three ideas from an unconference

Unconferences are starting to become mainstream. Events where the attendees themselves shape the discussions Hyper WM in the West Midlands is in its third year. So what did one comms person learn?

by Emma Rodgers

Last week I went to the third Hyper WM in the impressive neon surroundings of the Public. For those who didn’t make it, I thought it would be useful to share what I learnt.  

Hyper WM is a West Midlands unconference that brings together people under the banner of making local government better. There is no set agenda - attendees pitch ideas for what they want to discuss and it goes from there. Ideas become workshops and if there isn’t enough interest, the idea gets shelved and the next idea gets pitched.

At this particular event topics ranged from the welfare reform to open data. I was approached to pitch an idea so put forward e-newsletters for residents, not because I am an expert but because I wanted to learn from others about how they did it. That’s one of the great things about unconferences, even if you don’t have all the knowledge someone else will or you will at least be reassured that others are struggling to find a solution too.

So in no particular order here’s my top 3 reasons for going to the next Hyper WM and why I’ll definitely be signing up.

New ideas and inspiration – Really useful information about Walsall’s journey with MailChimp and their resident’s magazine. They stopped doing it one day and didn’t have one complaint. It really got me thinking. And it’s not only from the sessions themselves that you get ideas – while there I spoke with Ally Hook from Coventry about Facebook – they’re doing great new things and it gave me ideas for our own site. I also caught up with Tony Moran from the MOD who talked me through his social media strategy – again really useful as I’m putting ours together.

A problem shared – it was clear we’re all grappling with the same issues, whether it’s public health joining local government or how to better communicate with residents on and off line - sharing our approaches in an open and collaborative way really did help. I don’t think this would happen in the private sector.

Meeting people – yes I know it sounds cliché but it was brilliant to meet others from across the West Midlands. They are a really lovely, helpful and diverse bunch from a range of backgrounds – social media, students, freelancers, private sector – who are happy to help in any way they can. It leads to new partnerships and link ups which is invaluable.

Interestingly, not long after last week’s session a heady twitter debate took place asking if unconferences had had their day. I haven’t been to many but based on my Hyper WM experience I can’t agree. It’s an exciting and interesting way to share ideas and meet like minded people. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think it works for every topic and I’m sure it is also down to the quality of the organisers [Andy Mabbatt and Si Whitehouse are two of the best] but I think there is a lot more to come from unconferences.

Right then I’m off to sign up for the next Hyper WM. See you there.