24:2 (2009:05) You, Too, Might Organize an Unconference!

May 15, 2009 at 1:01 am | Posted in News | Leave a comment


What is an unconference?

From the folks over at Wikipedia, “An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose. The term “unconference” has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as high fees and sponsored presentations.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconference)

What prompted the idea of a NASIG unconference?

The unconference concept reminded me of the way informal discussion and user group meetings work at NASIG’s annual conferences. Like those sessions, topics and facilitators for an unconference are identified prior to the gathering. Unlike them, the method for soliciting those ideas is via wiki posts and participation is open to everyone. The format of the unconference is informal rather than presentation style. Participants learn from each other through discussion and brainstorming. As our invitation to participate noted, this is not a conference with experts behind a podium. It is an opportunity for dialogue and conversation.

The NASIG Executive Board had previously charged the Continuing Education Committee (CEC) with identifying professional development programming ideas (see the 2007 Strategic Planning Update, http://www.nasig.org/about_strategic_planning.cfm). An unconference appeared to be one way to address CE events that would benefit NASIG members. I presented the idea at a board meeting and then formally to CEC last summer.

Your wiki, http://nasigunconference2009.wetpaint.com/ is rather cool.

I agree! The Library Camp Kansas planners told us to copy as much of the basics from their wiki as we needed. No need to re-invent the wheel! All you need is a sharp eye to ensure you don’t leave up information related to the earlier unconference. The basics are all there, including planning information for the facilitators. It certainly allowed us to keep ourselves organized and reduced the amount of time we had to spend creating the information. Future unconferences can borrow as much of the formatting and content as they’d like!

Will there be future NASIG unconferences in other parts of the country?

I certainly hope so. I would encourage NASIG members who might be interested in facilitating a regional event to contact the CEC co-chairs. I’m sure you know other NASIG members in your region—think “within driving distance for a day-long event”—that you might grab as co-planners.

Would every unconference have to be run the same?

That would be up to the facilitators. Our NASIG event broke the traditional unconference mold: we determined the actual discussion topics about a week prior to the event. We did review the topics at our opening session but no changes were made to the list. Future unconferences might want to include more formal sessions with speakers. I see no reason why we shouldn’t experiment and determine what might be of most value for members.

Why were there different costs for members and non-members?

The board is interested in identifying additional benefits for NASIG members, and one way to do that is to offer reduced rates for the annual conference as well as to any other regional programming we provide. We had good participation from NASIG members in this region (16 of an estimated 30 registered from Kansas-Missouri-Nebraska-Oklahoma). We also wanted to set low fees for paraprofessionals and MLS students because there are not many who can take advantage of the annual conference. We hope that expanding our CE offerings around the country will also entice non-members to join NASIG!

Congratulations to the unConference organizers for a successful event! Char invites anyone wanting more information to feel free to contact her at csimser@ksu.edu.


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