Civic Hacking With WordPress

A few days ago, I wrote about a civic hacking meetup which is happening in Appleton i the near future.

Because the goal of civic hacking is to build better communities and better civic tools, people who become civic hackers may be more citizen activists than ninja coders. While WordPresssome civic hackers can build websites with raw HTML and CSS or with a stack of computer languages and services, other civic hackers may want to limit their website building to an easy-to-learn-yet-powerful tech tool like WordPress (WP).

Most people, from middle school students who grew up with technology to retired people who aren’t afraid to use computers, can learn how to build a basic website with WP in just a couple hours, either on their own or with a little guidance. But, in addition to the basic website capabilities of WP, it also has so many advanced features, themes, plugins and possible customizations that it also powers websites of large businesses such as Mercedes-Benz and The Walt Disney Company.

Read on to learn more about civic hacking uses of WP…

WP: Part of the Civic Hacker Toolset

sccIn the post, “Tech Tools For Civic Hacking,” I mentioned the Smart Chicago Collaborative (SCC), a group that does civic hacking and describes themselves as “a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology.” In their post, “Tech Tools for Civic Organizations,” SCC says this about digital tools for civic hackers and for civic organizations:

“One of the problems that we sometimes encounter [when helping civic organizations] in the technology space is that we say things like, “Oh, just use this piece of software that I assume you know about.” It’s the digital equivalent of watching a home improvement show and they get out a circular saw. The show says, “Oh, just make a few cuts here.” The problem is that it assume the viewer even has a circular saw – and the clamps, goggles, saw horses, the working space, and the know how to actually use the expensive piece of hardware that can seriously hurt you if you don’t use it correctly…

The good news is that there are a number of tools that are easy to use and won’t break the bank. We tend to favor lightweight tools because they’re 1) easy to use 2) not expensive and 3) we can use them in solutions that are repeatable…”

WordPress is one of the digital tools SCC uses and recommends, describing it this way:

“…WordPress is the backbone of our digital communication strategy. It’s what runs not only our website, but the website of many other organizations as well.

WordPress is easy to set up and with a few additional changes you can have the site point to your own domain name. There’s two options to do this. The first is that you can use to set up a custom install on your server. However, we recommend just using (which does all the setup on the their side.) Initially, you’ll have a site. You can then pay to upgrade to have the blog point to your own homepage site once you buy a domain name…”

Use WP To Build Websites For Civic Hacker Groups

code for tulsa

Code for Tulsa, a Code for America civic hacker brigade

As pointed out above by the SSC, WP is used by some civic hackers to build their group’s website, including SCC’s own site. Another example is the website of the Code for America brigade in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Because most programmers in a civic hacking group are more interested in scraping data, building databases, writing apps and doing other code-intensive work than they are in building and maintaining the group’s website, it often makes sense to have a non-coder work on the website. Free tools like make it easy for non-coders to set up a website and add content to it. A WP veteran might get involved with the site sometimes just to tweak the design or add a certain functionality they want, but otherwise the non-coder can take care of basic website needs for a civic hacker group.

Use WordPress For Blog About Civic Hacking

If you blog about civic hacking, WP might be a good choice for publishing your blog. (Of course, it’s good for blogging about any other topic, too…) A couple excellent examples of this are GovFresh by Luke Fretwell and Civic Innovations by Mark Headd. Those two guys are neck deep in the world of civic hacking and they do software development, so if they feel WP is a good tool for them, that’s a pretty good reason for other civic hacking bloggers to consider using WP for their blog.

Build WP Site As A Civic Hack

WP can often be a valuable tool for parts of a civic hack as shown by these examples:

  1. civic hacks resource centralCreate a directory of civic hacks so it’s easier for people to learn about civic hacks, especially i they’re trying to find certain types of civic hacks. This type of directory is talked about in the blog post “CivicHacks ResourceCentral v.0.1” and “Hosted Blog Instead Of Wiki For CivicHacks Resource Central v.0.1?
  2. Build an information, communication and promotion website for individual civic hacks, esp guerilla civic hacks done by non-coders, e.g. neighborhood park, a la “Guerrilla Civic Hacking: Portable Artist Workspace & Street Made By People” or “Hacking City Spaces: A Third Place On The Fourth Floor.”

Developing Civic Hacker Themes And Plugins For WP

WP themes “allow users to change the look and functionality of a WordPress website and they can be installed without altering the content or health of the site.” A WP plugin is software that can be used to extend and expand the functionality of your WP website. There are WP themes for just about every type of organization or purpose under the sun, including things like education, small businesses, churches, and libraries, and WP’s 40,000+ plugins can make your website do just about anything you want it to do.

Because WP themes and plugins make it easy to customize a website for specific purposes, one “civic hacking” activity could be to develop one or several themes or plugins that help the websites better perform their civic duty. Below are examples of a civic hacking theme and plugin.

  1. govpress themeLuke Fretwell built GovPress, a WP theme for government websites which has been downloaded over 56,000 times. According to its website, GovPress is “designed to meet the needs of government and other civic-focused organizations” and is “mobile-friendly and adapts to all devices (PC, laptop, tablet, smartphone).”
  2. In May 2013 the White House released an API for We The People, a petition application designed to give citizens a direct line to the White House…[The We The People] plugin allows WordPress site owners to search and embed petitions from We The People into WordPress.” (If you want to read the backstory on this civic hack, read the post, “buckeye interactive at the national day of civic hacking at the white house.”)

If you’re a skilled WP developer who wants to make it easier for non-coder civic hackers to build better civic hack websites with WP, consider creating new themes or plugins.

Last but not least, a reminder for those within driving distance of Appleton, Wisconsin, USA, to put May 9, 2016 on their calendar for the civic hacking meetup at the Appleton Makerspace. See my earlier Events Wrangling post about the May 9 meetup for more details. If you want to learn more about civic hacking before getting down to work, show up at 6 PM. If you have limited time or just want to wait until the focused effort begins, show up at the 7 PM official start time for the meetup.

See you on May 9th!


For more about what civic hacking is, see:

What Is Civic Hacking??
Why Good Hackers Make Good Citizens

NE Wisconsin residents interested in civic hacking may also want to consider coming to the TEDx De Pere Middle School event because one of the talks will be on civic hacking.

***** Tips &Tricks

Started With Default Theme Appearance

This blog uses a basic free theme, and only a few changes have been made to the default settings on that theme.

