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The second one about Unconferences

Design the type of conference that you would actually go to.

Doug Peterson


In October 2020 we shared a few notes about unconferences, following the earth-shattering success of the online unconference we ran earlier that year. And now that we’re starting to gear up for the hybrid 2022 In beta unconference, I thought it’d be interesting to revisit the topic and see what else I could find.

While most of it consisted of unconference summaries and how-to type posts, I think I’ve managed to find a few really interesting, although slightly off-to-the-side resources. I hope you find them useful.


Chew, J. (n.d.). Ben Ellis – Reflecting on the Purpose & Format of Conferences – Chewing It Over – 20/11/20 (No. 56). Retrieved 26 January 2021.

In November 2020 Ben joined Jack Chew on the Chewing it Over YouTube channel to talk about different education conference formats and the relative value of each.

Note: I tried (not too hard, if I’m honest) to find a podcast on unconferences that didn’t feature Ben Ellis but I wasn’t very successful. If Ben keeps this up he’ll soon be the world’s foremost scholar on unconferences.


McWaters, V. (2006). Improvised facilitation – the paradox of being prepared to be spontaneous. ADR Bulletin, 8(6), 1–4.

Accept all offers. For just one day, accept all offers instead of prejudging, analysing or blocking. Say, ‘yes!’ An improv group can spontaneously develop a complex story on stage because they accept all offers – they don’t block each other, or stop to determine what might be the best way to proceed. They build on the offer, sometimes (even often) making mistakes, and accepting new offers. The story and the meaning emerges from the action.

I read Patricia Madson’s Improv Wisdom many years ago and have always tried to keep some of her principles of improv close when I’m teaching. Recently I realised that there’s loads of overlap between the principles of improv and the principles of unconferences.

From Improv Wisdom:

  1. let go of your agenda
  2. listen in order to receive
  3. build on what you receive
  4. you can’t be wrong
  5. make everyone else look brilliant
  6. keep moving forward

And I think that we could do worse than that for some of our guiding ideas around unconferencing.


O’Reilly, T. (2018, March 8). The True Inventor of the Unconference. LinkedIn.

Rather than being talked at, he wanted the scientists to talk with each other. There were convivial meals and social outings such as concerts and excursions to the royal menagerie on the Pfaueninsel in Potsdam. Meetings were held among botanical, zoological and fossil collections as well as at the university and the botanical garden. Humboldt encouraged scientists to gather in small groups and across disciplines. He connected the visiting scientists on a more personal level, ensuring that they forged friendships that would foster close networks. He envisaged an interdisciplinary brotherhood of scientists who would exchange and share knowledge.

I love this description of a scientific meeting in 1828, that perfectly articulates the aim of the In beta unconference


Zimmer, B., Carson, C. E., & Horn, L. R. (2011). Among the New Words. American Speech, 86(3), 355–376.

Sometimes we get pushback from our prolific use of un- to explore different ways of thinking about taken-for-granted activities (unconference, unposter, unmodule, unbook, and so on). So I enjoyed this short read on the prestigious history of creating new words by prefixing them with un:

William Shakespeare, as David Crystal observes, “seemed to have had a penchant for using un- in imaginative ways.”

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