Barcamps, also known as unconferences, used to be the exclusive domain of geeks. But today, groups of all kinds are holding them, with non-geeky topics ranging from health to education to international development.
The key element is the lack of an agenda. A conference comes with a program, but an unconference has none, resulting in an informal environment that fosters creative thinking.
This is how it works in a nutshell:
- Gather people with a common interest and a need for problem-solving and/or innovation around that interest.
- Provide a blank schedule board at the venue.
- Let people write in several topics for every schedule slot.
- Let people sign up for the topics they’re most interested in.
- Pick the topics with the most interest. (If you have room for two separate breakout groups at a time, you pick the top two topics. If you have room for five, you pick five).
- Break into groups and do some crowd brainstorming.
Barcamps draw professionals who are directly involved in the kind of activity your barcamp focuses on, but they also draw people in associated fields and areas of interest that overlap (a barcamp for web designers would also likely attract developers, graphic artists and content strategists). This mix of perspectives contributes to the creative thinking at barcamps.There must be participants
As for who is going to speak or lead during the breakout sessions, the major players mentioned above are usually the first to step up and propose topics on your schedule board. But do keep an eye on your participant list, and if you see more followers than leaders, try to identify and encourage people who would be good candidates.And there must be a t-shirt
Start by looking for sponsors and requesting sponsor recommendations in your own online and real-world networks, and by contacting companies directly. Ideally, you should contact the companies that you and others in your specialty value. This doesn’t mean you should ignore generic major brands: you might find a pizza chain that’ll be happy to feed the whole crowd.
On their wiki, BarCamp.org provides everything you need to organize your barcamp: detailed instructions, ready-made templates with an online sign-in sheet, a logo gallery, and much more. You could also check out some barcamp videos on YouTube to get some ideas.