WordPress theme Hemingway RewrittenWhen I started the blog, I decided to use the Hemingway Rewritten theme. I’ve published 20+ posts on this blog daily thus far, so I’m starting to feel like the blog is really mine and more a part of my life than it did for the first few posts. It’s time for me to look at changing more of those default settings if it will make the site look and function better from my point of view. Some of the changes will be just to personalize the blog, or make it feel more unique to me. Others will, I hope, make the experience better for people who read the blog.

The target audience for this blog is other events wranglers and people who want to become events wranglers. So most of the posts on this blog will be about some aspect of events wrangling.

However, a few of this blog’s readers may not yet have a personal or business website, but would like to create one. Others may already have a basic website without many changes to the default appearance. Still others might want to set up a website for an event they’re working on. These tips and tricks may help them. And working on the tips and tricks will make me more knowledgeable about

Modifying The Content and Look of The Website

add pageAs part of my effort to improve the quality and uniqueness of the “Events Wrangling” layout, as well as learning more about, today I created a new page on this website, titled WP Tips & Tricks. The tips and tricks listed on that new page are intended for someone totally new to WordPress, or someone who has created a website but has made minimal changes to the default settings.

If you look up near the top of this blog, you’ll see a black horizontal stripe with the navigation menu, which shows Home, About, Events and WP Tips & Tricks. Clicking on one of those menu items will take you to that page. The Home and About pages came as default parts of the theme I selected for my website.

navigation menu

Navigation Menu

(Shortly after I launched this blog, I created the Events page so I could put information on the blog about Automattic events I was aware of and TIME community events (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs) of interest to me which are happening in NE Wisconsin and elsewhere.)

Next Steps To Improve Blog Layout and Content Features

My goal is to periodically figure out a new layout or content feature that will improve the Events Wrangling blog, then start using that feature and list it on the WP Tips & Tricks page. The Next Steps to achieve that improved blog are:

  1. Go back to look at and read through ten random posts on Events Wrangling. See if there are aspects of the blog that catch my eye as needing improvement.
  2. Use Google to find twenty to fifty top WordPress blogs to see what they do differently from my blog. Write down details of any layout, graphics, or other formatting or functional components of the top websites which I feel would improve my site.
  3. Research how to make the changes noted in steps 1 and 2 above.
  4. Try making one or two changes each week. On the Tips & Tricks page of Events Wrangling, write down exactly how I made the change.

Change is (sometimes) good, and as David Bowie said…



News & Views For Events Wranglers: Best Websites

Knowledge & Information Discovery Sources

I like knowledge — news and information about emerging technologies, US and world trends, disruptive innovation and innovation at the edges of two or three industry sectors.

knowledgeThis blog is part of my standard process for managing knowledge about the topic of “events wrangling.”

To slake my thirst for knowledge, I’ve developed a generic approach to getting the big picture and to keeping informed about significant new developments in a topic of interest. I used that approach for the topic of “civic hacking” most recently — here’s my civic hacking blog and here’s a civic hacking info sources” post. Previously I employed similar techniques for “microcontrollers and microelectronics,” “aviation innovation,” “technology and entrepreneurism, especially computers and internet.” Before those topics I used the same general methods for the topics of chemical engineering and the industry sectors or products I worked with as a chemical engineer.

One component in my knowledge management process is identifying the News and Views sources most useful to me. For me, writing blog posts blends my experiences, knowledge and opinions with new developments in the subject covered by the blog and other people’s thoughts that seem impactful and relevant to the issues being considered in my post.

News” websites are ones that cover announcement (and sometimes analysis) of new products and services, cutting edge research, disruptions and innovations. These sites will give me information about trends, tools, technologies, events, people and companies. I try news and viewsto take the “information” I get from these sources and turn it into useful “knowledge.”

Views” websites are those which present opinions or perspectives of people “knowledgeable” about the topic or industry sector in which I’m interested. These sites generally talk about what someone found good or not-so-good, their point of view about their industry or their particular job, what trends they see happening or about to happen, and personal experiences related to the topics covered by the website. Views sources address advice, education and other modes of learning, or they might simply be entertaining or thought-provoking. I try to use the content from these sources to inform my understanding of the issue being discussed, to support what I write in my blog posts, and to help me understand different ways in which some part of an issues can be looked at or thought about.

The lists in this post are my initial attempt at identifying which sources are “best” for my needs in the world of events wrangling. Using these sites and finding new relevant sites in the course of writing posts for this blog will, no doubt, cause me to revise which online sources are most useful to me. So I’ve put a task on my calendar to update these two lists in six months. (I might also revise this post occasionally before the six-month update.)

newsEvents Wrangling “News” Websites

  1. MeetingsNet
  2. BizBash
  3. Smart Meetings
  4. Meetings & Conventions
  5. Event Marketer
  6. Successful Meetings
  7. Special Events
  8. Event Industry News
  9. Event
  10. Exhibitor

Events Wrangling “Views” Websites

  1. viewsConferences That WORK
  2. EventMB
  3. PlannerWire (caveat: enjoyable reading, but less frequent than some blogs)
  4. Plan Your Meetings
  5. techsyTalk (short written posts, but heavy focus on podcasts)
  6. Collaborate
  7. Velvet Chainsaw
  8. Nicole Jensen
  9. Grass Shack (all podcasts)
  10. Endless Entertainment (all podcasts)


Caveats: What online sources are best or most useful to you will depend on the specific aspects of events wrangling you care about or work on. It will also depend on your preference for consuming online info. Some people prefer to get a lot or most of their info from Twitter. Others enjoy podcasts. Some focus strictly on wedding planning or trade shows. The above sites happen to be what work best for my purposes as of April 2016…

Credits: Thanks to Adrian Segar for pointing me to some of the above sites. Others sites are included because I’ve found them useful in doing, reading about, and researching the topic of, events wrangling.


Additional sources to consider for events wrangling news & views

C&IT Magazine


The Journey of TEDxDePereMiddleSchool…So Far!

