Environmental Defense Fund and Ashoka are organizing three upcoming Green Innovators Unconferences in Boston, Silicon Valley and Austin. The goal of these gatherings is to connect participants with other innovators to share experiences and ideas, explore new trends and opportunities and brainstorm out-of-the-box solutions to the challenges we’re all facing.
Unlike traditional conferences, there are no formal panels or speeches. They use an participatory, “open space” format. All participants will have an opportunity to share, discuss, network, collaborate and learn throughout the day. For those of you familiar with other meeting facilitation models, think Future Search meets World Cafe with a dash of Open Space thrown in.
Upcoming Green Innovators for Business Unconferences
The next Green Innovators for Business Unconferences will be held:
June 22nd in Boston
July 22nd in Silicon Valley
September 10th in Austin
Notes From Washington DC Event
The first unconference was held on June 10th in Washington DC. You can read more about it on EDF’s Innovation Exchange.
A quick review of the notes from the DC event reflects the range of topics discussed, from changing consumer behavior to the role of government in going green to social media tools.
While I did not attend, the feedback reflects one of the challenges of these events–attracting diversity and pulling in participants who are “less green” to add some spice to the conversation.
Tips for Participating in an Unconference
I participated in the my first official unconference, the Green Business Camp a few months ago. Based on the other self organizing events I have participated in and my background in cross-sector dialogue, I offer these tips for getting the most out of an unconference:
1. Corporate Business–Participate!: Based on a quick review of those enrolled for the Boston event, they need more businesses and corporate sustainability officers to participate, to share their insights, challenges and experiences. Perhaps the lack of a structured agenda scares off corporate participants? Or the title “unconference” puts folks off. Or perhaps, corporate folks are a bit burned out on all the green confererences. I think the unstructured format will be a welcome relief to sustainability officers and is a great opportunity to network with key stakeholders.
2. Jump In and Participate: Just think, a conference with no powerpoints, only telling stories and sharing insights. The agenda is self created by the group, with everyone encouraged to propose a session topic. If an issue or topic calls to you, step-up and offer to lead a session.
3. Facilitating “Unworkshops”: One role of the group leaders is to help the group frame one or two key questions that they want to explore, so the remaining time is spent harvesting the juiciest pieces in the room. Otherwise, you can waste much of your time talking about what to talk about.
Another potential role for facilitators is be to encourage the silent voices to participate–don’t let just a few outspoken voices dominate.
Turning Talk Into Action
A key challenges of unconferences is how to harvest the collective discoveries in the room, when folks might be a bit burned out from networking and talking all day.
Perhaps ask people to write a key lesson on a card and leave it behind. At the unconference I attended, each of us was given a brown paper bag and instructed to write on it something we needed from the community. Each participant then dropped their business card into bags that matched their services and expertise. A fun goody bag to end the day with and an easy way to promote follow-up action.
Deborah Fleischer is the founder and president of Green Impact, providing strategic environmental consulting services to mid-sized companies and NGOs who want to launch a new green initiative or cross-sector collaboration, but lack the in-house capacity to get it up and running. She brings expertise in sustainability strategy, program development, stakeholder partnerships and written communications.