An unconference is a participant-led event that rejects the trappings of conventional conferences (such as sponsored presentations and top-down organisation) and whose content is generated by the people who participate. A typical format is an agenda set collaboratively at the beginning of the event and without a hierarchy of speakers at the podium. I’ve been using this format for a number of years now and find its generative and equitable nature both appealing and productive. I’ve written previously about value of the unconference format here.
Putting the *un* into awards
So as a lover of the unconference, I was most intrigued when comms2point0 ran their inaugural unawards in 2014 in the spirit of having an event that was accessible, fun and a little bit out of the ordinary. Inspired by the idea of unAawards and keen to support a growing community of ground up digital innovators a, who don’t often get the limelight, the People Driven Digital unAwards #PDDAwards15 were born. The lovely Anne Cooper and I joined forces and got to work convincing organisations to help us out with some modest sponsorship to cover our costs and help make it happen.
There were a few things that we important to us – an event that was simple to enter, judged by peers, free to attend (recognising that people would have to get there under their own steam which was tricky for a few) was informal and was fun. The awards created a focal point, but we were equally keen to get people along to collaborate, share and learn, as well as be inspired. We wanted the entrepreneurial spark of our digital entrepreneurs to rub off on our sponsors and we wanted the expertise of our sponsors to rub off on our entrepreneurs. You can find out more about how #PDDAwards came about here.
Our winner in the student category was medical trainee Sarah, who based on her own patient experience, developed a mobile app called RADCARE after realising how little information is out there for people going through radiotherapy. Not only did she win the award, but during the evening we hooked her up the University of Leeds Business School who are going to support her in managing her intellectual property and next steps in business development. I hope there were at least a few more similar sparks that occurred during the evening – if you were there and have any to report back, please do leave a comment on this post to share with others.
Every event needs a structure – even a participant led one. Our structure followed a fairly typical format although it was lovely to give space for finalists as well as winners a bit of space to talk about their innovation. Having Roy Lilley compere the event was amazing as he both created a lively atmosphere and kept everything (and everyone) in order, even when the mic blew up… I’d like to think about increasing the *un* in the awards format if we do it again in 2016 – generating more shared ownership and shared recognition. But how? (more thoughts at the end of this post).
Some pop and some sagacity
For a bit of digital entertainment and intrigue, we brought Sagacity – a digital art and wellbeing instillation – all the way from Dundee to showcase at the event. We wanted to amaze and inspire our digital entrepreneurs in ways they hadn’t expected. Sagacity is a periodic table of emotions that illuminate in response to tweets using a certain hashtag. You can find more about it here. Our Pop Up Photo Booth meant we got lots of fabulous fun photos on the night and it was very well used… you can see a collection of them here.
We had some beautiful handcrafted awards made for us by local design and creative company, Duke Studios. As it was a digital event, so we also had digital badges created, that finalists and winners can put on their websites. All finalists received an award so that everyone went away with something. Having winners created some drama to the evening but we wanted everyone to feel like they had been properly recognised for their innovation.
Treats to take away
Every attendee had a *Digital Kit* to walk away with which consisted of a few fun items as a token by which to remember the event. A personalised #PDDAwards15 embossed tea bag, pencil as well as notebook and chocolate bar are everything a digital entrepreneur needs (maybe) for inspiration. We hope this created a bit of fun and a treat to end the evening with.
So what about next year?
So if we do it again, how can we make it better and more meaningful for our ground-up digital entrepreneurs across the UK?
I learnt a lot from #PDDAwards15 and how to do it and how not to do it. A few thoughts from me for a possible #PDDAwards16 are…
- Open online nominations and peer voting – participation starts at the beginning of the process and carries on throughout
- Voting for airtime – people vote not for a winner, but for who they would most like to hear from at the event, so we give space for people to talk and share their learning with others
- Funded places – for people who can’t afford to get to the event or for whom a carer is required, a small fund to cover people’s costs
- Involved sponsors – asking our sponsors to give us a bit of financial help but also to commit some of their expertise to help a digital entrepreneur in the shape of advice/expertise or in-kind resources.
What can we do differently or better to make the unAwards as useful and meaningful as they can be to people who participate in them? Should we run them again or was once enough? This post is written in the spirit of sharing in case you are thinking of running something similar. Or if you have run something similar yourself and would like to share your tips and advice, I’d love to hear. Thank you 🙂