[This is a guest post by Josh Gauthier, the organizer of a TEDx event to be hosted by De Pere Middle School in NE Wisconsin. Josh’s post gives you a backstory view of organizing that event, which happens on May 27, 2016. TEDx events are officially-sanctioned local versions of the more elaborate events organized and put on globally by the TED nonprofit organization. The website describes them as “an awesome dinner party, with great food, inspirational videos, brilliant speakers and mind-blowing conversation.” TED is the acronym for the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference; you may have watched their awesome and thought-provoking TED videos. One of my favorite TED videos relates to education — “Do schools kill creativity?” Another intriguing one is about a brain researcher’s experience of having a stroke and recovering from it — “My stroke of insight.” If you’re interested in organizing a TEDx talk at your school or in your city, talk with Josh and look at the TEDx webpage. — Bob Waldron]

At the end of last school year a colleague of mine, the great and wonderful Adrianne Burns, began doing Genius Hour with one of her math classes. She had mentioned how she thought it would significantly upgrade their effort on presenting if we were to do a TEDx conference for them to showcase their projects. Thus, the idea was planted. After some conversations with my unofficial TEDx mentor, Jimmy Juliano about his involvement in the very successful TEDxLFHS, the idea was born. We would be doing a TEDx at my middle school if I had my way!

TEDx De Pere  2016 B

I began the year with seven distinct goals in mind. One of these was creating a TEDx event. As the year progressed, however, it seemed to drift further and further away. Other initiatives (otherwise known as my day job) pushed the idea of a TEDx aside. It seemed too big to accomplish myself, yet I was wary of bringing in other teachers and putting more on their plate. As February drew to a close, TEDx was about to go out the window.

But at that point, I decided to call a meeting of the dedicated (or crazy) educators who wanted to follow this vision with me. We discussed everything – our shortened timeline, expectations for the event, and how we would procure student speakers. Out of that lunch meeting the TEDx process starting rolling, and hasn’t stopped yet.

unique contributionWe introduced the idea of TEDx to our students just before our Spring break at the end of March, and they had three weeks to put together a short application that included a general topic idea and a short video to display their speaking ability and why they wanted to give a TEDx Talk. Our theme is “My Unique Contribution to the World”. If anything, it is a celebration of individuality for the 20 students who have been selected. During this time, we also began reaching out to members of the local community to fill five potential slots we had in mind for them. As of writing, we are at four and still searching for one more inspiring member to share their idea worth spreading!

The interest from students surpassed our expectations! Even with the short time frame, we had 27 different submissions. Because some students proposed in pairs, that means nearly 40 students were involved in the process. As mentioned above. we were limited to accepting 20 students due to time and schedule constraints, and we had to make some tough cuts.

so much to doSo here we are. We have students. We have community members. We have one month. May 27th is fast approaching and we have a lot of work left to do. After all, we want this event to be an amazing experience. Very few middle schools have run a TEDx event, but the hope is it will not feel like a middle school event at all.

What’s next for our team? Most important, we have to coach and mentor the students to make their talks professional quality and TED worthy. The day of schedule has to be determined, and we need to figure out just how many volunteers we’ll need. In addition, we want to feed the people who attend, so that is a task and a half to accomplish. Speaking of attendees, we can only have 100. Promoting this event to get to that number will be important, but designing an event that keeps them there for an entire Friday will be another task entirely!

Our social media pages and website continue to need work. I am fairly comfortable with my tech skills, but trying to build those out hasn’t been easy and I am still not happy with their look.

We have a sign in the works. Our tech ed teacher built a small stage. To show how big this is getting, we even have our secretaries getting involved to make curtains to cover the 27 windows in our library media center so we can get as close to a theater setting as possible.

We have nearly 20 staff members involved in planning this event, with a potential addition of 5-10 student volunteers.

And best of all, any purchases right now are currently being funded by the Bank of Josh. My principal is working hard on funding and partnerships, but we’re limited on just how much we can do if we don’t find another source besides my wallet. However, I am committed to making this event as awesome as possible and I will continue to do what it takes to make it happen.

In the end, it really comes down to giving our students an opportunity to share their voices, their passions, and themselves with the world. We might only have 100 people in the room, but the event will be live streamed and recorded forever. This is something they can look back on and be proud of. They can use this as they apply for competitive organizations, colleges, and careers. This event is a way to showing students that we want to provide them opportunities that transcend academics but incorporate all of those skills they are learning in their classes.

TEDxDePereMiddleSchool is going to be amazing. With amazing student involvement and amazing staff involvement, it can’t help but be that. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to join in, whether physically or virtually. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be crazy enough to try and make this happen where you are.

—  Josh Gauthier  —

TED ten kids

[As Josh said, the De Pere TEDx event will give 20 of their students “an opportunity to share their voices, their passions, and themselves with the world.” This will be a learning experience for them, and it may be the spark that lights their desire for doing other unique and worthwhile ventures that take a lot of work to do well. It may also inspire more students than just the 20 who were selected to present. Click here for a look at ten TED talks given in the past by young people. — Bob Waldron]

April Update For BarCampMilwaukee 2016

Today’s post is a follow-up to my mid-April initial post about BarCampMilwaukee 2016 (BCMke).

In upcoming months, this blog will likely have periodic “events wrangler” updates about BCMke planning progress and issues. Writing these posts will help me promote the event, highlight various challenges involved with events wrangling for an unconference, and help keep me focused on next steps towards an awesome 11th BCMke.

Top Two Action Items Accomplished

Two significant steps forward were taken since my earlier BCMke post on this blog.

  1. Pete Prodoehl set up a BarCampMilwaukee Google Group
  2. Aaron Saray stepped forward to lead the event website effort at this point

Google GroupsThe Google Group is valuable because it provides a central “event organizing” communication tool, and it provides a way to start connecting a core team for organizing the event. As of midday on April 25, there are seven people in the Ggroup. As people interested in BCMke identify potential organizers for the event, they can be invited to join the group and encouraged to jump right into the conversations there or to start conversations. The group isn’t limited to the core organizing team, though — anyone interested in this Milwaukee area technology unconference can subscribe to the group at!forum/barcampmilwaukee.

BCMke website browser screenshotHaving an informative and well-designed website for the event is also a big step forward. As one person mentioned, they heard about BCMke in past years but never participated in it because they weren’t sure just what “it” was. An event website that is well-done (something that is challenging both to define and to build / maintain…) will help make BCMke, or any other event, more successful. The website can make more people aware of the event, it can help them clearly understand what the event is and what participants will get out of it, and it can help make sponsors interested in supporting the event. There are other benefits of an effective website for an event, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time.

Assorted Other BCMke Activities

In addition to the two primary steps forward listed above, additional random items occurred since my last BCMke post on this blog.

  1. Google HangoutsI had a Google video +Hangout to discuss BCMke with potential organizer. What I told him aligned well enough with his interest that he joined the Google group and will consider possible ways to contribute to BCMke.
  2. There have been Ggroup discussions about potential venues for BCMke 2016. Several possible locations were mentioned, and a couple people offered to talk to contacts about those locations with respect to being a potential event venue.
  3. There were also conversations about criteria or requirements for a good BarCamp venue, about money handling for the event, and about the traditional BCMke philosophy regarding sponsors.

Upcoming Issues To Address

We aren’t close enough to BCMke to put concentrated effort into event organizing yet, but I will be focusing on the following five items in upcoming weeks:

  1. Recruiting more organizing core team members
  2. Potential Dates for BCMke 2016
  3. Discussions About Possible Venues
  4. Sponsors for t-shirts, stickers and food
  5. Conflict between concept and reality for events wrangling

barcamp milwaukeeIf you’re in the Milwaukee area and are a BarCamp enthusiast, or like the concept of BarCamps based on what a little research has shown you, and you want to help organize this event, please subscribe to the event’s Google Group or contact Bob Waldron, bwaldron (att) gmail [dot] com.

If you’re with an organization who wants to discuss supporting BarCampMilwaukee 2016, please contact me at the above email address.

If you don’t live in the Milwaukee area, but want to help organize the event, please join the Google Group or email me.

Finally, if you think BCMke is your type of event, come back to this blog periodically or check at for more information. (The event website is in early stages of construction — check back later if not anything or not much is there when you look at it. Or join the Ggroup and talk to Aaron about how you might help develop the website!)


Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities #8 – #13

Finishing The List: Priority #8 – Priority #13wrap

Today’s post will wrap up this series about the top ways to improve long tech events.

Depending on your reasons for organizing or participating in a long tech event, you’ll likely prioritize these items differently than I did. Regardless of what order you’d arrange them in, items 8 through 13 all present significant opportunities to improve your events.

  • Priority #8: Learning
  • Priority #9: Levels of Commitment
  • Priority #10: Ongoing projects
  • Priority #11: Participant contributions
  • Priority #12: Fair competition
  • Priority #13: “Flow” for coders

#8: Learning More Than Expected At Event

learningMost events designed to do training do pretty good job of it. Or if they don’t provide effective training, it’s not because they don’t have that as a high priority.

However, some of the more informal tech events, especially if organized by inexperienced events wranglers, may benefit from putting more thought into how to help people walk away with more information and understanding than they expected to get.

The minimum training target should be that event marketing materials and available information made it clear what learning would be gained at the event and the necessary activities happen to provide the promised learning. Because plans rarely work out exactly as expected, it makes sense to raise the training target a bit higher, under-promising and over-delivering. Attendee delightment and appreciation is what you’ll get if they walk away having learned more than they thought they would.

Strategies for delivering a superlative educational experience depends heavily on what people are coming to learn, but a couple ideas include:

  • Thoroughly vet the “teachers” and speakers to ensure they not only know a lot, but that they effectively help people learn the subject matter.
  • Provide opportunities for practical application of what people are learning, e.g. if the training is about robotics, have a variety of robots or other relevant equipment people can experiment with and reinforce what they learned.
  • Provide access, during and after the event, to resources that are discussed during the training session. Make it easy for them to locate those resources when they need them.

#9: Allow For Different Levels of Commitment

Enabling different levels of commitment at a long tech event is especially important for attracting people whose schedules and responsibilities don’t allow them to spend an entire day or an entire weekend at the event.

Regarding committing to long events, one person had this to say:

Me: I’m kind of interested in your thing. How can I get involved?
Them: We have a hackathon coming up. You should come!

Here’s how that sounds to me:

Me: I’d like to get a little more physically active.
Them: You should come run a marathon on the weekend!

They exclude people with lives and responsibilities…A hackathon usually takes up a whole weekend, often starting Friday night and going through until Sunday evening…I have other things going on in my life: errands to run, friends to see, a veggie garden to keep watered, and other community events and commitments to schedule around…That exclusion is not evenly distributed. I see fathers of kids at hackathons pretty often, perhaps because their wives are looking after the kids. I see mothers far less often…It’s well documented that diverse teams have more creative ideas. So why exclude entire categories of people by holding an event that is hard for them to participate in?

If you need the contribution of people who are interested in the theme or focus of the event, but aren’t willing to dedicate a whole day or weekend for that purpose, look for ways to break the goal down into smaller chunks.


Maybe”level of participation” is a better term than “level of commitment,” because everyone seems to view less than 100% commitment as a bad thing…

Creating an agenda and event format that allows for those chunk level commitments can be challenging. If you’re running a hackathon whose goal is to develop the maximum number of ideas, the best apps or the most useful application of a piece of software or chunk of hardware, someone who wants to only spend two hours at the event is unlikely to contribute significantly toward your goal.

It is tricky to design a long tech event to enable people to contribute effectively or to get something useful, inspiring or exciting out of their short time at the event. It’s certainly worth the effort to try to accommodate participation in short time blocks, but it can’t always be done.

If you just can’t come up with a plan for widely varying levels of commitment, make it clear in your event marketing and communications that you considered that and could not find a way to make two-hour or four hour commitments useful and rewarding for everyone. If it works out for your agenda, invite people with schedule conflicts or lower levels of interest to come to the event at a specified time for talking with people to see or learn about what they worked on. Showing up for a relatively short demo and info session may get people interested in working on a project after the event or might convince them to show up at a future related event.

#10: Optimize Potential Of Ongoing Projects


ongoing projects

Ongoing projects was one of the issues covered in the Follow-up For Greater Impact post, but it’s important enough that I also separately focus on this one of the thirteen ways to improve long tech events. By emphasizing it with a stand-alone priority, I hope to prevent it from being lost in the blur of everything else in the priority item for follow-up.

As soon as planning starts for your event, figure out if one of the outcomes should be ongoing projects. Communicate to all potential registrants whether those projects are an expected takeaway. Get them thinking about what they need to do during the event to make the post-event work most worthwhile and effective.

During the event, document and publicize all projects expected to continue after the event. Consider formal or informal agenda items which focus on and enhance the projects. Schedule small group work sessions for the projects. Have team-forming opportunities while everyone is at the same location. Identify local restaurants which have good facilities for small group meetings, such as separate rooms or large tables, and help project teams schedule a project dinner to discuss relevant issues and build personal connections or relationships. Discuss potential sponsorship with organizations that may benefit from the project. Encourage and facilitate the scheduling of post-event project meetups. Provide an opportunity near the end of the event not only for pitches or demos of projects, but also for explaining post-event work plans and expectations for the projects.

