By Jamie Hofling | November 20, 2014
A few weeks ago I attended the Unconference in Pittsburg to learn more about Project 17 in Southeast Kansas. The idea of an Unconference is that the audience writes the agenda.
We spent forty-five minutes at the start of the Unconference for the audience to suggest topics they wanted to dig into. The topics were displayed against one side of the hallway and attendees voted on which topics to pursue. The topics with the most votes were hung on the opposing side of the hallway and put into three different time slots.
Topics varied from business access to capital, preventative health, job skills and generational poverty. The rules for each session reminded us that participants had the authority to determine when the session began and ended and had the responsibility to leave a session if we didn’t feel we could gain from or contribute to the discussion. Each of the sessions had a facilitator to help move the discussion along and ensure everyone got a chance to share if they wanted to.
I found the participants to be generous about sharing perspectives on a topic and asking for clarification when points were unclear. I also noticed people willing to refute and state reasons for their opposing view, which kept the conversation flowing and brought new perspectives and ideas for resolution to the discussion. This level of openness and honesty is rare in our society where too often we are fearful of disagreement and conflict.
I believe two of the most honorable things we can do for ourselves and for others is to share where we stand on an issue and listen intently to opposing viewpoints, not always in that order. Attending sessions like these helps me see how important it is to keep working on the democratic process for identifying issues and coming to a consensus on the resolution. These are skills I see being exercised in the E-Community leadership teams and it reminds me just how important it is that we at NetWork Kansas encourage and support these types of discussions at the local level.