First Slugger ‘unconference’ in May…

Over the next few months you should see Slugger become much active, both on the net and on the ground. Right now, we’re on the lookout for the donation (or very cheap hire) of a suitable venue in May for an event we’re planning.

The intention is to co-ordinate some activity where government policymakers, NGOs, social media practitioners and commercial providers can get their heads together to share ideas, experiences and an understanding of how social media tools can be used to address the big issues facing Northern Ireland over the next few years.

We’ll be using the ‘Unconference‘ model. That means no fixed agenda or keynote speakers. Participants collaborate to agree a set of open conversations, and the timetable is negotiated on the day.
Social media has the capacity to smash economic rules during an economic downturn. There’s been a huge uptake of applications like Twitter both among business and domestic sectors.

There’s an expectation globally that social media will play a major role in economic recovery.

Yet for all its promise, there are few actual measurable instances where it has been used to solve business problems. and there are always circumstances where the technology just doesn’t fit precise organisational or business needs.

In the UK and Ireland, there is a robust and innovative creative and technology sector. But there are precious few opportunities for creatives to connect with each other to establish new products and businesses or develop methodologies for measuring the value of social media.

In the meantime, major management consultancy agencies and government taskforces publish reports about social media that bare little relationship with what is really happening in the marketplace and yet they attract huge funding from the corporate sector without publishing anything that’s specific to the needs of various businesses [see the Digital Britain taskforce and an exemplar Gartner report (US$7K)].

Yet for all that money, time and investment, when we ran the Slugger Awards last year, the one category we got no recommendations for was the Participation Award.

These ‘Unconferences’ are not a new idea. They’ve been done cheaply – with good results – by Belfast born Steve Moore (who organised 2gether08) with a few London-based social media people (like Barcamp), and by Amplified at NESTA in November 2008 among others.

We’ll be working with 4iP and Amplified (a non-profit organisation).

The aim is to create – in Northern Ireland – a ‘Network of Networks’ gathering, based on small conversations between interested parties, rather than presentation oriented conferences and unconferences.

This should be fun and a great opportunity. If you’re interested in coming along event, register your interest at the event wiki and read more about the Amplified concept.

If we can manage to keep the costs down, we’re going to make it free-of-charge since we want it to be as inclusive as possible. So, let us know if you think you can find us a suitable venue at little or no cost – then we can do everything we can to make this happen!
(Apologies – the ‘Amplified concept’ link was broken. Fixed now)

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  • Nice! If you need any help just drop me a line.

  • The Raven

    Chatham House Rules? Count me in.

  • Mick Fealty

    Possibly the opposite of that. More later…

  • Wonderful initiative Mick


  • Alan

    “we want it to be as inclusive as possible”

    Here’s a challenge, Mick, – and I’m not suggesting that you have the answer to this – how would you make such an event accessible to deaf people ?

    We are only getting to the stage in NI where presentation style conferences are asking for participants’ communication needs. We have no palantypists on the island of Ireland and a small, though growing, number of registered sign language interpreters.

    If a deaf person attends such an event, they may be able to use Access to Work to pay for an Interpreter, but only if their attendance is work related.

    How do you raise issues of inclusion in a system of ideas that are developing at such a blistering pace.

  • Mick,

    … government policymakers, NGOs, social media practitioners and commercial providers can get their heads together to share ideas, experiences and an understanding …

    There is a lot of inbuilt bias here. It will, no doubt, be very interesting event for those who can attend, but it excludes (or reduces the possibility of participation of) those who cannot travel to Belfast on the day. People like the old, the young, those with work or family commitments.

    Now I understand that you hope for “a ‘Network of Networks’ gathering, based on small conversations “, but it would seem to be more representative if you could organise a ‘network of network gatherings‘, with events spread far and wide, geographically and temporally. Think of, for example, the Patton Commission, and the unprecedented outbursts of popular expression that it recorded, simply by doing things differently – by going to the people, rather than organising a centralised high profile event, to which the public-sector employed, Belfast resident, can go, but from which a Tyrone small farming mother will feel excluded, even if she could make it up to Belfast.

    But maybe I misunderstand your intention? Maybe you don’t really want ordinary people? After all, you say that your target participants are “policymakers, NGOs, social media practitioners and commercial providers “. Sounds like the same old crowd you get at all this type of conferences.

  • DC

    Horseman, the power within agenda setting and that of keeping things of the discussion table?

  • DC


  • Alan

    Dunleavey’s power of doing nothing !

  • There is a contradiction between the reference to ‘government policymakers, NGOs, social media practitioners and commercial providers’ as attendees and the later commitment to make the gathering as inclusive as possible.

    Does Mick perhaps mean that the rest of us are meant to come along to share our experiences with government policymakers etc.? I must admit I’m struggling to see quite how this would work.

  • Dave

    Being a cynic, I can see all of the self-styled ‘social media’ gurus (former lifestyle coaches made redundant by the credit crunch and web designers forced into penury by $25 downloadable customisable templates, etc) hyping this up as the basis for a lucrative new (but inevitably short-lived) consultancy craze: those who do ‘get it’ putting the fear of ‘not getting it’ into those who don’t get it and persuading them that they keep do set a budget to consult with those who do get it so that others who didn’t get it but now do get it won’t make those who still don’t get it obsolete/backward/out-of-touch/uncompetitive/whatever (delete as applicable).

