My First Blog – Reflections on an Unconference

It seems fitting that I should write my first blog on a topic that is another first for me – an Unconference! My first Unconference.

I read an article about an Unconference some time ago with an amount of intrigue, but also an element of scepticism.  Fascinated with the concept that as a participant I could attend a conference and get exactly what I want was appealing, but I was also intrigued how this would work in practice?

As a trainer, how would if feel at the start a session with no agenda?  So when the Trainers Network Northamptonshire advertised their first Unconference, I jumped at the chance to attend and experience it at first hand.

I went with a curious mind but even so at the start I was nervous at the prospect of what was to happen and just ‘not knowing’ was an unsettling sensation.  However we were told ‘trust the process’ and gradually it did all make sense.  As a bunch of ‘fearless’ trainers we decided to go for an open programme rather than setting a theme.

We, the Unconference ‘delegates’ set our own programme – each of us, in small groups, agreeing what we would like to discuss, what we need help with, and before too long we collectively had our programme.  3 streams for each time slot.

Then started the really scary bit.  We were told to feel free to move between the different streams whenever we felt that we needed to experience another one, we would know when the time was right.

For those that stayed having people join in on the discussion part way through actually brought fresh ideas and insights.  We were encouraged, where possible to ‘cross pollinate’ the sessions, in other words, transfer relevance to and from the different sessions.  This can really embed understanding and promote greater awareness, however how easy or success it would be would very much depend on how diverse the session topics were.

After the morning sessions came to an end we had time to reflect on our experiences.  The atmosphere and energy in the room was definitely different to the start of the morning.  It had changed from positive apprehension to a definite enthusiastic buzz and if I am honest probably a little relief that it all worked and had been a great experience.

The facilitator, Fiona McBride of Fiona McBride Consulting, had asked us at the start to ‘trust the process’.  We did this and with her expert guidance I can honestly say that I got a lot out of it.  To be able to both gain relevant and timely knowledge, insight and understanding on a range of topic issues is great but what I really enjoyed was that at the same time I could participate where relevant in offering up my own knowledge, advice and guidance –  a double benefit.  Being able to articulate your own knowledge and look for solutions for others helps your own learning process.

Can I see a use for an Unconference within my organisation, the CIWM?  Yes definitely, especially for our New Member Networks, where we can combine a range of experience, an eagerness to learn and help others, and a wiliness to try something new and informal. I will certainly be suggesting it.

Thanks Fiona for giving us a great learning experience and thank you to Kay Buckby for having the foresight to put it on the programme for us all to try.

So that’s my first blog completed and I have to say once I got started it was quite easy to write.  My advice to anyone who is tempted is just make a start, have an idea and just let it flow.  Keep it short and to the point.   Even if you don’t publish it will be a useful process and you can always press delete if you don’t want to share!


Claire Poole is the Professional Development Manager at the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management. She is a Learning and Development professional, keen to try new techniques and challenge herself and others!

One comment

  • Anna Havard

    I’ve never heard of an unconference! Really interesting concept, I’m going to keep a look out for an unconference now!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.