TransportationCamp provides an opportunity for every single attendee to be a participant in shaping and leading the event. Curious about how this will work? Read on for everything you need to know, including the process for proposing sessions, making your session appealing and how to pick and choose which sessions to attend on the day.

What’s an unconference?

Big board of sessions at masstlc

Photo by wrkng, on Flickr.

An “unconference” is a conference where sessions are programmed and led by the attendees. Unconferences are popular in the tech world because they reflect the culture of the industry—hands-on, flexible, a little casual but very hard working. And usually, really fun.

All the sessions are open for attendees to define, describe, and lead. Session can take almost any form. Each lasts no more than 60 minutes in length (and if the conversation is really flying after 60 minutes, you can always schedule a follow-on session). Organize solo, or indicate that you’re looking for collaborators. Possible formats include: a slide presentation followed by Q&A, a panel discussion you have organized, a wide-open brainstorm, or any other arrangement of your design. It’s important to make your chosen format clear, so that participants know what to expect ahead of time.

Making the most of your unconference day

Unconference sessions have a lot of energy, and flexibility. But occasionally, they can be a bit frustrating. Here are some tips:

  • Remember the Rule of Two Feet: you’re free to walk out, and find a session that fits you better. Don’t stay in a session that doesn’t work for you, move to another session that needs your contributions.

  • Speak up: if a session needs help, provide it. Feel free to give reminders about time or topic focus.

  • Do it yourself! If you want a session to be different, maybe more technical, or more policy focused, suggest it! Other people might feel the same way, and you’ll help to sharpen the focus for everyone.

  • Good stuff happens in the corridors too. Unscheduled, informal corridor conversations are great for continuing off-shoots from sessions.

How the board works

“The Board” is the central nervous system of the event. It’s a grid, representing the available spaces (the rows) and planned time slots (the columns). Each box is a particular space at a particular time, the sticky note in each grid cell describes what the session will be, including topic, format and presenter.

In the unconference tradition, participants propose sessions by writing them up (as described below) on large sticky notes. Then, an event organizer puts the session into a space on the board. We will try to spread sessions across the day evenly, making sure that similar or complementary sessions don’t go head to head.

Use the Board to plan your day. Once individual sessions are up on the board we won’t move them around. We’ll maintain an online version of the board, so you can also check the latest status of the board from your laptop or phone.

How to propose a session

Show up at TransportationCamp with your session in mind. Head to the board, grab a sticky note, and describe your session. Don’t be shy about it! You are interesting and your work is compelling and people will want to hear what you have to share. Your note must include:

  • Session title
  • Your name
  • What kind of session it is (presentation, brainstorm, Q&A, demos, hacking…)
  • More info about the session—will it be technical? Are you open to co-presenting?

It helps if your sticky note is compelling (not just legible). Here are a couple of great examples:

Give your session to the Board organizer. To start with, we’ll put your sticky to one side, then we’ll start scheduling the sessions once a critical mass of session proposals builds up. On Saturday morning it will be mostly empty, with rooms but it will fill up quickly. Each blank square in the board grid represents a session period in a particular room. Not all spaces have a projector, keep this in mind.

When the session get scheduled, your sticky will move into a box on the board, representing a room and a time. We also have a digital version that we’ll keep up to date over the day. If you need to change something about your session, tell us so that we can update the digital version.

Throughout the day, keep an eye on the physical or online versions of the board to plan which sessions you attend.

Merge sessions, or keep them separate?

Sometimes, two proposed sessions will sound very similar - you and someone else independently proposed a session on a particular topic. You might be tempted to merge them into a single session. If so, find that person and talk it over. Merging doesn’t work so well if you both want to present on the topic, but it’s great if you’re both looking for a discussion. If you do decide to merge, work out who will provide the leadership needed to keep the session on track.

How to lead a great session

So, you proposed a fantastic session and it’s up on the board. Congratulations! You’re responsible for the session logistics and content, here are some tips for making the most of the session:


  • Be there ahead of the start time, so you can welcome people and kick things off on time
  • Start on time! This matters, you don’t want to make people late for their next session. Ask a volunteer for a timecheck if you’re not sure.
  • Finish on time (even if you start late!). We’ll let you know if there are schedule adjustments.


  • If you’re leading a session, you have responsibility for the content and format, and the happiness of everyone participating. Be a leader, to manage the content as well as logistics.
  • Make sure expectations are clear from the outset: if you’re going to show slides for 45 minutes, make sure everyone in the room is ready for that.
  • Work towards tangible outcomes. A good start is for someone to take notes online, perhaps in a shared Google doc. Maybe it also makes sense to collect contact details for a mailing list for further discussion.

So that’s it! That’s how to participate at TransportationCamp. Questions? Email us at: