By Francesca Pearson, head of The Meeting Space at MediCity
As head of The Meeting Space at MediCity in Nottingham, I’m usually called on by clients to arrange conventional meetings, workshops, exhibitions and conferences. However, when science, technology and creative experts get together they tend to like to do things a bit differently. Not for them the traditional conference dominated by big-name keynotes, carefully selected panels, and tightly packed exhibition halls. These are busy people who want results.
So they opt for the Unconference, a trend which is growing in popularity because it enables peer-to-peer learning, collaboration and creativity. This event format is participant-led, allowing anyone the right to suggest a topic for discussion or to choose a time slot and a space for their particular session. Some people even decide to collaborate and merge session ideas, but the key to the Unconference is the freedom to explore and solve problems outside of a rigid structure. Such an approach was born out of the US technology revolution of the mid-1980s, which required innovators to do some fresh thinking.
I’m excited that the Unconference challenges organisers to consider why we are bringing people together, what their needs are and how best to harness their expertise, knowledge and desire for progress. Otherwise, why bother?
I’ve noticed that venue design, and even ethos, can influence the outcome of the Unconference. Sector-specific locations are ideal, be it the arts, scientific or manufacturing, because participants feel more comfortable – they might be less inclined to open-up in a meeting room surrounded by strangers. Well-lit, open spaces which can be divided to take any number or combination of people works well. My own base, The Meeting Space at MediCity is housed in a Grade 1 Art Deco former Boots factory in Nottingham,and makes the most of the vast atria and floor-to-ceiling windows, a valuable legacy of the building’s former function. Now it lends itself to gatherings of innovators, inventors, investors and entrepreneurs working towards the healthcare, beauty or well-being products of the future – and using the Unconference format to unlock their ideas.
American designer and entrepreneur Joshua Kauffman said: “So much of life and work is overly structured that it doesn’t give us, or our ideas, the room to run and grow freely. By contrast, the unstructured high-energy environment of the Unconference amplifies ideas.”
So the Unconference throws convention to the wind. Delegates are active, not passive, nobody is giving a presentation and overloading the event with PowerPoint slides. Everything is unrehearsed and unexpected.
Get the venue right, and your gathering will fly.