HR ‘unconference’ to be held next week – but what is an unconference?

Next week, the social networking community ConnectingHR host the first “unconference” for the HR profession – HR and the Social Organisation.

Rob Moss asks event organisers Gareth Jones and Jon Ingham what the event is all about, beginning with the obvious question…


What makes an unconference different to normal conference?

Essentially it’s different in two main ways. Firstly, it’s much more informal and less structured than a traditional conference. There are no hour-long presentations where the audience sits in silence listening to a solitary speaker. It’s far more participative and discussion-based. The day consists of a number of smaller, informal group sessions where people discuss the key themes, share experiences and ask questions. These last for about an hour after which the groups reform to cover another topic.

The other difference is that at a normal conference, the content/theme is decided by the organisers. At an unconference, the attendees are the ones who decide what the agenda will be and ultimately what is discussed. Of course, we do set an overall theme, but it’s top line. The attendees fill in the detail by either sending in their ideas for content ahead of the conference, as is happening now, or bringing their ideas with them on the day.

A “track leader” often leads the groups but the role of this individual is simply to kick off the conversation and guide it. Anyone can be a track leader – if you pitch up on the day and fancy leading a discussion then you can do just that!

What gave you the idea to apply the format to an HR event?

The original inspiration for ConnectingHR was to raise the profile and potential benefits of social media for organisations within the HR community who are still largely wary of social networking and collaboration.

The unconference format goes hand in hand with the social networking ethos so it was a natural choice. By its very nature, social networking is about collaboration and two-way dialogue so it would seem quite strange to discuss the topic in a traditional, one-way dialogue setting as you would at a normal conference.

The event is mainly about social media and collaboration. How well does HR do social media?

Not very well! That was the original inspiration behind ConnectingHR. Despite the fact that social media is very much on the HR agenda, it’s mainly from the point of view of control, with many HR professionals and organisations concerned chiefly with the impact of employees using the tools in the work environment for personal use.

There is a huge opportunity for organisations that embrace social collaboration both internally with employees and externally with customers. Unfortunately, many organisations are not participating in the dialogue and this is a problem. If you are not using social media or engaged in social networks, you cannot hope to understand the benefits and potential. Our experience is that very few HR professionals are active on social media as yet which is a huge barrier to understanding its potential.

Who is the event for?

The event is aimed primarily at HR professionals who are curious about social media and its potential in organisations or those who have had success and want to share the knowledge. We have also had interest from internal communications professionals as there is a huge crossover between the two functions when it comes to this subject.

Will beginners be catered for?

Absolutely. As we said, the agenda is driven by you, the attendee. We have already had requests for a “beginners guide” session so we expect every level of knowledge to be catered for. If there is something you want to cover in particular then go to the website and make a suggestion. It’s that simple.

For which areas of HR is social media most relevant?

The whole spectrum of HR. This is perhaps the biggest challenge and misunderstanding at the moment. We are only literally scratching the surface of the potential for social media in organisations. Whilst resourcing and internal communications are the obvious areas, we believe that there is value and contribution to be made across the wider HR function including engagement, learning and development, and reward.

ConnectingHR takes place in London on 21 October 2010.

Book your place at the ConnectingHR Unconference here

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