eurucamp 2014 CFP: how to handle doorsteps

As last year, we want to be transparent about our efforts. eurucamp is a conference with strong stated goals and want to be held by those.

This years goal was to bring a fresh and diverse group of speakers on stage.

Sadder words upfront

If you read last years announcement, you know this paragraph already: This year, we had more than 150 submissions for 17 slots. The general quality of all submissions was again very high and we'd like to thank everyone for their efforts. We had heated discussions and painful moments when we felt the need to remove great proposals in favour of a more rounded program.

We also voted against turning eurucamp into a two-track conference, possibly depriving new speakers of their audience – if pitched against a more experienced one.

We heard rumors about a reject conf being in the making - so, if we had to reject your talk: It's all up in the air!

Open doors are not enough

eurucamp has the goal of being a diverse conference and this is an ongoing effort. This means that we engage in active outreach towards people that would usually not submit. At the same time, we want to keep a fair process.

As of last year, we found that just posting a sign that our doors are open isn't helping a lot when it comes to people where outreach is important. This is related to the problem that previous bad experiences or misconceptions about the nature of our attendee crowd need to be actively worked against. We took an active approach of writing to outreach groups and people we know personally to ask them to submit. We noticed that personal referrals work best, but outreach groups also provide a good basis.

Fairness is ensured by having an anonymous process - we only encourage people to submit to the CFP, the process of choice is anonymized and the way people were encouraged, didn't matter to us.

Our committee consisted of a mixed group of people and we even made sure to include beginners so they could identify topics tailored towards ruby rookies. Having a large committee also mitigated the effect that some members could identify speakers they referred.

All in all, the observation from last year stayed the same: the quality of proposals is independent of obvious speaker attributes like gender, so any outreach efforts did ensure more quality proposals to choose from.

As last years, the gender ratio of top submissions reflects itself in the program naturally.

Fun with anonymous CFPs

It should be noted that we had a lot of fun with the anonymous CFP. After rating proposals for 8 hours, there were a lot of surprises of the "this person submitted that? Great!"-kind. These moments alone where worth all the effort.

Team Sitting

Proposed speakers

The proposed speakers feature in our CFP app was a light and shadow. The shadow was that it wasn't used very often - or too late: some of them only on the last day of CFP. We wrote a personal email to every proposed speaker to ask them for a submission instead of sending out an automated email - both to avoid spamming and to be more personal. The light side: the turnaround was very good, almost all people we wrote to submitted and our top scoring talk came out of that.

Late feedback round

We must admit that the feedback feature (people could send feedback to other submitters if they wanted to) for the CFP app was built too late. This was mostly due to a misunderstanding and the person in charge hurting their arm an being unable to work for a week. Also, there was criticism that we kept the feedback process anonymous - we will review this feature for the next time.

We cannot give proper numbers about how often this was used, as feedback wasn't tracked.

A note on Rails Girls

We feel like one trend needs to be covered specifically: we got more submissions from Rails Girls alumni this year. More important, the submissions shifted towards technical or methodical topics (be it their projects or their methods of working). This is a good sign and unsurprising at the same time. With the first generation of Rails Girls alumni approaching the second year, it shows that an increasing number of them is getting a steady hold on their newly learned skills and get more comfortable with putting them on stage.

Mentorship

We will have a dedicated blog post wrapping up our Mentorship program after the conference. We had a lot of people willing to mentor - more than we had speakers. We hand-picked all pairings, found a very nice 1:1 match for everyone and current feedback is good.

Have a lot of fun!

We believe that the eurucamp 2014 program is better for beginners than last years, while also being insightful and refreshing. Most speakers are new on stage, at least in this part of the Ruby community and this has been a stated goal of the conference.

Team Picking

Wrapping up

We are convinced that the approach of doing outreach at the earliest stage (trying to get people to submit) is a good way to go. It avoids the issue of token speakers - as everyone goes through the same process afterwards - while still allowing the organisers to steer the process through outreach. Encouraging people to do a first step is important.

Active outreach has turned out to be a very good strategy for us. It is still quite a bit of work, but it pales compared to all the other organizational tasks we have for the conference. We are happy that we made the effort and the result is to our liking.

We are far away from being perfectly happy with this, but happy we are.

Thanks to all that helped us

We had a lot of people helping us in our outreach effort. Thanks to all of those that put their efforts where their mouth is, in no particular order: Lena Reinhard, Jan Lehnardt, Julie Pagano for giving feedback about mentorship, last years speaker Joanne Cheng, Marta Paciorkowska, Leslie Hawthorn, Carina C. Zona and her CallbackWomen project, the Rails Girls Berlin and all those we may have forgot.

As always, our friends over at jsconf.eu are awesome, an inspiration and their call for speakers is open!

I'd also like to mention this blog post for using the "open door" figure, although I independently used it in my talk at rug::b before.