Among the more pleasant surprises in Denmark is the presence of Open Spaces, a conference symbiote that provides an open forum for quality discussion. When I saw Gerard Muller pacing around in front of the big blank boards on the wall, I recognized it as an unconference which (for me) originated recently as part of Tim O’Reilly’s Foo Camp, which began in 2003 (thanks Erik). The idea apparently goes back further than that to Harrison Owen’s discovery that the most liked parts of the conference he spent six months planning were the coffee breaks. Open Spaces is a conference in which the coffee break takes center stage.
The reports on the open space discussions are going to be posted. After sitting on my butt for the first part of the sign-up — when the available spaces grew from 4 to 8 with a great response from those in attendance — I put my own idea up: “Offline Wikis” In part, I’m hoping to discuss the nature of wiki interaction as it happens without a wiki, including this kind of open spaces format.
The big downside to this format, though, is that it takes away from the scheduled speakers (which tomorrow will include me). In a great big conference, no one is expected to attend everything. But when there are only 70 or so in a room and there is nothing else on the agenda, not showing up seems sort of wasteful. I went to the first two talks ("Translation the Wiki Way" and "Radeox Wiki Render Engine") with about 1/5 of the total symposium population. Since I’m coming right before dinner tomorrow and in the Open Space time slot of least conflict (5p), I’m expecting to be speaking to the handful of PoliticWiki participants who are here and the organizers who sort of have to be there. Oh well. I’m doing the same thing to the guys who are talking about Foucault and Wikis, a talk to which I was looking forward.
I tried an unconference as part of my capstone project of which PoliticWiki was the primary work. That CONA event last February was attended by only a dozen people, and in this case the organizers were the ones trying to help it out; everyone else went to the scheduled talks.
FYI, here are some other interesting links on the topic former known as unconference: