How To Effectively Disorganize an Unconference

It has been a very long year. About a year ago I attended my very first meeting as a part of the planning committee for Podcamp Halifax. Previously I had attended and presented but I just sort of assumed that magical faeries assembled everything the night before and made it all just sort of work. This, as it turns out, was not the case.

Over the last year we’ve lost most of the previous organizing teams to other cities, jobs and responsibilities but the great thing about a community like Podcamp is that there are always new people willing to step up and we found this in spades. We decided, after getting together with a couple dozen volunteers, that we had some work to do, in the following areas.

1.     We wanted to formalize the Podcamp organization, allowing for more stringent financial and organizational monitoring.

2.     We wanted to advance some personal goals of the group as it applied to inclusion and diversity at the event.

3.     We wanted to be respectful and mindful of those who came before us, and the hard work they put in.

4.     And this was a doozie. Host a Podcamp.

Three out of four isn’t a bad start.

First, we have registered Podcamp Halifax Association as a Not For Profit in Nova Scotia. This means that we’re able to set up a proper bank account instead of counting on organizations to hold onto our money for us. It also means that we have to be much more transparent with what we’ve done in the past and what we intend to do in the future, and that’s never a bad thing. 

Second, one of the pieces of feedback we got from the last Podcamp in 2015 was that it was still an event that felt to some as being driven by and for a predominantly white male audience. While it’s difficult to ensure that this is a focus of an event that is driven very much by who wants to attend and who wants to present, we also felt that we had not done enough to address the topic. 

So we did some digging. We developed a list of diverse partners that we’ve reached out to that we feel would be able to bring this event to their membership and we’ve set a goal to have at least 50% of our presenters NOT be “white guys”. This past year the Prismatic Arts Festival took bold steps in this field, focusing on having 100% of presenters be women of colour. How do we achieve such a goal? Quite simply, we need to reach out and be more proactive in respect to how we let various communities know about our event and what it has to offer. In the end, we can only schedule people who want to present but we want to make more people in more communities not just comfortable but excited about the prospect of presenting and attending. 

Third, throughout much of this process we’ve kept in touch with the existing community, some of our previous presenters, sponsors and champions in an effort to see what they think about what were doing. Sometimes we decided we liked what they said and sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes we followed our gut and sometimes we followed our followers. In the end, our goal is to make Podcamp Halifax better and I believe that the steps we’re taking will make that happen.

That fourth one though, eh. Finding a venue for our event proved incredibly difficult. While people really enjoyed the event at the Halifax Central Library and I’ve always believed it was an ideal location, we had to look elsewhere. After a year of trying to book the space we needed without any progress, we had to move on. However, we are very excited to have found a partner in Dalhousie University. Dalhousie offers a central location with space that is ideally suited for the sort of open unconference that Podcamp Halifax must be. And so on January 29th, 2017 we shall descend upon Dalhousie University. 

One of our major improvements when it comes to Podcamp Halifax (we hope) will be in the way we handle presenters and attendees. Previously, presenters would fill out a basic form and we’d ask for more information and after several emails back and forth, we’d post a schedule. That was before. We brought on the incredibly talented Chris Lowe to help us build a website that didn’t just look pretty but contained some huge functional upgrades. We’ve changed the way we interact with presenters. Now presenters post their entire session directly on the site and simply go live with each session once we’re ready.

We had so many complaints about the way we handled ticket “sales” in the past. Communicating with ticket holders was awkward and led to confusion and frustration. That’s gone. Now, those interested in attending simply fill out their info on the site and they’re automatically set up in Mailchimp so that we can communicate with everyone that wants to attend easily, providing updates as to lead up events and day-of activities. 

Ok. So what’s not changing? Podcamp Halifax is still free. It’s still participant driven. Anyone can present. Anyone can attend. There will, undoubtedly, be some growing pains, but we have an incredible group of people working very hard to make sure that Halifax has an event where the community can come together and share their digital stories, openly and honestly. 

We can’t wait. We hope you can’t either.

Mike Tanner is a full time parent and founder of OneRedCat Media, a digital agency in Halifax focused on building the web and creating interesting content across all platforms. He's also working on his first work of non-fiction, a guide to doing your best work called Really Little Wins.

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