A Museumcamp Rethink – What Do You Think?

We haven’t had a Museumcamp unconference for a while, although it isn’t for the want of trying. Despite the huge success of the Museumcamps in Birmingham it has been difficult to obtain funding, and unfortunately due to the economic climate we can’t get the same level of sponsorship as in the past. However, funding issues aren’t what I’m blogging about today, rather it is about some thoughts on unconferences that came from a recent Unconference conference and my own experiences at unconferences.

Just in the way everyone knows what a conference is, I think that once you go to an unconference you think THAT is what an unconference is – the format becomes set in your head, and this is reinforced by going to more unconferences that are run along very similiar lines. Hence Museumcamp was strongly based on the two or three unconferences I’d been to before we set up Museumcamp. There were things about the unconference format that I found challenging, but I felt that the positives outweighed the negatives. Now I’m having a rethink about some of the unconference issues.

“I have no idea what’s going on”

If you have never been to an unconference before it can be overwhelming. There are a lot of new rules to remember, although they come in the guise of non-rules, and the start of the day when people pitch and sessions are pinned to a wall chart with time slots and rooms, then moved again, and again, then merged with something else, can seem a little chaotic. The pitching process itself can seem scary, not everyone wants to stand up and speak to a roomful of strangers, and being loudly badgered to pitch can make you feel even more nervous, or even feel “told off” if the thrust of the person trying to make you do so is “Why are you here if you didn’t come to pitch?”.

Too many people?

The scale of an unconference can increase the above issues, the more people in the room the more shouting there is – about rules (non-rules!), and pitching, etc – and the more daunting it is to get up and pitch. I cannot lie, I find conferences and unconferences equally intimidating if there are a large number of people there – I feel out of place, uncomfortable and want to run away! But this feeling usually leaves once the unconference sessions begin because they break down into smaller numbers, and the high energy and noise of the beginning of the days settles down into meaningful conversations and getting to know people in a much gentler way. This is where the learning happens and it is why I get excited about unconferences.

Open Space

I’ve realised at unconferences that the best conversations happen in open spaces, often a circle of people, that can expand and contract as people join and leave. Once there is a table in the room less people seem willing to speak, and it is difficult to welcome new people if they cannot fit around the table, and less easy for people to slip out (the rule of two feet). Some of the best conversations can happen in very small sessions, two or three people sitting by a fire extinguisher in the corner of a room. Where am I going with this? Well, the difficulty in finding the perfect venue grows the larger the unconference becomes, and so you start to make compromises about the type of spaces. The smaller the number of participants, the easier it should be to find somewhere that doesn’t have these issues. And if you have a smaller venue, with less rooms, you also take away the stress of trying to find the right room – or in my case, of getting lost all together!

Time to Make Changes?

Of course having a smaller unconference also means we need less money to run one, so it is more likely to happen! So what do you think of the following ideas for Museumcamp 2017? If you’ve been to an unconference before and found it overwhelming, would it make you more likely to come back? And if you have any other ideas, let me know!

  • Smaller unconference (more often, in different places?)
  • Smaller venue, less rooms, less stress finding rooms
  • More prepping for participants – more shared before they arrive, so people don’t feel overwhelmed and confused
  • Alternative pitching – can be done by paper proposals
  • Decreasing the sense of chaos – which might come just from simply having less people, and so lowering the energy levels and noise


MuseumCamp in Paris for Museum Connection @Museum_co

museumconnectionslogoI will be running a MuseumCamp as part of Museum Connection conference in Paris on January 22nd.   Museum Connection is a conference with a programme focusing on innovation in Museums which will gather key museum and cultural heritage actors from around the world.

See museumconnections.com for more information.  Hope to see you there! 

MuseumCamp 2014 – Where is it?

IMG_5903Just a quick update for those who were asking about MuseumCamp 2014.

