What is an ‘unconference’?

Pi and Mash is a day of workshops and conversation for people interested in doing fun stuff involving libraries and technology, and includes an unconference element.

What is an unconference?

An unconference subverts the traditional conference format by being participant-driven rather than organized top-down. Unconferences are usually based on some form of the concept of Open Space Technology developed by Harrison Owen.

They are very varied, but in our experience:

  • They typically feature a timetable which is planned on the day based on ‘pitching’ before the conference begins. Participants can request organizers rearrange sessions to avoid clashes.
  • They are free to attend.
  • They do not feature sponsored speakers or content dictated by sponsors.
  • They do not make use of PowerPoint or Prezi for slides, as they imply delegate participation and conversation rather than a presenter and a silent audience.
  • They encourage participants to use Harrison Owen’s “law of mobility”, which states:

If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, […] go to some more productive place.

At their best, unconferences take the most useful aspects of a regular conference and expand that activity to fill the whole day.

What does that mean for Pi and Mash?

Programme and pitching

In the Pi and Mash programme, we’ve included practical workshop sessions for a range of technical abilities as well as seminars and discussions.

However, we haven’t filled the programme. We left space for delegates to pitch their own sessions on the day. This is a similar model used at tech-focused conferences the organizers have attended where for example, a practical workshop may require some planning to ensure equipment and software is available.

Participants are free to pitch a session idea on the day, you just have to bring your idea and speak about it for 30 seconds or so. Alternatively you can suggest something ahead of time – we’ve made an open document available for discussion of ideas, including session pitches.

This approach allows you to discuss your idea with other participants, find an interested co-host for a session, or get your idea out there if you’re not comfortable pitching on the day of the event itself.


Owen, H. (2008) Open space technology: a user’s guide. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

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