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Unconferencing as method to initiate organisational change: A case study on reducing CO2 emissions of a university

Patricia Wolf (Department of Management, Technology, and Economics, Center for Organizational and Occupational Sciences, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland)
Ralf Hansmann (Natural and Social Science Interface (NSSI), Department of Environmental Sciences (D‐UWIS), Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland)
Peter Troxler (Square One Dr Peter Troxler, Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 15 February 2011




The purpose of this paper is to review and discuss the potential of available event formats for facilitating the initiation of organizational change processes. It presents unconferencing, a relatively new event format, which seems to provide unique opportunities for this purpose. It reports and analyzes the case of a large Swiss university which initiated its pro‐sustainability transformation by organizing an unconference.


Researchers studied the effects of unconferencing and the mechanisms, which brought them about in a case study. In the empirical setting of a large Swiss university, a qualitative study triangulating participatory observation, narrative and problem‐centered interviews, participant survey and documentary analysis was carried out. Data were collected and analyzed at different points in time.


Empirical findings suggest that unconferencing is an appropriate event format for facilitating the initiation of the pro‐sustainability organizational change process of a university. In our case, unconferencing achieved systems connectivity, enabled mutual learning and generated excellent outputs in form of project proposals.

Social implications

The paper raises the awareness of other universities and organizations of an event format they might wish to apply in their organizational change processes.


So far, research has not provided satisfactory answers to the question, how to best initiate organizational change. This paper provides a systematic investigation of available methodological approaches. It furthermore explains unconferencing, which is increasingly applied by practitioners but so far has stimulated only little discourse in the scientific community.



Wolf, P., Hansmann, R. and Troxler, P. (2011), "Unconferencing as method to initiate organisational change: A case study on reducing CO2 emissions of a university", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 112-142.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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