Finally, ask each project team how you, as the events wrangler, can contribute to the success of their project after the event. If you can help them with their request, do so. If you can’t help, let them know that and suggest other people or resources who might be able to help.

#11: Participant Contributions: The Secret Sauce

secret sauceParticipants’ contributions are the key to success for participant-driven events like BarCamps and other unconferences, but can also be valuable for traditional conferences, workshops and other long tech events.

At unconferences, the Law of Two Feet was instituted to encourage everyone to find a way to benefit or contribute at all times during the event.

“the One Law of Open Space…is a law only in the sense that all participants must observe it or the process will not work. We call it the Law of Two Feet. Briefly stated, this law says that every individual has two feet, and must be prepared to use them. Responsibility for a successful outcome in any Open Space Event resides with exactly one person — each participant. Individuals can make a difference and must make a difference. If that is not true in a given situation, they, and they alone, must take responsibility to use their two feet, and move to a new place where they can make a difference.”

To maximize the chance of participants making an unconference successful, I try to make sure everyone understands:

  • There are no attendees at an unconference. Only participants.
  • Leading a session about a topic of great interest to you will likely connect you with other people knowledgeable about or involved in that same topic.
  • All participants are welcome to suggest and lead a session. (There are never enough time slots at an unconference for that many sessions, but if a participant is passionate enough about their session topic, they can always do an informal session with other interested participants in a quiet corner of the venue, or outside, or after the slotted sessions are done for the day.)
  • Session leaders are not “presenters.” They are most effective when they introduce an interesting aspect of some main topic, bring up a couple of their thoughts about that aspect, or maybe work they’ve done involving that aspect, and then get the other session participants involved in the discussion. People with relevant knowledge can contribute what they know, or ask insightful questions. People interested in, but not highly knowledgeable about the topic can ask questions or offer a viewpoint the session leader hadn’t considered before. The last thing a session leader should do is put up a PowerPoint presentation and trudge through a one-to-many talk about the session topic.
  • If you are aware of something that needs to be done before or during an unconference to make it successful, don’t say, “Somebody should do X.” Instead, say “I’m going to do X, and if anyone else wants to work on it with me, let me know.”

Even if the event isn’t participant-driven, the attendees can still contribute in ways that help other people enjoy it more. Make someone’s day better simply by being truly pleasant and starting each interaction out with a smile and friendly greeting. Help your fellow attendee out by carrying their coffee if they look like they’re going to drop their food or spill the coffee if they don’t have a little assistance. If a person looks lost or confused, ask if there’s anything you can help them with. Be patient when there are long lines. Be understanding when the inevitable glitches occur, such as a room that’s too cold, a meeting location that got changed at the last minute, and don’t complain loudly about petty issues to everyone who will listen, or at least to everyone who is near you.

#12: Rules And Format For Fair Competition

fair competitionMost long tech events don’t include a challenge or competition, but for the ones that do, especially if there are significant prizes for the winners of the contest, do everything possible to ensure fair competition. Doing this will:

  • Be beneficial to, and appreciated by, the people competing
  • Bring the most value to the sponsors of the event and the prizes
  • Make people more likely to compete in future events organized by the same group

Various people over the years have pointed out instances of unfair competition at hackathons and other challenge events. Brian Chang had this to say:

“Many projects begin well before the hackathon. There are a lot of teams who bring their existing projects to the party. This is unfair to newcomers who aren’t well calibrated to understand what can be accomplished in a given amount of time. Remember the Dreamforce 2013 hackathon? The winners of that event had been working on their project for 2 years which is not within the spirit of a time-constrained hackathon.

Salesmanship is rewarded. The rewards are given strictly based on the presentation. Never mind that you solved a really challenging problem. If you can’t sell it, you can’t win it. And often times the winners are those who put together the most polished presentation irrespective of actual execution.”

Learn from history. If you’re organizing a competition, research how fairness is ensured in similar competitions and find out what complaints people have voiced regarding unfair tech challenges. Don’t repeat other people’s mistakes, avoid them.

#13: Environment Conducive To “Flow” For Coders

flow stream

Aim for that zen-like state of “flow,” sort of like this idyllic stream appears to have achieved.

For certain aspects of coding or hacking systems (concept of flow applies to more topics than just coding), the most valuable work is done during an extended period of concentration, which is often called “flow”.

The concept of flow was brought up earlier in this series in the post focused on health. In that post, Joel Spolsky was quoted as saying flow is especially important to coders becauseWith programmers…productivity depends on being able to juggle a lot of little details in short term memory all at once. Any kind of interruption can cause these details to come crashing down. When you resume work, you can’t remember any of the details (like local variable names you were using, or where you were up to in implementing that search algorithm)…”

What this means is that an event involving writing code will be most productive if it is structured to include long periods where the programmers can figure out and design their code, as well as extended sessions of writing the code itself. Not all developers will want to code through the night or be programming for more than two or three hours at a time. However, there are valid reasons to provide the option for coders to do overnight or long-session programming at a tech event.

  • First, and foremost, as Andrew H says, “The experience of programming in the zone…was tremendously satisfying, relaxing and…hyper-productive. It was not an everyday experience. It could not be planned or scheduled. I could not force myself into the state.
  • Coding competitions usually have limited time for programming, often 24 hours or a weekend
  • Some developers enjoy, or are most productive, working at night
  • The tech event may be one of the few times the members of a project team are together in the same location

Think about ways you can organize coding events so developers have the best chance of achieving flow, including:

  • Providing a variety of spaces and uninterrupted time slots (including overnight) where coders can work uninterrupted if they’ve gotten to a productive and enjoyable state of flow.
  • Have healthy food and beverages that minimizes excessively high and low metabolic periods.
  • Have some of the healthy meal food available (in fresh condition and the right temperature) when the coders want to eat it, not just in the first 15 minutes after the caterer drops it off at the venue.
  • Designate separate areas where coders can sleep or nap when they want to recharge, as well as social areas where they can eat, talk, play game, or otherwise rejuvenate their minds and bodies.
  • Make sure programmers have useful tools for programming, such as reliable high speed internet access, white boards (with fresh markers and erasers), plenty of conveniently-located power outlets, mentors or tech advisers for unfamiliar APIs, libraries, languages or other software required for the coding.

