$1k to $5k
estimated cost of external help
  • Scan and research
  • Explore options
  • Consult
  • Deliberate
0-2 weeks
estimated run time
3-5 weeks
estimated lead time
Strong communicator
recommended experience
Also known as an ‘open space’, an event where the agenda is set by those who attend. This can be particularly useful during exploration to surface unexpected topics that are of interest and importance to the community.

The fact that unconferences are participant-led gives these events a different energy, and gives participants a sense of empowerment. Putting the conveners into a listening and hosting role encourages participants to put forward ideas and solutions they may have otherwise held back. This can also be a useful tool for building community momentum on local solutions and events. It enables conversations between those who discover a shared interest through the self-driven agenda, leading to an exchange of knowledge and the building of trust.

In 5 steps...

  1. Kick things off by discussing the main theme for the day and how an unconference works. Then ask anyone who has a burning issue relevant to the topics at hand to make a session card, come up and introduce it to the group, then add it to a time slot to build the agenda for the unconference.
  2. After all the time slots are filled, remind participants of the rules of an unconference and where all the allocated spaces are, and announce that the unconference has started.
  3. Keep track of time throughout the day, using a bell or other device to make transitions clear. If a group wants to continue through the next time slot, encourage them to move into the shared space instead so that people looking for the next session aren’t confused.
  4. Check during every session that each group has a scribe, and collect and label outputs at the end of the session for later use.
  5. Allow ample time to bring everyone back together at the end of the day (or between sessions, if preferred) to talk about what they discussed, what they learnt, and any ideas or solutions they came up with.

When to use it

Unconferences work best in the exploration and prioritisation processes, particularly when focused on a local group or issue. They can also be a great way of hosting a group of experts. The self-organising format means that you can make the most of the expertise in the room and not rely on expert facilitators.


  • Ability to explore issues or ideas in detail.
  • Enables participants to talk about the things that matter most to them.
  • Quickly provides indications of issues that might be ‘noisy’ but which the majority aren’t really interested in.
  • Less planning is required.
  • Builds trust and relationships between participants.
Long term
  • Kickstarts local momentum on an issue if ongoing involvement is desirable.
  • Better-aligned solutions and language.
  • Increased levels of support and enthusiasm for the project.


  • If the focus of the unconference isn’t clear enough, or your facilitator is unable to keep it on track, you might not get the information you’re seeking.
  • When the next steps are not clear or the input isn’t well captured, participants may become disillusioned with the process.



  • Decide on a theme for the unconference that will interest participants and inspire them to attend, and come with ideas/issues to discuss.
  • Find a time and location for the event that is appropriate for the audience.
  • Source participants – use local advertising or invite selected experts, and enable them to invite others.
  • Do a site visit and make sure you’ll have adequate space for the breakout sessions, while also having a space where the whole group will be able to gather to plan and wrap the day.

During the process

  • If similar sessions are suggested at the beginning of the day, ask the owners to consider merging or better-differentiating them.
  • Ensure participants understand the ‘rules’ and feel confident enough to lead or leave a session.
  • Have enough staff that they can circulate and participate in most breakout sessions. It may be appropriate for your team to act as the scribes for the sessions, to make sure that you get the most out of the event.
  • Consider having a visual scribe capture the whole process. This can help participants feel like the seemingly serendipitous conversations are contributing to a meaningful output.
  • Get everyone together at the end of the day to share the things they learnt and what your next steps are, so participants leave feeling that they have had great conversations and have meaningfully contributed.


  • Follow up with participants by sending them any documents or write-ups that have resulted from the events, and telling them how they can stay involved.

Also see:

• http://openspaceworld.org/wp2/what-is/
• https://medium.com/responsive-org/how-to-run-an-un-conference-92e7cf089831