How to make the most out of an Unconference

On Wednesday, May 29th, 2019, the Data Literacy Consortium will be supporting the Open Government Partnership Summit Unconference on Making Data Work for Open Government.

This is a reblog from our co-chair, Dirk Slater, and will help you understand how the Unconference will be conducted and how to get the most out of it.

To paraphrase the former United States President John F Kennedy:

‘Ask not what you can do for others, but ask what others can do for you….’

The Unconference Format is about actively engaging the brain-power that is assembled in the room via two-way dialogue and interactive exercises, as opposed to the passive one-way broadcast of a panel and presentation model of a standard conference. You will have an opportunity to connect to peers and engage them in your work in a meaningful way.

What are the key questions in your data literacy work that you could benefit from learning how others have answered? Are there challenges you are facing that would be helpful to learn if others have faced as well?

The Sequence of Activity at the Unconference

  • We will start off an interactive plenary session to learn about who is in the room.
  • Then we will undertake small group brainstorms to create session topics
  • We will run sessions based on the topics we identify in the brainstorm
  • Meet new colleagues over Lunch.
  • Run a SkillShare, a fast-paced matching and interactive one on one exchange of skills and expertise on anything (Doesn’t have to be data literacy-related – can be on knitting, drawing, coding, anything you can teach in 45 minutes)
  • More sessions based on topics identified in the morning
  • End with aninteractive plenary identifying projects and topics to take forward into the OGP Summit and beyond

Prepping for a session.

You are welcome to come with a pre-defined session, just don’t expect to lecture or do a presentation (there will be no projectors). Sessions at an Unconference are:

  • Participatory: Engaging and activating participants from the beginning and getting them making and doing, rather than listening and watching.
  • Purposeful: Working on meaningful activities toward meaningful outputs
  • Productive: Well-scoped so concrete outcomes are achieved in the allotted time, and participants feel their time was well spent.

An example session on “Best practices for achieving data literacy”:

  • 3 minutes: State the frame and goals for the session to the group – In this session, we will share notes and techniques on achieving data literacy and create a list of best practices.
  • 5 minutes: Go round to invite each participant to say IN ONE SENTENCE what they want to get out of the session
  • 10 minutes: Have participants break into pairs or groups of three, and brainstorm the best practices and the questions they have about achieving data literacy, putting each item on a separate sticky note.
  • 10 minutes: Collect the sticky notes on a wall and ask participants to group the practices and questions on the sticky notes into related clusters and ask participants to identify the themes or hot spots. Have a large group discussion about what is on the sticky notes and any aha’s they have as a result of looking at them.
  • 15 Minute: Assign groups to work on emerged themes or hot spots.
  • 5 minutes: Ask working groups to report back on significant best practices in a pop-corn format, compile these on flip chart paper
  • 3 minutes: Summarise the session, review the steps they went through and identify any next steps.

Session Activities

Here are some sample activities can further drive dialogue, sharing knowledge and participation during sesssion:

  • Brainstorming and Organising – ask participants to break into small groups to discuss the topic more deeply. Ask them to capture main points in complete understandable sentences on post-it notes. After enough time to generate a good number of post-it notes, use a wall to gather the notes and ask participants to organise the post-its and identify main themes or topics.
  • Ordering– Print the title of each step on a sheet of paper and ask for volunteers to hold the signs. After each volunteer says the title of the sign, ask participants to put the steps in order – as they do so, ask why they have chosen that order.
  • Ranking– ask participants to break into pairs and discuss a list of techniques and ask them to determine most effective to least effective.
  • Gallery– put examples or case studies around the room and get participants to review each one as if they are in an art gallery. Give them questions to answer as they review examples (i.e., for data visualisations ask: what is the message and who is it for?)
  • Spectrogram– draw a line down the centre of the room. At each end of the line write the words agree and disagree. Then read controversial statements related to the session topic and ask participants to stand along the line in relation to how much they agree or disagree.
  • Scenario– create scenarios based on real-life problems that address the topic. Break participants up into small groups to review the scenarios and discuss how they would solve the problem.
  • Hands-on– give participants an opportunity to work directly with a tool.
  • Drawing– get participants to visualise something. Perhaps an organisational practice, workflow, or even the outcomes or impact of their work.

Session Design Best Practices

  • Design your session to be flexible and adaptableto the questions, interests and actual needs of the participants who attend; it is less productive to “just follow the script”.
  • It is more than okay to engage participants in a challengeyou are facing in the topic. Think about how you can benefit in your own work by engaging the brains that are in the session.
  • Divide into small groups early and oftenin the session. Smaller groups mean more opportunity for participants to be engaged and also give input.
  • “Less is more”: try to do a small number of things well in your session, rather than cramming too many elements into what you work on. Too much preparation is not a good thing; just have a clear plan for how you want to spend the time, and be ready to adapt as participants get engaged.
Recording of our online discussion on prepping for the Unconference.

Learn more about facilitation.

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