WhateverCamp – what do people want? #unconferences

I love unconferences held in the barcamp/open space style, love attending, love presenting, love facilitating. I know lots of others who do to. Every time I do one, everyone’s buzzing about how great it was. We put the focus on connecting people with each other rather than facing forward and listening to us and it really works. But it often seems that there’s not quite enough supply for the demand. To date we’ve relied mostly on goodwill: sponsorship money often goes on beer & pizza, t-shirts and sometimes a facilitator but sponsorship also comes in kind, in the form of venue and catering. Certainly among public service unconferences, the organisers usually do this as “part of their day job” or for the love of it, but there’s only a certain number of people who can do that.

As part of my business model thinking, I’ve been looking at shifting the unconference organisational model slightly to see if we could create a (more) commercial way of putting on more events, in more places about more things.

In my view, the demand is not only for new or more refined subject areas, it’s also about locality. So there’s a question of whether you do one big national thing (and if you do whether or not you do it in #ThatLondon) or lots of regional variants (and if you do and if a person can only go to one, which one she should choose). Then there’s something about running events that reflect some particular need in a region or local community.

Anyway, before getting too carried away, always ask the community first, so I asked on Twitter the other day:

  • “So if you could go to an unconference on *any* subject, which would you choose? Is there a *camp that you’re itching to have?”

This is my grouping of the answers, your categories and analysis may differ…

Sex/Love & Relationships/Intimacy

  • Terence Eden suggested: “SexCamp. Or, perhaps, LoveAndRelationshipsCamp.”
  • backed up by Anke Holst who’d been to Cassie Robinson‘s Intimacy Lab at Hack the Barbican and Chris Pinchen who had “tried to do Sexcamp in Barcelona – complicated but currently working on something similar”

How we work together

  • Tim Lloyd went for “workcamp: how the workplace is being changed by tech, working longer, economy, attitudes etc” … “Particularly from a civil service perspective…”
  • and Jayne Hilditch asked for “Intrapreneur Camp”


  • raised by Janet Davis: “CreativeCamp (I’ve wanted to do this for 3 years!) :-)” which reminded me of the many talks about doing a CreativeCollaborationCamp. Janet also emphasised the geographical issue “I’d like to have one up in Newcastle or Gateshead (& for more reasons than just because travelling is a problem for me :-)”


  • In here I include Lars Plougmann’s “3D-printed open source autonomous drone camp”
  • and this from Mark O’Neill: “redwireorbluewirecamp, but only if it is going to happen in the next 27 minutes. 26 minutes ….”

And then…

  • I remembered that after LocalGovCamp last year there was excited talk about a proposed SocialCareCamp – did that go anywhere? And after the first HousingCamp people suggested one in the North – again, I’m not sure where that went.

So some interesting ideas – please add in any knowledge you have of these or others you’d like to do in the comments.

And if you want to help thinking through how we might run many more of these things than are already on offer, give me a shout.

(BTW if you haven’t seen it, or if you’ve no idea what I’m going on about take a look at the little film that was shot at #housingcamp)

8 thoughts on “WhateverCamp – what do people want? #unconferences”

  1. Hi Lloyd,

    Sensible (ish) response now I am at my PC…

    I missed your tweet, but this is a great idea. Of the shortlist, “how we work together” and “creativity” both hit the mark for me.

    I would add another, though: no topic. People come and talk to (like-minded) people about the interesting ideas they have, problems they are trying to solve, things they want to share. Kind of BarCamp-like, but not the technical side.

    I think the best unconferences work because they cut across disciplines. So “how we work together” and “creativity” could both pull interest from several different fieldss (architects, technologists, psychologists, management people …) – which is how (liminal) connections get made.

    I have actually been thinking about unconferences a bit – prompted by a conference I went to, where I introduced a friend to the idea of unconferences, and that made me decided to write a post about them (which I never completed. So today’s task has become…)

    Your post resonates because unconferences are rarely – never? – completely uncurated: someone has sat down and decided, “I want to discuss this” – a bit paradoxical.

    Also, I imagine they take a lot of organising…

    1. Thanks Patrick

      yes, the no-specific-topic-but-not-really-technical – LiberalArtsCamp? idea sounds good too.

      We’ve got a very fixed idea so far of how they get organised. I’m thinking of using open space in a diagnostic way rather like the initial conversation we used in Tuttle Consulting, so rather than have an afternoon of conversation we run a little unconference on the subject with people invited from the client and from outside.

      They do take some organising, but I also think that if conference organisers can still run conferences at some sort of profit that we should be able to do something with the different form that still makes us money or at least pays those involved. I think a big brake on there being more events is that they’ve so far been run by volunteers.

      And yes, this is all part of a bigger bolder business plan, we should have a chat about it some time soon!

      1. I’m thinking of making the trip down to London in early October or mid November. If I do, we should see if we can make some time outside of Tuttle!

  2. And partly because it can be powerful in its own right, and partly because ti could provide a route to a slightly more commercial model, it’s worth thinking about “Internalcamp”.

    The first unconference I went to (though not, I think, so labelled) was in 2001. The occasion – as unlikely as it might sound – was a Cabinet Office senior managers’ awayday which took place in the even more unlikely surroundings of a school in Poplar. And it was a great success with all the buzz which you describe, despite the fact – or perhaps because of the fact – that the approach was wholly new to pretty much everybody.

    The challenge then, as I think it would be for even a slightly more commercial model, is to think about what happens next. As you well know, there is a recurrent debate at and around govcamp between those who think that the energy and opportunity for reflection at the event is sufficient justifcation and those who want to see more tangible consequences. I suspect that moving in these sorts of directions would strengthen the view that there should be outcomes and consequences.

    1. Interestingly, I first came across Open Space whilst working in another large, conservative institution: a bank – it was part of a change programme. Open Space was used to design the change – a very smart move, since it empowered those subject to the change, making us participators.

      Unfortunately, the management then decided to go back on what had been agreed, and imposed changes, thereby doing more damage than if they had simply done what they wanted to start with!

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