Reflection on Conference Versus Unconference: Notes & Thoughts

My main reflection point is the difference in my motivations for attending, one was it was new and innovative, the other was to submit a research project and update clinical evidence based knowledge. So really they are just two separate entities, although if learning is going on then we should look at ways to enhance delivery and engagement.

Here are some of my thoughts on some of the differences:

  • Structure & Format.

The unconference was a new concept and all about the unknown, whilst the traditional conference was scientific, clinical focused and had a fully structured program. They are chalk and cheese so comparison is so reliant on personal perspective and I think they are so different but maybe there is space in the traditional format to enhance the dialogue and engagement with some open discussion sessions.

  • Preparation

For the unconference, the use of dialogue in communicating ideas was to be used. So pre-reading for myself was Isaacs, W. (1999). Dialogue and the art of thinking together : A pioneering approach to communicating in business and in life (1st ed.). New York: Currency. Then practicing on Trello which was used for the online discussion and resource platform.

  • Room set up: how does this impact on dialogue opportunities.

The traditional is still set up for presenting the powerpoint, with rows of seats and ‘sage on the stage’ stuck behind the lectern. It’s all too passive. Questions from the audience are minimal in this set up and often time runs out to have any discussion. The unconference used a variety of available rooms but all used the circle approach for a safe container for discussion.

  • Active & Engaged.

The passive approach versus the engaged. Time went so fast in the unconference, coffee breaks were missed and the day passed quickly. The unknown really generates excitement. Interesting presentations at the formal approach also got the crowd engaged and discussing. The majority were clinical focused and so followed the usual scientific template, and this may well be the correct way to deliver (I just dont know).

gray owl perching on brown post under blue sky during daytime

  • Who gets to talk, is it across the floor or is the “guru” the only voice?

The unconference was varied, some spoke more than others so we will look at everyone’s comments to see if others had a different experience. But discussion came from all participants. The use of storytelling around clinical experiences was a common tool in the unconference. The formal conference was all about the experts, little voice from attendees.

  • Presentation styles

In the unconference, the key trigger presentations set the background, added some ideas and then set the tone for the group discussion. It felt complimentary and then the participants went looking for issues and answers, not the expert providing their summary.

  • Online participation

The unconference offered some online aspects, with uploading of recorded key trigger presentations, active access to the Trello platform. As with most conferences the risk of unreliable wi-fi made for a cautious approach. Its also very difficult to facilitate face to face discussion, with online participants and to integrate the two. One for the future is to learn if better tools are available to meet the needs of online participants.

  • Use of social media tools

Platforms such as Slack, Trello and Twitter were part of the unconference format and so encouragement to engage was provided. Twitter analytics were followed using Symplur as well. For the traditional, individuals were using social media platforms but not much engagement came from the formal bodies.

  • Networking opportunities

No difference but the scale. The unconference is a new collaboration across disciplines so is hopefully the start of an community of practice that flourishes.

  • Learning

Learning occurred in both formats, just on different topics. I am a big believer in motivation and what makes you attend. They were both in my own time, so i had bought into both programs.

This is one persons thoughts, experiences and biases. A wider perspective is needed. In the end, they are delivering different products but it’s good to reflect and consider what learning is occurring and how best to facilitate.

 

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