This year we tried really hard to raise the funds to put another MuseumCamp on but we were unsuccessful twice with our ACE applications.  It turns out we don’t qualify (the main issue in my opinion is we don’t fit the forms as we’re too innovative in thinking).  While it was a disappointment we were already working on a plan B and have been asked to take MuseumCamp (an Unconference) to two conferences.  Yes, seriously.

We ran MuseumCamp at MuseumNext in Newcastle already and we’re currently preparing to run a MuseumCamp at Museum Association conference in Cardiff this October.

Very sorry for those who have said they can’t afford the conferences – trust me, I understand your frustration.  MuseumCamp is and was set up to be available to all (hence it being free) but without support we just couldn’t do it.  Linda and I meet often and are constantly trying to think of ways to get funding so if you have any ideas, please let us know.

Meanwhile, we’re still active on social media (of course).

MuseumCamp 2015 *will* happen somehow and somewhere.  And it will be open to all who like and care about museums (and of course, love cake!).


Mar Dixon

MuseumCamp v1.0 – The day after

Now that we’re all coming off our sugar-high from the cake and cupcakes consumed, we wanted to thank everyone who came and took part in what has turned out to be a very successful event.

There were 28 sessions over the day and while the plenary at the end of the day was fantastic, we would like to hear more from you please.  There was lots of note-taking (on traditional note pads – not laptops!) and discussion happening and we would like to build a little portal for those that missed things to be able to tap into.

Please feel free to email mar@mardixon.com or leave a comment here with a link.  I’ve managed to compose a quick blog and Storify.

Things we would love to know:

  • Why did you come? 
  • What did you like that you didn’t think you would?
  • What would you change?
  • Did you decorate a cupcake?
  • What was your favorite session?
  • What sessions did you attend?
  • How was the lunch? 
  • How were the facilities?
  • Would you attend MuseumCamp again?
  • Any other comments?

Again, thank you to our sponsors, especially MuseumNext (who has a call for proposals end Nov 1) and Happy Museums (who has a deadline for submission for the Happy Museum commissions Friday 5 October) – MuseumCamp wouldn’t exist without them! 

Tickets and Sponsors

ImageWell the big news is Happy Museum who just announced open application fund of £60,000 –  has come on board as a sponsor.

As of today, there are 5 tickets remaining.  There are 29 on the waiting list that haven’t responded to the reminder emails.  If you are one of them, be quick to claim your spot!  If for any reason you can’t make it, can you please let us know ASAP so we can offer it to the waiting list.

There have been lots of tweets and discussions by attendees on topics they’d like to bring to the Unconference on the day. What topics would you like to talk about?

Meanwhile, please support our wonderful sponsors as without them, MuseumCamp wouldn’t exist.


See you OCTOBER 1! 

Less than a month to go until @MuseumCamp on Oct 1!

This email has been sent to everyone who has signed up:


Dear Museum Camper

Thanks for signing up to Museum Camp – it is now less than a month away!

100 tickets have been booked and we have a waiting list for the 50 tickets to be released soon. If for any reason you can no longer make the day please let me know as there is a big demand for places, so if we know early enough we can fill your spot!

The event is now taking place at The Bond Company in Birmingham. It is a lovely venue with lots of space/rooms and we’re very excited about hosting it there! It is a 10-15min walk from New Street Station and a 10min walk from Moor Street Station. Location:http://www.thebondco.net/location/

We will be providing a veggie friendly lunch on the day (and cake!) – if you have any specific dietary requirements you may wish to bring food with you. This is a free event (thanks to our wonderful sponsors and volunteers) on a limited budget so we are sorry that we can’t cater for everyone’s dietary needs on this occasion.

Remember, if you have something to share (a project you’ve worked on? Some clever problem solving?), an idea, an issue, something you’d love to discuss, etc – pitch a session on the day! This is a day to be involved, contribute, share – and eat cake!


Please do let us know ASAP if you can no longer make it to Cakefest… MuseumCamp.

Again, we needs to thank ALL of our wonderful sponsors.  

