Discussion: How could we improve the WordPress Community Summit?

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.

Looking forward

Where do we go from here? Let’s get creative! I’d love your thoughts on this topic, especially on the following points:

  1. Is there anything missing from the above lists of benefits and pain points?
  2. 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

WordPress Community Summit 2017

As you might have read already, the 2017 WordPress Community Summit (CS) will take place a few days before WordCampWordCamp WordCamps are casual, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress. They're one of the places where the WordPress community comes together to teach one another what they’ve learned throughout the year and share the joy. Learn more. Europe 2017 in Paris, France (final dates to be determined).

What is the WordPress Community Summit?
Unlike the main WCEU conference, which can have as many as 3000 attendees, the Community Summit has historically been an smaller, discussion-based event. Active contributors to WordPress, the open sourceOpen Source Open Source denotes software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. Open Source **must be** delivered via a licensing model, see GPL. project, gather to discuss and work on issues that the WordPress project faces.

The purpose of the Community Summit is to hold face-to-face discussions about issues or subjects that are difficult to discuss online. The last three summits have used an unconference format, without slides, pre-selected speakers, or planned presentations. Because of the format and the goals of the Summit, it’s necessary to cap registration at a much lower number, and to that end the past three events have been invitation-only.

Challenges in past events
Because the purpose of the Community Summit is to hold face-to-face discussions about issues that divide or challenge us as a cooperative community, it’s necessary to limit the number of attendees to ensure that true discussions can happen. In the past, we made sure that key voices were heard by sending invitations to specific people.

Unfortunately, this can create an air of exclusivity around the Summit, and many people assume that anyone who attends the Summit is a more valuable contributor than those who aren’t invited or don’t attend. This can reinforce an “in-crowd/out-crowd” paradigm that the WordPress project works to avoid.

Proposal: a new approach for 2017
If we have to limit our attendance to have productive, collaborative discussions at the Summit, then choosing the participants becomes a challenge if we don’t know what the teams are going to discuss ahead of time. Therefore, this year I suggest we try something new:

Let’s ask teams to decide on the challenging, controversial, or sensitive issues they want to discuss at the summit before the summit is held. Then, once the teams know what they want to talk over in person, they can nominate and select the people needed to represent all points of view in each of those discussions. This way, the event stays small, hard topics get discussed, but the selection process is more transparent and functional.

Here’s how I think that could work:

1) Each make.wordpress.orgWordPress.org The community site where WordPress code is created and shared by the users. This is where you can download the source code for WordPress core, plugins and themes as well as the central location for community conversations and organization. https://wordpress.org/ project team creates a list of relevant topics/issues which are relevant for the progress of the team and the WordPress open source project as a whole, prioritizing topics or tasks which are sensitive enough to specifically require in-person discussion.

2) Each team rep will post their final discussion topic list on the Community Summit blog: https://make.wordpress.org/summit/. Deadline: December 20th

3) After this, each team will decide on a group of representatives to attend the Community Summit (not determined yet, and depending on the team), with selections based on several factors, including: providing representation of a wide, diverse range of opinions (based on the agreed-upon topics selected by each team), diversity, inclusion, and activity of the contributors.

4) Each team rep will post their list of participants as a comment to a dedicated post which will be used to wrangle the attendee list on https://make.wordpress.org/summit/.

5) Of the above list of participants, each team will select two participants who are willing to help with the organization of the event: posts, communication, travel assistance, finding sponsors, etc. The intention of this approach is to propose a more open and team-focus Community Summit with transparent participation from all active contributors and reps of each team. This way we can hopefully anticipate barriers and cross-team difficulties that might come up, and avoid them.

Safe Space
One of the things that made the first summit a unique experience was that it was named a safe space, protected from photos, tweets, blog posts quoting people, etc. This allowed participants to have very candid conversations without people worrying about how their words might be taken out of context later online, or about looking bad if they got into a heated argument for a change instead of tiptoeing around a topic. It also meant that people put their devices away and were 100% present in the conversations. The goal of the summit was to be very candid and blast through community issues, and being distracted by devices or worrying about someone tweeting what you said wouldn’t have been conducive to that. We’ll have a similar privacy request this year, and will ask anyone signing up to agree to it.

Diversity
One of the things organizers of the first summit tried to do when issuing invitations in 2012 was to create a participant group with diverse points of view. A travel scholarship program helped to bring people who might not have been able to afford the trip. Our community has grown more since then, making it even more important to include diverse voices in a summit of leaders and doers. To that end, we’ll be trying to provide travel assistance this time again. Our hope is that in addition to bringing contributors who are financially constrained, we can bring more people from the groups that tend to be underrepresented at events like these.

Note: It’s not the purpose of this post to discuss any logistics or implementation details of the event, that will be handled later in the year and in coordination with the WCEU logistic team.

Do you have thoughts, concerns, or suggestions about this proposal? Please share them in the comments!

#community, #summit