Day 2 Review: Adventures in Puerto Rico – Oliver Deed reviews day 2 of the Milan coworking conference. 

When is a conference, not a conference? When it’s an unconference of course.

“What the hell is he on about?”, I can hear you cry! Well fear not reader, I have neither gone mad, nor cracked an unimaginably bad pun. The concept of “unconference” is an established one that features on many a conference agenda these days.

Let me explain. An “unconference” session is one in which participants determine the agenda, rather than the organisers. People pitch topics, run discussion sessions and feedback the ideas accumulated at the end of the day. That sums up day 2 of the Euoropean Coworking conference here in Milano.

I have to say it was something of a hoot. Again, I revisit the idea of coworkation at two separate sessions. It seems the more sessions I go to, the more exotic the locations for these workspaces become. Today, a chap from Tokyo and a chap setting up a space in Puerto Rico sat in on the first session I attended. If push came to shove, which location would you choose. Me? Probably Puerto Rico, for the sun although I would not sneer at being sent to Tokyo.

There was some serious discussion amongst my dreaming. The measurability of success for coworking spaces was a serious discussion that straddled debates about the nature of both qualitative and quantitative feedback received from members of coworking spaces. There was a clear divide in the room between individuals who favoured  quantitative measures such as “net score promoters” and customer surveys, and others who feel the informal discussion with members over a coffee approach works best.

Sponsorship for coworking spaces was also a hot topic of conversation. There are two quite distinct schools of thought on this subject as well. At the session I was at, there were individuals worried that large scale sponsorship of their space might undermine the integrity and values of their coworking space. Apparently, a large European coworking space had run into trouble with a bullish network provider who had handed over a large amount of cash, but wanted too much in return.

On the other hand, with worries about the commercial viability of coworking spaces ever present throughout the conference, some feel sponsorship is part of the package to deliver the prerequisite cash needed to deliver that all important word; profit. I suspect there is a balance to be struck between the two schools, and some will have great experience of partnerships and sponsorships, whilst others will struggle. Expect this topic to continue featuring on the agenda.

The most inspirational aspect of the day came at the end, when Paul Keursten, who runs two coworking spaces in South Africa, spoke about the session he ran on setting up a coworking space in Lesvos for refugees. The space will be crowdfunded and the plan is to deliver a space refugees can use to develop skills and to connect with the wider world. I have yet to hear a more innovative suggestion to try and ease the poor conditions facing refugees on that small Greek Island in the Mediterranean. Paul, if you read this I will happily do some pro bono PR work for your crowdfunding round in the UK. Just get in touch.

Tomorrow sees the group leave the confines of the conference venue, to travel around Milano to visit some coworking spaces. Talk is all well and good, particularly unconference talk, but it is nice to also see some of this stuff in action. So stay tuned for an update, this time with pictures.