BarCamp – what is it actually and what is the point?

BarCamp - the "unconference" which you hear and see everywhere explained easily understandable

What actually is a BarCamp? You often hear about it at the moment. But most people don’t know what’s really behind it until they’ve taken part themselves. A BarCamp or an unconference is an exchange on a certain topic, which is designed by the participants themselves. What exactly is behind it, how it works and a few tips can be found in this article.

BarCamp – What is meant by this?

A BarCamp is often also referred to as an “unconference”. What does that mean? It means that there is no speaker or keynote speaker. No predefined content to discuss. The individual topics come from the participants. Everyone becomes a participant in the BarCamp. As a rule, a BarCamp has a leading topic to which the participants contribute building blocks. It is therefore a kind of “open” conference.

How does the BarCamp work?

The organizer plans the BarCamp around a set of topics. Often there is also a sponsor, since the BarCamps usually take place free of charge or for a small conference fee. Gladly also organized by communities. Everyone who participates can register a topic at the beginning. With title and perhaps a short description. Often there are bulletin boards and prefabricated cards available for this purpose. And then there is a small pitch. So a short introduction of the session giver and why he/she burns for the topic. Afterwards, the participants vote on which topics will be discussed. Before that, it is decided how many sessions will run in parallel. And then it starts. No concrete result is expected. The session hosts are happy to document the discussions and make them available later. In the plenary, usually only the highlights are briefly touched upon.

Is there a risk?

Due to the lack of clarity about who will be present and what topics the participants will bring to the table, it is not possible to predict in advance whether I will gain any added value. So exactly what I’m interested in will be discussed? No idea! That is the risk! However, as a participant, it is up to me. If I enter my topic as a session, I might find others who will discuss it with me. Personally, I have always found all the BarCamps I have ever attended and participated in to be enriching. So the question about risk can be answered with “NO”.

What a world café?

We were discussing this question the other day. Is there one? Is BarCamp just newer? More modern?
Again, let’s start by explaining the format: the basic idea of the World Café is for participants to get into conversation with each other. To discuss a problem or an issue or to work out solutions. The conversational climate should resemble that of a sidewalk café. Informal and free.

The law of two feet

is often defined as a rule of the game. Namely, the casual wandering from café table to café table. A “host” is established at each table. This host stays at his table the whole time and welcomes the changing guests. All thoughts are scribbled on the tables (laid out paper tablecloths). The rounds last 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the event, and the change is announced frequently. In a final round in the plenum, the results are presented and made available to all.  The goal of the World Café is often to deal intensively with the topic and to find solutions. It is a structured method for large groups.

“The World Café is an approach to engage people in authentic conversations about meaningful issues and to access the collective knowledge of groups of varying sizes.”

And how do World Café and BarCamp differ?

The two formats sound very similar and are designed for large groups. Neither format deals with concrete solutions. Rather, they invite people to address topics or partial aspects.

However, in the case of the World Café, the moderator of the event sets the questions at the tables. All participants receive input on the overall topic in advance. For example, in a presentation or during the introductory session. The hosts are more like moderators at the tables. The structure is given by the moderator and possibly also the direction in which the questions lead. Not for nothing it is said “he who asks, leads”. The course of events or the topics to be discussed are relatively clear beforehand.

In the BarCamp, the organizer merely specifies the topic area. The partial aspects are contributed by the participants, the so-called session givers. There are no ready-made questions or topic tables. That is the biggest difference for me. Everyone can choose a topic and the others decide from the abundance of offers what will actually be on the agenda. There are no set change times. A session lasts a certain amount of time and then it ends. There is usually no new round of discussion on the same topic with the next group. The session giver starts with an intro to the topic, his thoughts or his questions. Those who are there at the moment participate and contribute their experiences and opinions.

Conclusion: The BarCamp is much freer.

4 tips for your own sharing/co-creation in a BarCamp

  • Who am I?
    Introduce yourself briefly and crisply: Name and three hashtags (Which three keywords best describe you and your work?).
  • What do I bring to the table?
    What topics can I contribute to a session? Do I have an exciting project? Can I present a topic? Be brave and get involved!
  • Who is there?
    What other people are there? What ideas/topics do they bring? Actively seek contact!
  • How do I actively and creatively participate?
    Everything is possible: presentation, workshop, discussion, a game, a creative community production – how do you present your topic?

Presence or online?

The format is actually better known from the presence. There are numerous offers there – often free of charge. But increasingly, pilots are also taking place online. The Corporate Learning Community is busy here, for example at the end of January 2020 in MS Teams or on 19/20.03.20 by the Corporate Learning Community in various virtual formats (see also article “Virtual Working Differently – Practical Example BarCamp In 3D“). And it works too!

Presence does not necessarily have to do with physical presence!

I can also be present online! From my point of view, being present means being completely there. Mentally awake and fully involved. Focused. And that has to do with whether I engage with the situation, the topics, the other person. And less to do with whether we are physically in the same room. Thoughts can also wander off…

Just give it a try!

I can only recommend that you simply take part once. An exciting experience!

Wenn Menschen gemeinsam auf einem Trampolin springen, können sie sich gegenseitig beschleunigen oder ausbremsen. Das ist in Teams und Organisationen genauso. Als Trainerin, Coach, Team- und Kulturentwicklerin begleitet Sandra Dundler die Menschen digital und analog dabei, die Herausforderungen der Transformation zu meistern. Sie war selbst lange Jahre Mitarbeiterin in einem Konzern auf unterschiedlichen Führungsebenen.

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