It all started with a conversation…

In November, 2012, Dee Brooks (ABCD, Art of Hosting), Michaela Kennedy (Pathways to Leadership, Person Centred Planning), Sue James & Chris Bennett (Appreciative Inquiry) sat around a small coffee table in a crowded café in Sydney, after fortuitously meeting at Sue & Chris’ Essence of Appreciative Inquiryworkshop, and discussed a seemingly elusive place where people, on a level playing field, could learn and grow together by discussing society’s big issues in a strengths-focused environment – without competition and without ego – but with powerful intent, with deliberate dialogue and with inclusion at its heart!

A big call, which they subsequently found would resonate with many other people…

They discussed the desire to collaborate with others who were ‘pure of heart’, and potentially forming a network of teachers and learners who could support each other to heal, teach and mobilise individuals and communities, at large; they discussed various people who they already knew who worked from this perspective; they dreamed a place of calm and natural beauty where this might occur; they started developing a framework, which unfolded organically to support and nurture big discussions … and when they left that café and said their ‘goodbyes’, they had an inkling they had just planted the seeds of something great!

From their own locations of Newcastle, Sydney and Melbourne, the emails started flying thick and fast! They had no money and no location but they had a strengths-focused framework and a passionate desire to see this through!

Over the next couple of months, Dee, Michaela and Sue contacted their various ‘pure of heart’ colleagues and intentionally asked them to come along, for little or no pay, and be part of a conference about nothing! Another big call!!!

Before the year’s end, Dee and Michaela, who were geographically closer, (Sydney & Newcastle) met at Dee’s house near Newcastle, where she had recently painted an entire wall inside her house with blackboard paint, and they got to work. Over the next 24 hours (& a couple of well-earned glasses of wine) a strategic way forward was developed!

The Unconference was born!

There were quite a few things to achieve and the wording was going to be as crucial as the framework! They started an inclusive wish list.

We would use Circle Work and start in a large circle to achieve a level playing field, then utilise Open Space Technology for break-out discussions, underpin the 3 days with the flow of Theory U and develop the questions for World Cafe using an Appreciative Inquiry lens ,,, plus it would all be graphically recorded! Keynote Speakers would be Key Agitators, who would be beneficial in shaping the conversations and providing a space that was conducive to both teaching and learning about all of the above processes, but also to include learning circles about Asset Based Community Development, Person Centred Planning, Graphic Facilitation and anything else the attendees would put forward! Phew!

Graciously, 16 Key Agitators, both National and International, confirmed their attendance, even though some of them were heard to say “I really don’t know what this is all about, but I was asked to come, so I’m here!” <— Pure Hearts!!! The Key Agitators were:

Mike Green – USA
Mole Chapman – UK
Lynda Millington – NZ
Dr. Donnie MacLurcan – AUS
Adrian Pyle – AUS
Ric Thompson – AUS
Ann Greer – AUS
Russell Deal – AUS
Michelle Walker – AUS
Jordan Purcell-Ashburner – AUS
Sue James – AUS
Michaela Kennedy – AUS
Cheryl Cruttenden – AUS
Dee Brooks – AUS
Rhiannon Cochrane – AUS
Graeme Stuart – AUS

In a nutshell, they had asked people to come to a Conference about NOTHING and talk about what THEY wanted to…

60 people took the leap of faith and it was AWESOME!!! Over the 3 days of the Unconference, they all discussed the new disabilities policies, organisational change, personal development and the importance to look after yourself when helping others, aged care, community engagement and so much more – what an adventure!!!

Together, they all talked openly, laughed loudly, ate, drank, listened intently, laughed again, danced, worked, relaxed, drummed, dreamed deeply, wished, hoped, laughed again and played wholly…

After an exhilarating 3 days, post-Unconference, 8 of the Key Agitators stayed for Saturday morning to nut out how to continue hosting more of these events around the country…

There is so much more to say about the brave and innovative individuals who entered an unknown space to discover a new way of working and, there is overwhelming gratitude for their valuable contributions, but it would be hard to know where to stop!

Moving forward; there is already much anticipation (and planning) for 2014, as we once again, open our ‘pure hearts’ to discover what might happen next in this exciting space.

So please … consider joining us – you won’t be sorry!


Yours in Deliberate Dialogue,

Dee, Michaela & Sue