tl;dr: Let’s brainstorm on how we can change the Community Summit event format to keep the benefits and reduce the pain points!
History and Background
The first WordPress Community Summit was organized in 2012, guided by the idea that face-to-face interactions in a safe space amongst a small number of contributors can help resolve conflicts that are deadlocked.
The stated purpose of the event was to
- Build bridges between the people making WordPress (via the contributor groups) and the people doing the best and most influential work built on top of it
- Open channels of communication between project leaders, volunteers, and professionals in the community
- Learn more about each others’ goals, challenges, and ways we can help each other
- Share best practices
- Have some social time and get to know each other better
The event has always been invitation-only, to keep the discussion groups small enough that everyone could interact and participate. The smallest summit had around 200 attendees; the largest was around 350 attendees. Most of our community summits have included a travel assistance program to ensure that no invited contributor was unable to attend for financial reasons.
Results and Challenges
We’ve had 4 community summits, which have resulted in some really positive outcomes, including:
- identification of shared goals and/or struggles
- productive cross-team discussions
- conflict resolutions (due to face-to-face interaction or “safe space” conversations? both? hard to tell)
- stronger relationships between contributors who attended
Some of the pain points we’ve discovered include:
- Invitation-only events are challenging — I’m tempted to say “excruciating” — for our community. The event is, by definition, not inclusive. Not being invited to a summit can be taken to mean, “I’m not important here,” which conflicts with the welcoming and egalitarian environment we value. When you organize an exclusive event like this, you are guaranteed to hurt a lot of feelings.
- Selecting “the right people to invite” along with “the right topics to discuss” is very difficult. The method we’ve used most recently has been to ask contributor teams to identify the issues they need to discuss, which then defines the people who need to attend (to cut down on the “popularity contest” effect). But that means discussion topics are selected 3-6 months in advance, which can mean that difficult decisions are put on hold for longer than necessary.
- We can’t depend on “fly everyone to the same place” as our primary way to make hard decisions or have productive conversations. For one thing, it’s really expensive (in cash money and in volunteer hours). It also sets artificial limits on how many brains we can focus on a problem or opportunity — only the people in the room can help with a problem that’s being addressed by a (relatively) small group of people.
Where do we go from here? Let’s get creative! I’d love your thoughts on this topic, especially on the following points:
- Is there anything missing from the above lists of benefits and pain points?
- Do you have suggestions of how WordPress can still enjoy the benefits of this kind of event, while eliminating or reducing the pain points?
To give the conversation some structure, let’s aim to close comments by March 15, 2019. #summit #discussion