A Quick Guide to Unconferences at HHSF19

by Alyssa Goodman (agoodman@cfa.harvard.edu, @AlyssaAGoodman)

What is the goal of an unconference?

The best unconference sessions offer their participants chances to learn and think about  results and ideas that they had not known or thought about before.   These bits of “newness” can be small or large.  In one of the best unconference sessions I ever attended (at one of Tim O’Reily’s “foo” events), I learned all about Auto-Tune, and we had an incredible discussion about how software that can bring imperfect “performers” up from the bottom can also squash creativity in unique talent.  No one planned that conversation–the person who proposed the unconference just felt that Auto-Tune was such a transformative force in the music industry that it would be fun to sit around with a group of people and talk about its wider implications in society for an hour.   None of the other ten people in the room was from the music industry.

What should the structure be for our unconferences?

Sessions are proposed a few hours before they happen, people vote (with tick marks on a whiteboard) on which sessions they’d most like to attend, rooms are assigned, people talk in groups about the chosen topics for about an hour, and that’s that.  

Here are the guidelines for the unconferences at HHSF19:

  1. Chair: The proposer(s) of the session is(are) automatically the Chair(s) of the session, responsible for keeping the discussion going if it flags, but not for talking “too much.” Also, the Chair should hook up a laptop to the projector or screen in the breakout room being used.
  2. Showing images/results/slides: If unconference participants wants to show an image or slide (not more than 1 or 2, unless the group begs for more), please upload it to the Google Drive folder (http://tinyurl.com/hhsf19-unconferences) for your unconference.  (This way we’ll also have nice records when we are done!)
  3. Recorder: Someone from each unconference will be asked to report back informally on any significant results from the conversation, during times set aside to discuss the unconference “results.”   A “recorder” should be designated in each unconference session to do this reporting. Preferably, the recorder will take notes in a Google Doc, in the same folder as the uploaded slides, and email the link to the conference organizers (at harvardheidelbergsf@gmail.com), for historical purposes.

How are the Unconference topics chosen and scheduled?

–At designated break times, you will be asked to write down proposed ideas for unconferences on large white sheets set up near the coffee.   [We will not fill all the blocks at once–just the ones in the “near future” will be posted at any given time.  In total, we have six 1-hour blocks on the schedule set aside for unconferences, and we can use 3 or 4 rooms during each block, so there should be plenty of room (a maximum of 24 discussion slots) for you to propose an idea.]  Some discussions will likely continue from 1 block or day to the next if a group wants to propose “part ii,” etc.  

–Once sessions have been proposed, usually at the next break or at lunch, you will be asked to make tick marks in the box associated with which session you’d like to attend.  We will adjust room assignments, and sometimes cancel or divide sessions, based on the number of people interested in each conversation.  Any session is open to any participant.

Notable Exception: Tutorials

Sometimes, a person is willing to offer, and others are interested in having, an official “tutorial” (e.g. on a generally-applicable technique, a software package, etc.).  It’s fine to propose a tutorial, and if you do, we only ask that you share any materials used with the organizers, afterwards.

Note: preliminary ideas about sessions are in this Google Doc.