poles. This is a powerful tool for understanding system dynamics by understanding the upside and downside of indestructible interdependent pairs, (ie. Rest/Action or Whole/Part).

Innovation Games

Innovation Games (TM) is a suite of games developed by Enthyosis founder Luke Hohman. These are designed to support agile programmers having tools to interact with and learn from their customers. These support communities understanding opportunities for innovation.


At an unconference everyone is a contributor; it is important to bring everyone’s voice into the room. Three hundred people can introduce themselves to each other in under 10 min. If you have a smaller number you can do an icebreaker game like A Strong Wind Blows.

Open Awards

At the end of an unconference this is a nice way to support community acknowledgment. During the closing put some gifts in the middle – a case of wine, a box of boxes of chocolate and perhaps some other goodies. Then invite participants to give come to the middle, pick up a gift and give it to someone who contributed to the conference or in the community. Ask them to say why they are giving the gift.