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"Academic Conferences, Unconferences, & Reciprocity:
The risks and rewards of emerging forms of community engagement." A presentation at 2013 Imagining America conference at the Warehouse in Syracuse, NY. Presenters: Kristin Medlin (Communications & Partnerships Manager, Institute for Community & Economic Engagement, University of North Carolina at Greensboro) Sarah Bratt and Stephanie Prato (MLIS students at Syracuse University). Emily Janke could not be at the presentation, but her paper provided the foundation for the core ideas for discussion (Director, Institute for Community & Economic Engagement, University of North Carolina at Greensboro),
Including community partners – or community “voice” – is essential to enact the core community engagement principles of reciprocity. Increasing the extent to which academic conferences honor participant voices is important for enhanced knowledge generation as community perspectives are intended to transform scholarship as well as practice and outcomes for all stakeholders. Unfortunately, community participation at conferences continues to be weak. Traditional conference models often discourage reciprocity, revolving around keynote speakers, hierarchical planning, and a passive participant experience. To what extent are academic scholars open to the transformation that is possible when all partners genuinely and earnestly seek to understand, value, respect, and incorporate community partners into plans for community engagement conferences? Are we willing to change the process for identifying conference hosts, conference planners, session formats, locations and venues? In what instances do we narrow our objectives for a conference on community engagement to achieve academic outcomes alone – and at what cost?
Providing an applied perspective to address these questions, participants will discuss a case study from Syracuse University, in which a group of MLIS students came together with librarians and other professionals around Syracuse, New York to create the 2013 unconference on Spaces + Places.With no keynotes, no registration fees, and no pre-planned content, the unconference empowered attendees to share their voices and solicit feedback from the community on specific issues. Anyone at Spaces + Places could present on a topic or facilitate a discussion. The event successfully pulled together disparate sectors of the community around a central theme, inspiring attendees to solve problems and make connections. Key Unconference Success Factors
1. Preliminary needs assessment (solicited ideas from OCPL Library directors, students, and academic, public, and school library community) to determine conference theme. 2. Use crowd-sourced problem solving, but make decisions with a small executive planning group. 3. Provide platform for pre-event dialogue such as social media and collaborative technology platforms (wiki, google docs, twitter) 4. Find the right space and enforce the “vote with your feet."