Scientists, Unconferences and Culture Clash

Someone I know recently emailed me with the following question

I’m co-organizing a biomedical/healthcare-themed unconference to be held later this year, and culture clash has come up as an issue. Were you involved in any of the SciFoo events? Can you offer any advice for how to approach this? Any hard lessons learned?


Sadly I’ve not been to a SciFoo event yet, but I have been to plenty of scientific conference and one or two geek driven unconferences. From what I hear there are indeed some differences that emerge when unconferenceing with scientists compared to unconferencing with Geeks. For a start an important part of a scientists career development revolves around making well argued presentations of their work to their peers in the crucible of the conference. Add in the lecturing role and you have an individual who is very used to standing up in a room and presenting the complete story.

One of the goals of an unconference is perhaps to tease apart the complete and finished story, to look at the spaces in between and to be open to blue sky thinking. This may lead to a slight mismatch in expectation about the kind of conversations that the organizers might hope to happen at an unconference, compared to the mode of communication that a scientific group brings with them to the meeting.

I know that the SciFoo invite is very specific about this, and through application of the Chatham House Rule an environment of open discussion is fostered.

I’m sure many of the people out there reading this blog have some input into the question though, so I thought I would post here and see if any of you enlightened science geeks might have some advice for my friend?


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