Does anyone really like a conference? Too often they’re long-winded, overly structured and just plain dull; the only upside is the free lunch. Which is exactly why unWIREd, a gathering of Baltimore’s non-profit/business/technology leaders that takes place this weekend, is billing itself an “unconference.”
With its open collaboration, self-organizing principles, and opportunities for interaction, the unconference has become a favorite mode of networking and idea-sharing for the tech community. In bringing tech-y optimism and problem solving to bear on very real urban problems (poverty, violence, struggling schools), unWIREd is an attempt to make the unconference relevant to people outside the tech world.
Simply put, the weekend-long event (which takes place August 24-25 on Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus) aims to come up with innovative ideas for addressing the challenges facing Baltimore. If a phrase like “the challenges facing Baltimore” gives you Wire-fatigue, worry not: “We all know Baltimore isn’t The Wire,” says Jason Hardeback, the “Chief Instigator” of gb.tc (the hip 21st-century name for what was once Greater Baltimore Technology Council), who are spearheading unWIREd. “We’re frustrated with the overly-negative perception of our city. But rather than get angry, we should use it as motivation to come together and address the very-real problems holding Baltimore back.”
unWIREd will diverge from the traditional conference model in many ways. Attendees will set the agenda upon arrival — none of those pre-determined topics or rigid schedules here — and the days will center around informal discussions aimed at encouraging collaboration. On Friday, a series of lightning talks will provide a super-quick update on the current status of various efforts to combat the city’s issues; on Saturday, participants will wander around unWIREd’s open campus, with rooms dedicated to brainstorming on specific topics. At the end of the day, everyone will gather for presentations by the teams about what they’ve come up with. (See a list of scheduled attendees here.)
And in case you’re worried that this will be one of those all talk, no action situations, fear not — the second part of the process (scheduled for late September) will focus on executing what the teams come up with.
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