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A short explanation of the unconferences

May 15, 2009

We’ve been asked to put together a short, formal explanation of the Digital Britain Unconferences, so we thought we should put it up here too:


The Digital Britain Unconferences were a set of UK-wide, volunteer-organised events quickly set up in reaction to the British Library hosted ‘Digital Britain Summit’ on 17 April 2009. Their aim was to produce a representative ‘grassroots response’ and gather set of positive, realistic contributions for the report.

A week after the Summit, and with a nod from the Digital Britain team that they were listening, a website was launched with these simple instructions:

“Anyone can attend or hold an event and associate it with Digital Britain Unconferences, you’ll just need to summarise your discussions and hold it by 13th May 2009! Yes, time is very tight.”

By the 13th May, twelve unconferences had taken place from Glasgow in the north to Truro in the south west. All attendees were encouraged to read the Interim Report and the level of engagement and serious thinking across each event was exemplary. The events included a virtual discussion focusing on rural issues related to Digital Britain and a family unconference held in Tutbury, Derbyshire, as well as large events of over 50 people in London and Manchester.

Such a speedy reaction was made possible by the free social media tools such as Yahoo Groups, Twitter, wikis, blogs and instant messaging. Few phone calls were made by the organisers. The process exemplifies what is possible for Digital Britain when these tools are combined with channeling existing loosely connected networks and motivations.

As Clay Shirky describes this phenomenon in Here Comes Everyboody:

“When we change how we communicate, we change society.”

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