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Internet2 ACAMP Unconference - A Dynamic Tradition

Jun 10, 2015, by Emily Eisbruch
Tags: Community Engagement, Community-Driven Innovation, Middleware Initiative, Trust & Identity

Conferences such as the Internet2 Technology Exchange provide a fantastic opportunity to interact and share ideas—in person—with our professional community. But how about an unconference?  What is that exactly, and how does it compare to a traditional conference?

“Unconferences are highly participatory gatherings where attendees use an amazingly fast and fun process to create an on-the-spot agenda that addresses the topics of greatest interest to them, and then head to breakout sessions to dig into those topics,” explains Tom Barton, Senior Director for IT Architecture, Integration, and Security, and Chief Information Security Officer at University of Chicago.  “We in the trust and identity community have seen this create an energy and vitality that fosters and sustains collaboration and problem-solving that moves the discipline forward—but just as importantly, it does so in a way that is inclusive, peer-like, and warm.”

(Above) Collaborative thinking and problem solving flourish at ACAMP Unconference breakout sessions like this one at the 2014 Technology Exchange.

The adoption of the unconference meeting format by the Internet2 trust and identity community has roots going back to 2002, when Internet2 began sponsoring CAMP (Campus Architecture and Middleware Planning) and Advance CAMP (ACAMP) workshops, which were frequently co-sponsored by EDUCAUSE.

After eight years of conducting these productive and popular workshops, the community-led ACAMP planning committee took a bold leap and decided to experiment with the unconference format at the 2010 ACAMP in Raleigh. As it turned out, the ACAMP community planning committee was on target in their vision, as the Raleigh ACAMP received very positive reviews. Since 2010, there’s been one Internet2 ACAMP unconference per year, often in conjunction with larger Internet2 conferences. The ACAMP unconference at the 2014 Technology Exchange in Indianapolis attracted 170 participants, and the next one is slated as part of the 2015 Technology Exchange in Cleveland.

How does an Internet2 ACAMP unconference work? It starts with no agenda, just blank time slots on the wall and community members ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. At the opening session, everyone has the chance to pitch possible topics for breakout sessions, using sticky notes affixed to one of several big grid sheets on the wall, where each square on the grid represents one available timeslot.  The mantra “Everything is OK” permeates the process and is repeated by the facilitators—in recent years, Tom Barton (University of Chicago) and Ann West (Internet2). This encourages community members to propose whatever topic they see as important to the community, mash their topic with others, or suggest variations of ideas others have proposed.

Agenda setting at the unconference

(Above) Agenda-setting at the Fall 2012 Internet2 Member Meeting ACAMP Unconference, Philadelphia.

Scribing the breakout sessions is also a collaborative endeavor. The notes from each breakout session are kept on Google docs and linked to the ACAMP wiki. To get the idea, you are invited to check out the topics and scribing notes from the 2014 ACAMP Unconference.  

The unconference has a sweet twist at the end, as attendees have a chance to acknowledge (with chocolate bars that are provided) someone who has helped them to address a problem in a new way, advance their thinking somehow, or whom they just want to thank for any reason. The room’s collective “big heart,” even more than the chocolate, is a great thing to share before everyone says their goodbyes and departs.

These days, when a unique or daunting challenge is mentioned on an Internet2 trust and identity working group conference call, the response is often: “That would be a great topic to propose at the next ACAMP.”

Of course, the best way to try out the benefits of the unconference format is to join one. We look forward to seeing many of you at the ACAMP unconference at the 2015 Technology Exchange in Cleveland!

Agenda setting at the 2014 Technology Exchange ACAMP unconference

(Above) Agenda-setting with sticky notes is part of the unique experience of the ACAMP unconference. The mantra is: "Everything is OK."