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An unconference is a participant-driven meeting. 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 fees, sponsored presentations, and top-down organization.
Unconferences often use variations on the format/method developed by Harrison Owen in 1985. Owen's 1993 book Open Space Technology: a User's Guide discussed many of the techniques now associated with unconferences, although his book does not use that term.
The term "unconference" first appeared in an announcement for the annual XML developers conference in 1998.
The term was used by Lenn Pryor when discussing BloggerCon and was popularized by Dave Winer, the organizer of BloggerCon, in an April 2004 writeup. The first BloggerCon was held October 4–5, 2003 at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
Sarah Winge, the organizer (with Tim O'Reilly) of Foo Camp, an early unconference, drew on her experience of open space and conversations with Harrison Owen to develop the format. The first Foo Camp happened October 10–12, 2003, in Sebastopol, California. In 2005 some of the attendees from previous years decided to produce their own "Bar" Camp. These three events, BloggerCon, Foo Camp and BarCamp helped to popularize the term "unconference". Foo and Bar Camp in particular popularized the form where "there is no agenda until .. the attendees made one up."
Typically at an unconference, the agenda is created by the attendees at the beginning of the meeting. Anyone who wants to initiate a discussion on a topic can claim a time and a space. Unconferences typically feature open discussions rather than having a single speaker at the front of the room giving a talk, although any format is permitted. This form of conference is particularly useful when the attendees generally have a high level of expertise or knowledge in the field the conference convenes to discuss.
An unconference can be conducted using a number of facilitation styles. Some of these are:
- Birds of a feather
- Knowledge Cafe
- Lightning talks
- Open Space Technology
- Speed geeking
- World Café
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