There are more ways to improve long tech events than just focusing on the thirteen topics I highlighted. Each of the thirteen points I mentioned can be worked on or approached using a whole horde of strategies and action items which weren’t mentioned in any of the ten posts in this series. Entire books have been written on how organize and run events, so a few blog posts will only scratch the surface of this activity.

However, if a reader picked up just one or two ideas from this blog on how to make their next long tech event more memorable and worthwhile for the people at that event, researching and writing these posts was time well spent.


Posts in this “Improving Long Tech Events” series:

Making Long Tech Events Better
Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities
Improving Long Tech Events: #1 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #2 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #3 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #4 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #5 Priority
#6 Priority: Follow-Up For Greater Impact
Priority #7: Storytelling & Documentation
Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities #8 – #13


May 9: Civic Hacking & Coder Cooperative Meetup

Rosie riveter, Appleton, May 9, 2016The next NE Wisconsin civic hacking event will happen in Appleton on Monday evening, May 9, 2016 at the Appleton Makerspace as a combined meetup with the Coder Cooperative. The official start of the joint Coder Cooperative & Civic Hacking meetup is at 7 PM. However, the makerspace door will be open at 6 PM for people who want are new to civic hacking and those who want to discuss different civic hacking ideas or projects before the official start of the meetup.

What Is Civic Hacking?

Everyone describes civic hacking a little differently, but here’s one definition:

Civic hacking is collaborating with others to create, build and invent freely-shared (open source) solutions using publicly-released data and technology to solve social, economic, and environmental challenges relevant to their neighborhood, city, state, or country. These civic challenges include information-based topics like voter registration, public transit, helping consumers buy homes and helping families choose schools. But civic hacking can also mean building a better neighborhood park, or working to fix horrendous potholes in the city’s roads. The goals of civic hacking are as diverse as the different types of people who are civic hackers. Civic hackers can be programmers, designers, data scientists, good communicators, civic organizers, entrepreneurs, government employees and anyone willing to get his or her hands dirty solving community problems.

If this is the first you’ve heard of that concept, or if you’re fairly new to the concept and haven’t heard Catherine Bracy explain it, listen to the “Why Good Hackers Make Good Citizens” TED video below.

What Is The Coder Cooperative?

The Coder Cooperative meets weekly on Monday evenings 7pm-9pm for the betterment of people endeavoring to learn and explore the domain of software development. See the group’s web page for more details.

Since there is some overlap between civic hacking activities and Coder Cooperative meetings, it was decided to have a combined meetup and either kill two birds with one stone or to encourage cross-pollination between the two groups. Or both.

When Is The Meetup?

This joint meetup will be on Monday night, May 9, 2016.

The official start of the meetup is 7 PM. At that time’ll do a quick round of introductions for everyone, briefly explain both civic hacking and the Coder Cooperative, then dive right into coding or working on civic hack projects. Or both, if you happen to be working on coding for a civic hack.

The Appleton Makerspace door will be open at 6 PM on May 9 for people who want to show up early to discuss civic hacking. If you’re new to the concept, I can tell you what civic hackers have done over the past year, as well as some of the work civic hackers have done in other areas. You can also show up early if you know what civic hacking is, but want to discuss civic hack projects for a while before the official start of the May 9 joint meetup. Civic hackers who know exactly what they want to accomplish on May 9 are also invited to show up at 6 PM and go right to work.

appleton makerspaceWhere Is The Joint Meetup?

The Appleton Makerspace is located at 121R B North Douglas Street, Appleton, WI. Click here to see it on Google Maps. Also click here to go to the makerspace About Us page and look at the overhead diagram of the building. There’s a Google Streetview on the About Us page so you’ll know what the area looks like from Douglas Street. An overhead diagram of the building layout is shown to the right.

Who Should Come To The Meetup?

Everyone who’s interested in civic hacking, or thinks they might be, and everyone who learn and explore the domain of software development should come to this event.

9 block graphic from CfA

Some different types of civic hackers

Coders will enjoy the fun at the civic hacking meetup, but non-coders are also encouraged to participate, as discussed in “What Are Some Non-coder Activities In Civic Hacking?” and “Do Non-Programmers Participate In Civic Hacking?” There will be at least one person who’s neither coder at the May 9 event; you definitely don’t need to be a coder to participate in civic hacking.

If you haven’t been at a civic hacking meetup before, no worries. We’ll bring you up to speed and answer your questions about civic hacking. This is a participant-driven event, and we’d love to have YOUR participation.

What Should I Bring?

The main things to bring are (1) yourself, (2) friends or acquaintances who might enjoy civic hacking or general coding activities, (3) smartphone, tablet or laptop if you want to look at websites or work on a code project, and (4) willingness to listen and share your two cents’ worth about coding topics or about which civic hacks are worthwhile and interesting to work on.

See more information about civic hacking at DHMN Civic Hacks (Distributed Hacker/Maker Network).

If you’re on the NE Wisconsin Slack team, check out the #dhmncivichacks channel, and if you’re not on that Slack team, go to to join.

As always, if you have civic hacking questions or suggestions, email Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.

Hope to see you on the evening of May 9,2016!


Priority #7: Effective Storytelling & Documentation

Improving Long Tech Events #7: Storytelling & Documentation

Storytelling and documentation of long tech events presents an opportunity for HUGE improvement, in my opinion as an events wrangler.

Because of that opportunity, storytelling and documentation was put at #7 on the list of prioritized improvements for long tech events.storyteller

There are hackathons totally focused on storytelling, such as Popathon, POV Hackathon, Build the News Hackathon, and Story Matter Hackathon. And it would be awesome to have participants from storytelling hackathons be participants for events I help wrangle or in which I participate. But what I’m covering in today’s post is the topic of facilitating improved and comprehensive storytelling and documentation at long tech events.

What Is “Storytelling” For A Tech Event

What storytelling and documentation means to me is capturing as much of the event’s excitement, people-stories, background, highlights (and lowlights), impact, innovation, projects with future-work potential, and quirky or media-worthy moments as possible within the budget and personnel resources available for the event. These “stories” can be published in online or offline format and shared publicly, within a group, or in a one-on-one manner. Below is a list of primary ways to capture the story of an event.

