The “Un-Conference” – The Perfect Place for Sharing Ideas

Listen to the Story

I have very fond memories of watching Sesame Street and the Electric Company on PBS as a child. After years of watching This Old House I couldn’t wait to move into my first home. It was in that house that I listened to the very first episodes of This American Life on WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio. Now that I’m living here in Columbus I have the chance to not only enjoy WOSU but to be a part of it on air too.

Recently I attended the first national Public Media Camp as a representative of WOSU. The mission of “PubCamp” was to better understand the role of Public Media within the local community; particularly as online media becomes such a major factor in the production and distribution of content.

Because Public Radio and Television have been a constant for me my whole life, it just felt right that I would have a chance to help shape its future. I was honoured to have this opportunity.

PubCamp was held as an unconference. For those of you unfamiliar with this format it is structured in such a way that all attendees are participants. An unconference isn’t a place for presentation, it is a place for meaningful conversation.

The idea is actually very simple, just three basic steps:

First, get motivated, interested, engaged and knowledgeble Public Media folks together in one space. Second, give them an issue to discuss. Third, let them determine the right questions and topics necessary to inspire conversations that lead to innovative solutions. Believe it or not this process works great.

The unconference format is very empowering. It sets the stage for participants to work collaboratively for the common good of the group. For that reason I wasn’t surprised that PubCamp used this format. You see, I truly believe there is a difference between the people working in public broadcasting and commercial broadcasters. Public broadcasters seem to always look for ways to make their community better. For them, the common good of the community is ahead of everything else.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve attended an unconference; I’ve even helped to host a few myself. In every case I’ve walked away feeling like I helped to create something new. Then, just as important for me; I felt like I made some significant connections with other people.

So what would happen if we began solving of all of our community issues in this collaborative, empowering way? Instead of requiring a few willing people to try and figure out the answers to our complex problems, what if we tapped into the community knowledge that already exists?

Now is the time to maximize our collective intelligence and embrace these new conversation techniques. Through meaningful conversation, conversation that welcomes and listens to diverse viewpoints and maximizes participation and civility, we can transform conflict into creative cooperation.

Andrew Miller hosts the blog Elephants on Bicycles -.