Ok. We have to get this out of the way right away — unconferences are fantastic!
When we first started to properly plan Transport Planning Camp a good 4 months in advance of it actually happening, we had no idea how it was going to play out. We got a lot of great advice from many people, including the team at OneTeamGov and Transportation Camp in the US, on all of the various issues on running an unconference. For which we are grateful for.
But the advice can never really prepare you for actually running the event. It is tiring, frustrating, and a long slog to get even minor things organised. But above all, it is amazing. Amazing to see the energy in the room. Amazing to see the enthusiasm for transport planning. And amazing to see the willingness to do things differently.
Now that we have had a chance to reflect on how it has gone, and we have had a read of all the session notes, a few things struck out to us.
Transport planners clearly want to discuss matters outside of the usual frame of reference of transport planning. Yes, there were discussions on the ‘usual suspects’ of driverless cars and predict and provide. But rather than talk about them technically, they reflected back on what transport planning is for, and how as a group they can make that change. A common theme was equity, something almost missing from many other events.
It was fascinating to see a much more diverse mix of attendees in comparison to most transport-related events. There are a number of factors that may be behind this, including the messaging used to promote the Unconference as an unbiased event (and the chance for attendees to personally influence it), the low cost of a ticket, the non-corporate branding and also perhaps that the people organising the event (us) were visible and also relatively diverse.
Being a transport planner usually means looking at your profession through the lens of your organisation and the projects you are working on. For us it was great to see various professionals gathered at the unconference, discussing their concerns about new technologies and trying to tackle problems together. From everyone’s pledges to take action it is clear to usthat the event empowered its participants to contribute towards a positive and sustainable future.
One challenge that we found was going into sufficient depth in the sessions. Maybe this was reflective of the format of the event — one hour sessions on topics chosen by the participants on the day. This meant that for some sessions, it was more a surface coverage of the issue as opposed to an in-depth exploration. Not that it detracted from the quality of discussion, but it is something to think of for next time.
A matter that has come up subsequently is how inspired those who attended were to do things. Bumping into many volunteers and attendees at conferences afterwards, many shared stories of how they had already taken action, and who wanted to run other events next year. We will certainly be running the camp again next year, and we are giving further thought to how we can do more events like this.
We are preparing a quick guide on how to run your own unconference, and some reflections on the event that we will publish before Christmas. As well as some feedback from people who attended on the day.