Without their support, we wouldn’t be able to put on MuseumCamp. Please take the time to click on their links and find out more about them.


Stop Press! Lots of Updates (Including new venue)

Since our last post, there have been lots of exciting things happening.

New Venue

As we said in our last update, we were looking for a new venue to ensure we had the best value for our very kind sponsorship money.  We have decided to book with:

The Bond Company which is about 10-15 minute walk from New Street Station.  We took a cab from the station and it cost £6.  For more specific directions, please see their website.   The Bond is providing us with a large space for the initial talks / meet/ greet and enough space for break-out rooms.  We invited Alison Smith from Go Genie to join us on the scouting tour to ensure accessibility issues were addressed.  Go Genie will be writing up and sharing the findings and we are very grateful for their sponsorship in this matter.

If you have any accessibility issues, please feel free to contact me at mar@mardixon.com.  There is limited parking that we can reserve for people if required.

If the change of venues is an issue for anyone or you can not attend MuseumCamp now, please let us know as soon as possible as we already have 30 people on the waiting list.   However, we hope you understand the change and was it was required.

More Sponsors

We couldn’t have organized MuseumCamp had it not been for our wonderful sponsors.  MuseumNext was first on board and we are eternal grateful to Jim Richardson’s support.

In addition to Sound Delivery, Mar DixonOrangeleaf Systems Ltd, & Marches Network  we are also thrilled to announce Go Genie, Midlands Federation  of Museums and Art Galleries, Blists Hill and Museum Association as sponsors.

We are still on the lookout for more sponsors, so please get in touch if you would like to be part of this very popular Unconference.

Thank you

I’d also like to thank the people who have been working on MuseumCamp:

Linda Spurdle – visionary and creator of Museum Camp.  Without Linda, Museum Camp wouldn’t exist.

And the rest of the team:  Mar Dixon, Rachel Cockett and Glynis Powell.

We would also like to thank Danny Birchall for agreeing to be our MC on the day.

Waiting List

That’s all the updates for now.  We will be releasing the remaining tickets closer to the date but please feel free to add your name to the waiting list.

Please click on the logos and visit our sponsors

Just a little update on @MuseumCamp as things are moving swiftly along…

Our first batch of Early Bird tickets have been snapped up!  But don’t worry, we have a waiting list and more tickets coming after our meeting.

When is our meeting you ask?  Why it’s July 5 (Details below).  Please do join us if you can as we’ll be talking CAKE and details.  As this is an Unconference, there’s not a lot of detail required but we do have some I’s to dot and t’s to cross.

One thing is we still need some more sponsors.  We’re so thankful for MuseumNext, Birmingham Museums and Sound Delivery for already pledging their support and sponsorship.  We’ll have more of an idea as to what we need after July 5 but the one high priority is a sponsor for Cake (amongst other things).

Details of Meeting:

When:  July 5th

Time  2pm

Where:  6/8 Kafe in Birmingham (@sixeightKafe)

Things we know we at this point is we will be looking for sponsorship on a few items and volunteers for others.  If you fall in either category, please feel free to contact us.

Thanks for all the brilliant support. 

Save the date! October 1st – Cakefest, er, I mean @MuseumCamp

MuseumCampWe don’t know where we’re going but we know there’s cake! Actually, that’s not true – we *do* know where we’re going!

Met up with the MuseumCamp group today and we have a date!  And even better, we have a place!

Save the Date:

What:  @MuseumCamp, #MuseumCamp

Where: Thinktank (Birmingham Science Museum)

When:  October 1, 2012

How:   Tickets via Eventbrite here

What now?

Now we need help.  We’re holding another meeting to start to work on the ‘UN’planning for this Unconference/Camp.

When:  July 5th

Time  2pm

Where:  6/8 Kafe in Birmingham (@sixeightKafe)

Things we know we at this point is we will be looking for sponsorship on a few items and volunteers for others.  If you fall in either category, please feel free to contact us.

Did I mention cake?  It’s on the agenda for the day!