  1. Videos
  2. Photos
  3. Social media coverage
  4. Audio interviews or session recordings
  5. VR / AR / MR coverage
  6. Mainstream media coverage
  7. Links to coverage of events == media stories, particularly pithy posts and tweets, participants’ summaries or musings about the event
  8. Materials and resources presented or discussed at event

What Are Benefits Of Storytelling & Documentation

benefitsAs a person who both enjoys organizing events and loves to attend sessions at participant-driven events, I have multiple reasons for pushing others to do more comprehensive and effective storytelling and documentation. To my way of thinking, if long tech events do a bang-up job on this issue, we’ll have more future tech events and the events will have greater impact. I’ll also be able to learn lots about what happened at the event even though I couldn’t experience everything firsthand. Below are what I consider important benefits of effective storytelling and documentation for an event.

  1. Provides a comprehensive event review and summary documentation for the event’s sponsors, partners, speakers, participants and organizers
  2. Event sponsors and partners need documentation to feel they received value for their support
  3. Documentation of a successful event helps create desire and expectation for continued support of future events by past supporters
  4. Assists in recruiting new sponsors and partners for future events
  5. Helps organizers capture event history and plan better future events
  6. Participants of event want to see pictures and read about the event
  7. Especially appreciated by, and informative to, remote participants
  8. Explains event to potential participants of future events
  9. Persuades potential participants for next year’s event to sign up early so they don’t miss out on a great event
  10. Helps build tech culture of region and strengthens the area’s tech community
  11. Provides portfolio for events wranglers

Why Better Storytelling Doesn’t Happen

When you read through the above list of storytelling and documentation benefits, it seems highly worthwhile to make sure it happens. So why isn’t effective and comprehensive storytelling the norm for long tech events? The reasons will be slightly different for each event, but here are potential causes:

  1. time and moneyTime and money are the two primary roadblocks to getting high quality documentation and storytelling for most long tech events. For-profit conferences have relatively low profit margins, so they’re likely to have the minimum documentation needed to satisfy the marketing department of the company putting on the event. Participant-driven events probably don’t even think of including storytelling on their budget, and most sponsor-recruiters won’t want to spend their time and effort recruiting sponsors to cover the cost of hired or incentivized storytellers.
  2. In the case of a participant-driven event, storytelling is also low on the participants’ list of priorities. Or, more likely, it is nowhere to be found on the list. Even if they intend to do event storytelling, chances are they are undisciplined non-journalists overwhelmed by life’s many commitments. So their intentions may just be paving the way to you-know-where. For more formal or traditional conferences, storytelling is even less likely to be expected or done by the “attendees” and organizers will likely not have provisions for attendee-generated content to be posted on or linked to from the event website.
  3. Not many participants are “storytellers” and even fewer are “event documentarians.”
  4. Long tech events can cause brain overload and physical fatigue. This tends to reduce the amount of storytelling people will do during the event. By the time they get home and recover from the event, they’ve got 59 other priorities and things to do, so it’s easy to skip retrospective storytelling.

Ways For Tech Events To Get Better Storytelling & Documentation

In spite of hurdles described above, I hope event organizers and participants work to significantly improve storytelling and documentation. In addition to action items you already do to facilitate storytelling, consider which of the suggestions below might be appropriate additions to your event planning.

  1. social media logosEnsure a skilled and committed marketing person is on core team for organizing event
  2. Recruit social media mavens to post event material on high profile and relevant services or networks before, during and after the event
  3. Develop list of tech contacts at all regional media, then work with them to publicize your event
  4. Encourage and arrange for posting event photos, videos and “stories,” including hashtags and links; publish relevant details before event
  5. Personally get commitment from multiple people to take comprehensive video and photo coverage of the event; follow up after event to get the photos and videos
  6. help wantedIssue general request that event participants sign up for taking and submitting lots of pictures and video
  7. Work with college and high school communications and media teachers to organize storytelling opportunities for their students
  8. Recruit local independent amateur or professional videographers and video productions companies to capture and edit video from event, including a two-minute “promo and highlights” event summary, 30-second highlight shorts, interviews during the event with speakers, participants and organizers (and event supporters, if they are at the event), long chronological video composite of event, etc.
  9. Build or arrange for automated photo or video-taking equipment, such as time-lapse photo capture and traveling robot
  10. Invite speakers or session leaders to the event for doing storytelling talks
  11. Develop compelling incentives for people to do storytelling and documentation
    1. Have a storytelling and documentation challenge or competition with monetary or in-kind donation benefits (with appropriate full disclosure and no regurgitation of sponsor-generated content)
    2. Encourage storytellers to set up affiliate programs for which they can build event-relevant links into their websites; consider having an evening workshop on this topic
  12. Take photos and video of large group gatherings, especially event kickoff session and full-crowd sessions in largest presentation areas
  13. Ensure photo and video coverage is done for sessions or agenda items that appear to have high participant interest
  14. Get storytelling coverage of social meetups and hallway happenings at the event
  15. Capture swag and food photos
  16. Submit posts or articles to relevant websites that cover the topic of the event
  17. Develop standard intro and exit sequences for “official” event videos, including event logos, other visuals, and appropriate sound tracks

I can do itThis is by no means a complete list of ways to greatly improve storytelling and documentation at long tech events. To improve this list, please send your proven methods and untested ideas to bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com. The list will be updated as the suggestions flood in!

Just for fun, also send me a link to the best stories you’ve written, captured or seen about an event.

Thank you!


Posts in this “Improving Long Tech Events” series:

Making Long Tech Events Better
Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities
Improving Long Tech Events: #1 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #2 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #3 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #4 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #5 Priority
#6 Priority: Follow-Up For Greater Impact
Priority #7: Storytelling & Documentation
Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities #8 – #13


#6 Priority: Follow-Up For Greater Impact

[If you’ve read the previous posts in this series, you may have noticed I changed the format for the post title. This was done in an attempt to make the title more informative as to the subject of the post, while still keeping the “series” theme and not making the title longer than it already is…]

Improving Long Tech Events: #6 Priority, Follow-Up

follow upThere are a variety of ways in which most long tech events can be improved. “Follow-up” was positioned as the #6 priority on my list of improvement opportunities for these tech events.

This post presents ideas on how to get better follow-up so the events have greater impact and the time and energy of all the participants results in more tangible and long-lasting results.

Lack of follow-up from long tech events, such as hackathons and unconferences, is a topic I’ve read quite a bit about and heard people mention as prime opportunity for improvement.