  • Dave

    Typo: “…that they [b]need to[/b] set a budget…”

    *Just got it*

  • Mick

    Hey guys. I should not be here. But let’s say it is in part up to you to set the agenda. Alan’s piece duly noted, as are the other suggestions.

    Don’t fret too much about what’s not there or left out. Help us build it as we go along. The whole point of an ‘unconference’ is that it centres on the issues that important to people who come along on the day.

  • Dave

    The “government policymakers” and “NGOs” are accustomed to unworking so they should like the unconference idea.

  • kathleen

    I agree with jenny. What would attract the ordinary slugger commentator to go along to such an event. It comes accross as “business” related, and a specialised business at that.

  • Kathleen

    Having said that I’m thinking of going along. They’ve offered me recording rites and access to their sound etc. I intend to pick my way through it for anything I think would be of benefit to the ordinary person or blogger and put it on you tube. Slugger will be able to plug into their live stream if they want to.

    Especially now I’ve decided to part company on good terms with this blogging lark….

    Mick, you can let me know if you are interested in those low cost venues I sent.

  • … it centres on the issues that [are] important to people who come along on the day.

    Ah, the plot thinnens.

    It’ll be just another love-in attended by the great and good of the quangocracy, while those in business (if there are any left) will be back on the farm/in the factory/in the kitchen. So clearly their interests and concerns are not going to feature very highly.

    And we still wonder why our economies have sunk so low? If you keep organising events focussing on ‘sharing ideas, experiences and an understanding of how social media tools can be used to address the big issues facing Northern Ireland over the next few years’ while ignoring the evident need for the central inclusion of the productive sector, you are just wasting your time.

  • kathleen

    O and before you guys ask, which I know you will, mick pulled the hutchinson interview. He wrote to billy H, don’t know what reasons he gave, but I’m really not up for that kind of thing. If I give an assurance to someone re something I like to keep it. This stuff was planned, among other things but it was prevented from going forward over the three comments that were pulled, and a stalemate ensued. So we’ve parted on good terms.

    That H interview, or controversial ones like it, will hardly see the light of day imv on slugger o’toole.

  • runciter

    Unconferences are already well established in Ireland.

    Unconvention Belfast (a music unconference) is happening today and tomorrow.

    The third Belfast Barcamp (a tech unconference)is planned for April 25th

    In Dublin, there are two unconferences planned for March: BizCamp (business) and OSS BarCamp (Open Source Software).

    That said, I think a Slugger unconference is a good idea.

  • Great stuff.

    Going to Unconvention after work today and tomorrow

    went to barcamp last year. It’s an excellent format for learning, sharing and networking.

    looking forward to it chaps.

  • DC

    “So we’ve parted on good terms.”

    Is this a roundabout way to tell us that you’ve quit?

  • Kathleen, don’t quit blogging even if you part from Slugger (which I hope you won’t) – start your own blog/ vlog instead and post whatever you like.

  • Mick, please give me a shout about this (I’ll try to raise you, too). I’d like to think my organisation could have a positive input into this initiative.

  • Paul Evans

    I’m going to be helping Mick pull this event together. If anyone wants to get involved, please initially follow the links in the post and put your contact details on the Wiki.

    Picking up the questions of inclusivity, here are a few observations: Firstly, a huge amount of this event will happen online rather than at a venue. The online stuff is largely driven by the event in the same way that a deadline makes things happen. For an event that aims to charge nothing and only seek the odd bit of sponsorship to cover costs, we’re going to be as inclusive as we possibly can be. Everything has to be somewhere and wherever we are, we’ll exclude people geographically – but if you can’t make it on the day, you can still get something out of the process (and I’d be interested if we can find a way of allowing people to participate online in the event as well?)

    On the (I think, ridiculously – even contrivedly cynical) point raised by ‘Horseman’, the agenda can be shaped by anyone who wants to come.

    (I’ve just seen your post no17 – WTF? Are you that Harry Enfield teenager or something?)

  • @Paul Evans
    I wish to express my formal interest on your Wiki, but I can’t figure out how? Do I have to sign up for a Wiki account just to add my name? Is there an easier way of doing this? (Not all of us are Wiki savvy, or is this a test?)

  • Mark McGregor


    Possibly problem. You are asking people to put contact details on the wiki – Slugger has many contributors who are annonymous and they may not have an email address etc they want on public display.

    Any chance of a email address for these people to express interest to?

  • Missed this story earlier in the week. Excellent idea Mick. There’s a definite feeling of greater openness to political and on-the-fringes participation, involvement and engagement. Very keen to attend and if necessary help out.

  • Paul Evans

    Mark – noted. We will probably be moving it from the Wiki fairly soon – and into a site. We don’t want to get into holding e-mail addresses if I can avoid it so I may get onto this sooner rather than later?