‘Unconference’ Takes Unplanned Approach

At a typical conference, organizers set a strict agenda and book speakers months in advance. But Important Media Network offers an alternative to that traditional structure in the Honolulu Sustainability Unconference — in which attendees are active participants.

Pretty much the only thing set about the unconference is when it will be held — from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 7 at Proto-HUB in Kakaako. Other than that, it’s something of a free for all. The actual agenda will not be created until the day of the event. (As it says on the unconference website, “The first item on the agenda is to make the agenda.”) Unconference attendees begin the day by voting on what topics they want to hear.

“What is great about it is that you get to hear a real diversity of voices,” explains Scott Cooney, founder of Important Media.

So far, possible topics include how to start an organic farm, fermentation processes for foods like kimchee or sauerkraut, creating homemade, natural deodorant, and green building. Speakers have pitched these ideas, but — and what Cooney feels is really neat — none of these people is guaranteed a slot until the crowd can vote.

Cooney came up with the idea to host an unconference after attending a similarly structured event in California a few years ago.

“I found it to be exceptionally effective and really, really interesting — and I just thought that it would be great to bring that here to Hawaii,” Cooney recalls.

The unusual structure, he feels, lends itself to innovation through collaboration, and allows people in the community to learn from one another. Anybody who registers for the event is eligible to become a potential speaker.

The event also possibly will include breakout workshops and a speed networking session. (“It’s effectively speed dating, except for people in this movement to meet other people,” Cooney explains. “When connections are made, problems get solved.”)

Throughout the day, attendees can participate in a business plan competition: Teams work together to formulate a business plan to present to the group. The team whose pitch gets the most votes wins a prize.

Local green businesses also will host informational booths. Honolulu Furniture Company, for example, will demonstrate its eco-friendly products. Healthy, local snacks and lunch, along with organic coffee and tea, will be provided.

“I am hoping that participants get exposed to a lot of really interesting ideas,” Cooney says, “and I think that they’ll learn direct skills to help them succeed in business and make network connections.”

Important Media is an online network comprised of about 30 websites that cover sustainability from a range of angles, including green building, clean technology, alternative transportation and healthy food.

“If you name it, we have a site that is tailored to that particular niche,” says Cooney, who also is the founder of Pono Home, which helps home owners and renters decrease their utility bills and rid their living space of toxins, and an adjunct professor at University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The Sustainability Unconference is Important Media’s first event.

Overall, Cooney hopes that the unconference can lead to “creative group thinking and crowd sourcing of ideas and innovation around the topic of sustainability.”

For more information on Sustainability Unconference, visit Early-bird tickets are available now for $20 and $25; regular registration costs $35.