Last year, I worked with a few friends to organise an unconference in Berlin, called OMGDPR.
It was mainly a response to seeing at what, at the time, seemed like an event that was landing on a very specific day, with poorly understood but extremely far reaching consequences.
And at the same time, it seemd like there was an opportunity to address loads of the issues that make tech sometimes feel like a trashfire to work in.
We’re thinking of doing another one, but for climate change this year, because jeez, have you been paying attention lately?
It seemed worth sharing how we did it, especially if others want to do something similar themselves.
Reduce, reuse, recycle… our own unconf planning material
We designed OMGDPR to be something that could easily be run anywhere people were able to get a space, and more than say… 20 people in one place try to work together, but it might be worth sharing the reasoning for some decisions.
First… why an unconf?
We ran it like an unconf, because there there’s now a decent amount of detailed content, and videos, guidance, if you care about climate change and you work in tech. These are good for explicit guidance, but there’s not so much around if you want to talk to others, and learn from practice.
This post here, from my blog outlines, why we wanted an unconf to start with, in more detail.
This other post here outlines why we chose the specific format, Open Space, and how it might fit into a half day format.
Guidance, pointers and decks to work from
During the day, we used this deck to work from – it has links to the code of conduct we used, shows how we split up the space, to allow conversations, and had guidance on taking photos, and social media, as well as a map and guidance to the post-event venue to hang out, where we had a space booked.
It’s CC BY SA licensed, so feel free to copy it and adapt for yourself.
Paying for it
We didn’t charge any money to attend.
We ran it as a morning event, on a weekend to avoid needing to provide much in the way of food. We did think about running it during the week as an afternoon thing, getting a free venue is harder, and lots of our audience would be working.
Soundcloud let us use the venue for a free – one of our organisers works there, and there were soft drinks in the fridge available.
A local company, Uplink.tech, paid for some snacks, bread, dips and so on, in case people wanted some sustenance between sessions.
We didn’t pay travel expenses for anyone to come, and we know that made it less accessible.
Rather than have people come to the event from long distance, our plan was to make it easier to fork and run a similar events in different locales, than give people reasons to jump on planes.
This is partly because the majority of emissions associated with a conferences come from people travelling to attend them, and although my intuition makes me think unconference probably wouldn’t have so much international travel, it’s still worth considering. As an aside, been experimenting with a remote meet up, Clean Coffee, (sign up here for April), to make it easier to have these kinda of conversations – there’s still space!
Giving it a snappy name and getting a decent mix of people to come along
We mainly chose OMGDPR as it was the best pun we could come up with at the time, and it made for a nice, short hashtag. We even put it to an extremely unscientific poll:
When me and Maik were initially chatting about doing some kind of unconf, we were acutely aware of being a bunch of white programmers in our thirties – if we tried to do everything ourselves, we’d end up with an unconf full of loads of people just like us, and we’d miss loads of things that would be obvious to other folk who weren’t straight white programming dudes.
So we did two things – one was get help (which resulted in our organising group growing a Theophani, and growing to 3 people in total), and then we made a deliberate effort to publicise the event in communities outside our default ones before the usual ones we’d speak to if we were running a meetup.
In addition, we didn’t make registration public or discoverable, until we had at least half our venue capacity booked by people from these communities.
This seemed to work pretty well, and we hit our targets for attendance target of about 60 people fairly easily, with a decent mix of people.
Running the event itself
There’s not too much to add that I haven’t already covered in the event write up on medium here.
The event largely went as outlined there, the format turned out to be easy to use, such that we’ll likely follow the same one again.
We had fun, met nice people, learned a bunch, and were able to share a bunch of resources centrally. You can see a load of them linked in the medium post.
Doing it again, about climate
OMGPDR was fun, and we want to do it again – while we jokingly used this apocalyptic planet-bound asteroid to help talk about about GDPR, in the case of climate change, we really are facing an existential threat this time.
In tech as much as anywhere else, to quote Anil Dash, we’re still not being alarmist enough about climate change.
What’s more, now that I’m working with the Green Web Foundation, I’m able to dedicate time to try to get one of these off the ground in Berlin. One thing though.
Naming things is hard.
We still don’t have a name yet though.
OMGPDR always raised a laugh, and there’s still a bunch of good will tied to the OMGPDR event, but carbon and climate change is harder to find a good pun about.
I wish I had been smart enough to come up with Environment Variables, that Merrin Macleod came up with for her Rubyconf talk – it’s easily the cleverest tech/climate change pun I’ve come across so far.
Right now, the best I can come up with is OMG ENV (oh-em-gee, ee-en-vee, or oh-em-gee env – whichever sounds better to you).
It somewhat captures the OMG reference from last year, it’s a reference to Merrin’s stellar talk, and sounds sufficiently silly saying out it loud, to capture the yes, it’s all messed but, it’s sometimes cathartic to be able to laugh about some of it tone of the absolutely fantastic Sustainababble podcast.
If this sounds interesting to you, please take a minute to fill out this form, so we can tell if this worth doing. We’ve got most of the stuff ready to go, but it’s sensible to check for interest before committing, no?