[python-uk] pyconuk

Michael Sparks sparks.m at gmail.com
Wed Sep 2 10:20:29 CEST 2009

On Tuesday 01 September 2009 22:56:42 Carles Pina i Estany wrote:
> Anything behind the scenes has been happening?

An unconference is based on a concept called Open Space Technology.

Essentially, if you can think of a traditional conference as top down,
an open space event is generally bottom up.

The general outline of an open space event goes like this:

The participants arrive at the venue. There then follows an opening event.
This takes following form:
   1 Everyone says their name and introduces themselves. For speed
      this is often simplified to name, affiliation (if any), and 3 tags or
      words describing themselves or interests. This is generally in a circle
      or concentric circles so that everyone can see everyone else's face.

   2 In the middle of the circle is either post it notes or A4 paper, and
      people then go in the middle, announce a session idea, write it on
      the paper, with their name.

   3 Then they go and stick it up on a schedule, which doesn't have any
      pre-filled in slots. (ie rooms & times)

   4 The sessions then start.

   5 At the end of all the sessions, there is should also be a closing
      session, where a brief discussion can take place, or summary (if

Some geek unconferences tend to skip one or two of these steps, but
hopefully pycon uk's unconference won't - IMO open space works best
when you don't skip these steps.

Some other points:
   * You ARE encouraged to blog the sessions at the event. (Traditional open
      space suggests designating someone per room to document the discussion,
      but blogging works just as well)

   * If this is your first time, you are expected to talk. (Don't know what to
      talk about? Run a session called "teach me about <fun project>" based
      on the interests you hear from others)

   * Wearing a badge, with your name, affiliation and three tags is useful :)

There are also 4 rules of open space events, which are usually
mentioned in the opening ceremony:
    * Whoever comes is the right people
    * Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
    * Whenever it starts is the right time
    * When it's over, it's over

Finally, there is the law of two feet: "If at any time during our time
together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither
learning nor contributing, use your two feet. Go to some other place
where you may learn and contribute."

If this seems really bizarre, there's a short summary here:
http://www.openspaceworld.com/users_guide.htm , and Harrison Owen's
book on the topic is well worth reading. (Harrison Owen is an
anthropologist, and apparently one year he ran a traditional academic
style conference. Apparently it went really well, but he said that
everyone came up to him afterwards complimenting on it and saying that
the coffee breaks were the best bit, and maybe make the breaks longer
next time. Being an anthropologist he went off to try and figure out
how to make the entire conference "the best bit", and came up with
open space technology.)

If there's one other thing I'd suggest adding: introduce yourself
informally to people between sessions as well, and ask someone you've
never met before what they do, and what they hope to talk about. Open
space events start from conversations, and the schedule is not fixed,
it's stuck on with sticky notes, and if turns out everyone wants to
discuss something like "how on earth do I..." that's perfect. Those
sorts of events have always been the best :-)

If I could make the event (I have a family commitment that weekend)
then I'd be interested in a session called "how to run a python user
group successfully", and drag some of the PYWM people in, but I can't.
Other's may be interested in graphics, or concurrency or testing, or
packaging, or... Basically, run a session if you want to teach or want
to learn. (Same thing really)

It sounds like it can't work, and yet every single time someone
follows the rules, and encourages everyone to run a session, it always
does. But then open source sounds like it can't work either, and yet
it does :-)

http://tinyurl.com/bzo53n (pictures rather than description)

Other than that, have fun :-)


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