do_action Zurich 2018

In April, we organized the first do_action Event in Switzerland – the second in Europe after Bristol. We Haptiq, a small design shop from Zurich organized the event with the great help of other members of the Zurich Meetup Group. I’d like to share some of the things we learned along the way.
It was just before WordCamp Europe last summer, when I first read about do_action Hackathons. We were already talking about the possibilities of organizing one in Switzerland and whether it could work here as well, when we saw that Sasha Endoh, who was organizing the first do_action in Montreal at the time, was giving a talk about “WordPress for Nonprofits”. Of course we attended her presentation and talked to her afterward. It didn’t need much to convince us: Half an hour later we had filled out the organizer application and after a few weeks, we were on a call with Hugh Lashbrooke, our contact on the Community Team.

Welcome address and introduction of the two nonprofits.

We already had some experience organizing events, both as co-organizers of WordCamps in Switzerland as well as for local WP meetups and Florian as team lead for photography for WCEU, but to take the lead on a new event, that happens for the first time, still brought some new challenges with it, and there were some things we learned.
Here’s a little recap of what went well, what didn’t and where we hope to do better next year.

What went well

As we have a very lively and well connected community in Switzerland, it was pretty easy to get a group of people committing to be volunteers for the day. We ended up having seven volunteers working for two projects, which was  about what we aimed for.

It’s only called a Hackathon with messy cables everywhere, right?

The two nonprofits were a good fit. One of them had already done a lot of work (by learning everything from scratch from YouTube, which still amazes me). She mainly needed advice and had lots of questions about various tasks she couldn’t get to work herself, like installing a donation plugin or small design changes etc. This made the decision to put most of the volunteers on the other team easy, as they needed a new site built completely from scratch. Also, we had one person as a project manager, who oversaw both projects and I was switching between projects as well to help out where needed.
For the location, we were lucky in that we could use the place we usually have our meetups at, which is the “Liip Arena”. It’s a large room in the basement of their agency, which gave us more than enough space for ten people. Also, we got it for free, which was awesome! If you organize a do_action, I’d strongly suggest to just try and ask kindly, many organizations happily support such things, as long as it’s Open Source and not for profit!

Team Glocal Roots working out their new content structure

What we could have done better

Basically, the whole communication from our side before the event was a huge mess, which was completely my fault. We startetd by setting up the website, fixed a date and the location. Then, with the beginning of the new year, new projects piled up and we were suddenly busy keeping our agency afloat and the do_action event went into the background a little.
Someday mid-February way too late I basically cried for help in our WP Zurich Slack channel and immediately got three to four people, who were glad to help out and asked for what needed to be done. That was really great and I should have done that much much earlier!
With no time left for PR, and not a single application from a nonprofit yet, I was quite sure that we would have to cancel or postpone the event. In a last burst of desperation, I started randomly googling around for nonprofits and just cold-emailing them directly, asking if they wanted to participate. This, in the end, brought us the two nonprofits we finally got signed up for the event.
Finally, we had two nonprofits registered, some volunteers and a nice location, but it was already mid-March and only two weeks left until the date of the event. We decided to confirm those organizations, but moved the date out a month to end of April. That way we had more time to prepare everything and get some information about what they need and so on.

Things to consider

As the event took place on a Saturday (which is good I guess, so no one has to take a day off), the Liip Offices were closed. We got a badge to access the arena, but not the rest of the building, especially the kitchen. This is not a problem per se, just make sure to plan accordingly and bring everything you need, from bottled water to your own cups for water/coffee and (probably most important) a coffee machine. For lunch we ordered pizza, which was kindly offered from the WordPress Foundation – thanks again for that!

Short standup discussion before lunch

The two projects we helped building:

Helping refugees build connections and get help to integrate in their host communities.
Work to help people who are born as intersex persons and to spread information about genital mutilations on children.

TLDR:

  • Start your promotion early, press needs some time in advance.
  • Don’t underestimate the time needed to write press material etc.
  • Get help early on, people are more than willing to help out (if you just ask them 😉 )
  • The multilingual part of the do_action site was a bit buggy and hard to work with, I guess we could have saved ourselves that work for translation as we ended up with only an English site in the end anyway, which worked just fine.

 

All in all, if you think about organizing a do_action event in your city, I can highly recommend it. Hugh was very helpful, as well as Sasha Endoh, and both provided us with all the information we needed and helped us set up the event. Thank you both!
We already have some ideas for another one next year and the feedback we got gave us confidence that there’s a need for such a charity hackathon in Switzerland!
You can find our recap (in German) together with an image gallery with some more photos in our blog.

Our four-legged helper from Team Stop-IGM