How to organize a PHP Unconference

Summary by Judith Andresen

"An Unconference is a conference where the content of the sessions is driven i and created by the participants, generally day-by-day during the course of the event, rather than by a single organizer, or small group of organizers, in advance." (, Dated 05/2007)


The PHP Usergroup Hamburg decided to organize a PHP Unconference in the spring of 2007.


This article defines a set of to-do-lists for a future PHP Unconferences - where ever you want to organize such a great event like ours. Read about the PHP Unconference in our Wiki.


The first german PHP Unconference took place in May 2007 in Hamburg.


General structure of the unconference

The unconference is a so called "open space" happening, i.e. anything goes which gets a go from the audience. Well almost anything. To kick things off the Orga team who put the whole thing together start with an welcome greeting. Enjoy it, this might be the last you see of them on stage during the event. Next each participant is asked to tell the audience three words which best describe themselves, this is accompanied by a typical hand gesture.
After this rather amusing round, the themes for the sessions are determined. Each session has a leader who will present or moderate the topic subject. Each Session is asked to document their session by inserting a digital protocol into the unconf Wiki.

Each session is scheduled to last 45 minutes, time keepers are delegated to ensure an timely closure occurs. After 30 minutes the time keeper should remind the group of the remaining 15 minutes. This often helps to refocus the session and come to some conclusions before the end of the session.

At the end of each and every day, a general meeting takes place in which each leader summaries the results of their sessions. At the end of the last day an evaluation of the event takes place. Each participant is asked to add feedback to the pin board, the three categories are: positive (+), negative (-) and generic (0). All feedback is read aloud to the audience to eliminate any confusion. Feedback is evaluated by the Orga team after the event.

Daily Agenda

The sessions are deliberately kept brief, the timekeepers ensure that the groups quickly disperse back to the central area, often the source of liquid refreshments. The waterhole is a key element of the unconference, topics from the sessions are often mixed, but not stirred and a new cocktail of topics emerge.

The following schedule is for an unconference with approximately 100 participants.


Time Room A Room B Room C Room D
10.00 - 11.00 Welcome, opening, illustration of the procedures during the conference, brainstorming and identifying session topics
11.00 - 11.15 Coffee break
11.15 - 12.00 Session A.1 Session B.1 Session C.1 Session D.1
12.00 - 13.00 Lunch
13.00 - 13.45 Session A.2 Session B.2 Session C.2 Session D.2
13.45 - 14.15 Coffee break
14.15 - 15.00 Session A.3 Session B.3 Session C.3 Session D.3
15.00 - 15.30 Coffee break
15.30 - 16.15 Session A.4 Session B.4 Session C.4 Session D.4
16.15 - 16.45 Coffee break
16.45 - 17.45 Closing Meeting : Conclusion of sessions, Process Wiki entries, event feedback and planning for the social gatherings that evening after the event.
18.30 - At the first day: cooperate evening

Finding Sessions

After the introductions, all participants are asked to suggest session topics in a brainstorming mode. Each person is asked to write their topic of interest on a card and add it to the pin board.


Moderators removes any duplicates and then group the cards into common clusters. Next the voting begins, each voter receives the same number of points to allocate as there are sessions in the track. Voters then allocate their points freely, topic cards may receive multiple votes form each voter. The points are counted and those with the most points are added to the track agenda.

The other topics are added to the topic store for the following day. The selected topics are then allocated timeslots in the current agenda, protests due to overlapping slots can be negotiated where possible but it is a sad truth that not all participants can attend all sessions.


The cards in the topic store are revived the next day, new session topics can be added and the voting procedure is repeated.

Time table


The announcement and all related stuff are published on an event blog. The protocols, ideas and results of the several sessions are published in a Wiki.