What to expect from an unconference

For many, or most, participants at the African Fintech Unconference, this will be the first time attending and participating in an unconference style event.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a brief blog explaining what an unconference is, and more importantly, what you can expect at the African Fintech Unconference.

So, what is an unconference?

An unconference is an open, participant-driven event.

An unconference is designed to enable rapid exchange of information and ideas, provide a space for conversations that matter and foster the development of collaborative relationships. The content is proposed and provided by the participants, and is often determined on the day of the event.

The premise behind the unconference idea is that the sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of the expertise of the people on stage. The African Fintech Unconference is about empowering attendees to share their expertise.

Three key points to keep in mind at the African Fintech Unconference:

  1. Go with the flow – This event is intended to help you and all the other participants find the time and space to talk with, and learn from each other.

  2. Follow your passion – Go to the sessions that interest you.

  3. Take responsibility for your own learning – If there are topics you are really interested in that don’t appear on the agenda at first, you need to put them on.

Format

The unconference format creates space for peer-to-peer learning, collaboration and creativity.

At the start, the entire group will gather together and be guided through creating an agenda relevant to the theme of the event.  The exact process is not important to understand in advance – the process will become clear as it happens.  The important part is that everyone will have the opportunity to put sessions on the agenda.  No session will be voted off or ‘won’t happen’ for some other reason - all sessions are welcome. It is organic, kinetic, a little messy and a lot of fun.

The sessions convened can range from the formal to the informal, from the well thought out pre-prepared talk reflecting years of research and practice to the spur of the moment ‘new idea’ that would be fun to talk about. These sessions give participants the opportunity to have an unfiltered exchange of innovative ideas. 

Everyone is encouraged to take part in running at least one session. No one is going to come around and make sure you did, but this is a give and take experience where everyone’s input and insights are appreciated.

The African Fintech Unconference differs slightly in style from a traditional unconference in that there will be a few pre-arranged, expert-led sessions, in line with the three themes of the unconference, namely:

  1. Creating valuable partnerships between fintech innovators

  2. Building business to business (B2B) partnerships with financial service providers

  3. Creating consumer trust in digital financial services and products

However, the majority of the agenda is left open, to allow for the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than follow a conventionally structured programme of events.

Before the event

The African Fintech Unconference forum will give you a sense of the range of topics that people are suggesting. The forum will also help you connect with whom you might want to collaborate when convening a session.

Although you’ll see suggestions for sessions and talking about ideas ahead of time this is not where the agenda gets created—that happens at the event itself.

Collaboration among participants who convene sessions and even merging of sessions on similar topics are both encouraged. The forum can help you identify possible collaboration opportunities. Co-hosting or merging a session might be particularly relevant if you are not comfortable with public speaking.  If you convene a session, the decision to merge with another session will always be yours to make.

Convening a session

A key point to remember is that If you convene a session, it is your responsibility to “hold the space” for your session. You hold the space by leading a discussion, by posting a “first question,” or by sharing information. Be the shepherd – stay visible, be as involved as necessary, and guide the group through the session.

A few notes on convening a session:

  1. You do not have to have done any preparation in order to convene a session. If you have an idea during the unconference that you would like to discuss, call a session.

  2. There is no ‘right way’ to lead a session. However, keep in mind that the unconference format encourages interaction and discussion, rather than a one-way dissemination of information from the session convener.

  3. Choose a format for your session will help you achieve your vision.

Here are a few ideas about different session types to get you thinking about possibilities.

  • A short presentation to get things started

5-15 minutes of prepared material/comments by the session leader followed by an interactive discussion.

  • Group discussion

Someone identifies a topic they are interested in, others come to join the conversation and an interesting discussion happens.

  • Hypothesis - Answer

You have a hypothesis you want to test and get input from the group.

  • Little/Big question

You have a question you want to know the answer to, and you think others in the group could help you answer it. This format could also just be the seed of a conversation.

  • Learn how to do X

If you’re inclined to teach, this can be simple and effective. Bring any equipment needed and make sure your plan enables you to teach 5 - 15 something at the same time.

Venue and dress

While the keynote and other two anchor sessions will be held in a central indoor location, the breakout sessions will be hosted in different venues across the resort. They may range from indoor areas with formal seating, to towels on the beach. Depending on the weather and your feedback, session venues may be reshuffled throughout the event. The important note here is to dress comfortably. 

Please remember that The African Fintech Unconference Team is on hand to help. You are more than welcome to get in touch if you'd like to talk an idea through before posting on the forum, are looking for a collaborator or have any questions.