I was recently invited by @jrarce to barcampcr. This one is one of the first un-conference like events held in Costa Rica.  It also happens to be my first un-conference.

Now… to keep myself honest I must say that I didn't know what such a thing was. So I've been reviewing sources here and there. I also have to say that I like what I have found about this concept so far. Hence I share with you some thoughts about it here.

An un-conference is a conference in the broad sense of the word. However it has a set of guiding principles which drastically defers from the traditional conference model in any field of interest.

A typical conference is a one way, top-down, expensive, copyrighted event. It gathers a few gurus –real, fake, or  marketed– or professionals hand-picked by the organizers, which share their ideas with a mostly passive audience. If you get lucky you get a minute to ask a question. They usually charge important amounts of money and hold the copyright of the discussions. They also have staff and top-notch support available.

An un-conference is a multiparty,  horizontal, free, limited-righted event. Everyone in the audience can also be an speaker or otherwise contribute to the event. Event opens with assistants having a chance to pick a speaking slot if they want to trigger a discussion or share something.  All others sharing an interest or knowledge in that topic are welcome to join and to contribute. Staffing and support is also to be provided by those assisting. Everyone is welcomed to share the event live using any media available.

As it turns out this type of event is based on the Open Space Technology method developed by Harrison Owen in the mid 1980´s. No wonder it became popular in the geek and open software community. However as I find out it has been used with success in different fields such as arts, design, and human development.

BarCamp is one of the events which adopted the un-conferencing model as its chosen delivery format. It is named in that way as a joke to FooCamp, a similar kind conference which happens to be an invitation only event by Tim O’Reilly

As I digest it, I find this idea of organized irreverence kind of cool. Let´s see why:

  • It raises the bar on everyone. There are events where you can certainly shut up, listen, and learn for a couple of hours. There are also some times when you would like it to be the other way around. Un-conferencing gives everyone the challenge to share the other’s shoes. So everyone must be better prepared and really have an interest on the broad topics being discussed. 
  • It delivers applied value. Unless you are a scientist or you are pursuing a PhD you like the new things you learn to be applied to your everyday duties right away. Often you cannot really do that with what you learn at a conference. The notion of an idea discussed on-site by the audience seems to be a good test on applicability.
  • It sounds fun. As kids we always learned by playing, and most of the time we were very good at it. However at some twisted point in our lives we were asked to forgot about playing but were demanded to continue learning forever and ever. The notions of an un-conference sound like they can mix both of the concepts in a valuable way.

If you happen to be in the tropics by February 1st 2013 feel free to join us at Universidad Católica. Check out here for additional information.

- Sergio Calvo.

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