Monday, October 27, 2014 is the Community Summit unconference day.
Automattic Lounge, 132 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94107
Unlike the main WCSF conference, the summit day will not include any presentations, slides, or speakers. The summit is a conference of conversations, so the day will be spent having group discussions an topics of importance to the WordPress project.
We’ll have tables and chairs arranged to facilitate these discussions, with some noise-dampening panels to try and keep the din to a minimum as multiple discussions will be happening at any given time. The topic schedule/table map will be prepared in advance to make the best use of the time we have together. The challenge with an event like this is that many people want to be involved in more discussions than is physically possible (short of a Hogwarts time turner), but forcing ourselves to choose the topics that are really the most important to us rather than jumping in everywhere we have opinions allows new voices to be heard and more discussion overall.
In each session, all the participants will introduce themselves and say why they are interested in the topic before the discussion starts to provide context to what they say in the conversation.
Each discussion will have a leader, a moderator, and a notekeeper.
- The discussion leader is often the person who proposed the session. This person kicks it off by identifying the problem/issue/topic to be discussed, and voices their initial thoughts. This person should not give a lecture on the topic, just kick it off and keep the conversation going at a lively pace.
- The discussion moderator backs up the discussion leader by making sure the conversation stays on track. Sometimes it’s easy to get swept up in a debate or tangent between a couple of people (sometimes including the discussion leader), so the moderator is there to remind people to stay on topic and to make sure no one is hogging the floor. The moderator will call on people who haven’t yet spoken to ask their opinion, or might gently ask someone who’s been monopolizing the conversation to let other people speak for a while and participate by actively listening instead.
- The notekeeper takes notes of the discussion so that summaries can be posted later for the rest of the community. In some cases it may be necessary to have two notetakers to be able to capture everything.
After rounds of discussion, we’ll have each group summarize their discussion in a couple of sentences so that everyone else can keep up. Since points raised in one discussion may influence later topics, this helps tie together the day.
Unlike the main WCSF conference, which can have as many as 800 attendees, the community summit is a smaller, more intimate gathering of community leaders. Because of the format and the goals of the day, it’s necessary to cap registrations at a much lower number. Our first community summit in 2012 was 105 people, which everyone thought was just about perfect. To keep it that small, the event was by invitation only, based on an open application/nomination process. Invitations went to the most active contributors in the open source project, to people running WordPress-based businesses that were recognizably important to the ecosystem, and to a few people who were doing a lot outside of the project/business areas, such as on Stack Exchange or on independent blogs. This process ensured that the people in the conversations were peers, so an advanced level of experience could be assumed of all participants with confidence.
This year we want to stick with having a smaller number and a participant pool made up of the people who are most experienced and/or necessary to the WordPress project, but we want to remove the invitation-only aspect. To that end, we’ll have this year’s summit sign-up will be a little different. Instead of a small committee issuing invitations, we’ll just review the sign-ups — which will include questions about involvement with the project, etc. — to make sure that we have the same kind of peer level. We’ll go a little bigger than in 2012, and the registration cap will be at 150 people.
The discussion topics are chosen by the participants. In 2012, we had people propose topics in the morning and pitch them to the full group, then we put together an unconference board. Sessions included such topics as the future of core features, theme and plugin directory issues, hosting concerns, community engagement, diversity, internationalization/localization, mobile apps, education, GPL, and more. You can view the 2012 discussion schedule to get a better sense of the scope.
Based on feedback from the first year, and because we’ll have more people this time, we ‘re going to streamline the topic-choosing process. People can propose topics in the forum set up for this purpose. That will give us a week to put together a schedule so we can post it in advance of the event, giving participants a chance to prepare if they want to do a little research before coming to the discussion tables.
One of the things that made the first summit a unique experience was that we named it a safe space, protected from photos, tweets, blog posts quoting people, etc. This allowed us to have very honest conversations without people worrying about how their words might be taken out of context later online, or about looking bad if they got into a heated argument for a change instead of tiptoeing around a topic. It also meant that people put their devices away and were 100% present in the conversations. The goal of the summit was to be honest and blast through community issues, and being distracted by devices or worrying about someone tweeting what you said wouldn’t have been conducive to that. We’ll have a similar privacy request this year, and will ask anyone signing up to agree to it.
One of the things we tried to do when issuing invitations in 2012 was to create a participant group with diverse points of view. A travel scholarship program helped to bring people who might not have been able to afford the trip. Our community has grown more since then, making it even more important to include diverse voices in a summit of leaders and doers. To that end, we’re doing even more travel assistance this time. Our hope is that in addition to bringing contributors who are financially constrained, we can bring more folks from the groups that tend to be underrepresented at events like these, such as people of color, women, non-native English speakers, people with disabilities, etc.