However, there are only 24 hours in each day, and most of the people who participate in long tech events are already overcommitted for those 24 hours and need to say “no” more often. Following up diligently on worthwhile things that happen at long tech events is often a casualty of those overscheduled calendars.

Some of the items below are primarily the responsibility of the lead events wrangler, while other items also depend on event participants being proactive after the event.

Strengthen Relationships Started At Event

preferred contact methodIn yesterday’s post, I said new relationships were one of the most valuable benefits I’ve gotten from long tech events. Those new relationships will wilt and die if you don’t tend them. There’s no need to go overboard on this, or you might make your new contact back off and wonder if they want to continue the relationship. So just check in with them four or five days after the event via their preferred contact method — email, text, Twitter, phone or whatever communication tool they told you they most commonly use. (You did ask them about that, right??) You may be the type of person who prefers email, but they may have inbox overload and will only respond to a text or a tweet.

As you build your new-found relationship, work to identify ways you can be viewed by the other person as a resource. The relationship will grow most quickly if you’re seen as someone who’s truly interested in them as a person and as a contact they look forward to hearing from. Keep track of topics they’re interested in. Learn what projects they’re working on. Ask them if there is anyone whom you might connect them with, or if there’s any way they think you may be able to help them. (Refer back to “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi if you want more details on this concept.)

Commitments Made During Event

commitmentDuring the event, keep a written record of all commitments you make, whether it’s sending someone a PDF, website link or other information, or something more important, such as a future meeting with them or connecting them with a resource or someone they very much want to talk with.

After the event, send your new connection a very short note confirming what you committed to, then follow through on your commitment. Lack of follow-through will disappoint people, make others less likely to be diligent about commitments made to you, and tarnish your reputation. On the other hand, making a commitment and following through on it will make others want to help you and will make your reputation shine more brightly than any update to your LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter profile.

Posting Presentations and Resources

If you gave a talk or led a session at the long tech event, another follow-up item to do very soon after the event ends is post your presentation materials and any relevant resource links or materials. It’s best to figure out before the event where you’ll be posting that information. If the event website provides for posting of materials, get all the details about posting, such as email address to send the material to or username, password, log-in page and where to post. Unless the event prohibits it, it is a good idea to also post it on your website, or one you have the ability to post on. Having that alternate site means you can link people to your online material if the event site goes down or moves your material to a different location.

Publishing Event Pictures, Videos, Summary, Links

Responsibility for getting pictures from the event, videos, a summary and links to other coverage of the event published or posted falls squarely on the shoulders of the lead events wrangler. The wrangler may not do the actually posting, but they need to make sure it happens in a timely manner and is of good quality. Not only will sponsors and participants of that event want to see pictures and read about the event, but the content will be helpful for promoting future events, recruiting new or repeat sponsors, and persuading potential participants for next year’s event to sign up early so they don’t miss out on a great event!

Feedback to organizers

feedback 1Feedback about the event has to come from the speakers, participants, sponsors, and vendors, but the events wrangler will often need to prompt those people for feedback. That prompting needs to be done skillfully in order to get truly useful information, something more than check-marks on a ten-question survey that people filled out in 0.7 minutes just seconds before they left the event venue.

Event Review, Next Event Improvements

Within two or three days of the event ending, do an event review, preferably with several other people who helped run the event or participated in it. Discuss what went well, what should be changed in future events, what two or three things were the best parts of the event and what was the most glaring shortcoming. After documenting those items, and anything else you or others involved with the review think is relevant, develop a list of what to improve for the next event (include the how and why for each “what”).

Incorporate into the review all written or verbal feedback the organizers have gotten by the time the review is being done. Feedback received after the review has been done should be incorporated into the review documentation and next-event checklist by the events wrangler who led the review.

Follow-up Meetups

For events where there was a high level of participant interest in one or more specific topics, it may be worthwhile to organize follow-up meetups. This is especially true if people wanted to learn more about the topic or wanted to continue discussing or working on an issue with the people they met at the event. If there was a huge amount of passion and energy around a topic, participants may want to schedule monthly meetups, schedule a major event focused on the topic, or even meet to discuss forming a new organization related to the topic. One new group was even formed during the tech event:

For this hackathon, or datathon, as we like to call it, collaborations are expected to continue after GCC2016 concludes. Wranglers will learn how to propose ideas, where to get involved in active development efforts, and when to follow up on projects that extend beyond the data hackathon. During GCC2015, the GalaxyScientists user group was formed. We are encouraging this group to grow and to have active on-going involvement in development activities throughout this next year and beyond.”

Here are three more examples of post-event meetups:

“On January 15-17 [2016] the first official European VR Hackathon was held in Brussels. More than 100 VR enthusiasts from 11 countries including 20+ participants from Denmark made the weekend a huge success. The hackathon was organized by a number of Brussels based cluster organisations as well as the trans-european VR initiative and from the Danish side, Danish Sound Innovation Network. To follow up on the successful event and share our experiences we invite you to “VR Hackathon Retrospect” event at the Growth Factory Copenhagen Sound (aka. Lydens Hus) on February 24th. It will be an evening filled with Virtual and Augmented Reality including presentations and demos… “


“Join Startup Milwaukee for an event celebrating the launch of new hardware projects from the Milwaukee Hardware Hackathon and learn about common Intellectual Property issues that startups face from attorneys from Foley.”
– 6:30 Doors Open – Networking
– 7:00 Milwaukee Hardware Hackathon Follow Up (each team talks for 1 minute + 1 question from audience)
– 7:30 Foley presents an IP Law Workshop
– 8:00 Networking


Hackathon Follow-up Event at Intel
This is a follow-up to the Intel Roadshow and Hackathon that happened in November. Join us at this event to build your ideas further, network with peers and have your questions answered by Intel experts. For those who did not participate in the hackathon, this is also an opportunity to explore Galileo and Edison boards and meet other IoT enthusiasts.”

Continued Work on Prototypes, Products and Projects

Continued work on prototypes, products and projects is an area for follow-up improvement that applies to all long tech event to some degree. But it’s especially relevant and valuable for hackathons, workshops and other events at which people had a well-defined goal of creating or improving some product or service. The most common criticism about hackathons is that 90+% of the work done during the event is never used or touched again after the hackathon.

Here’s how a post at Techvibes puts it:

“One thing I think we can definitely agree on is ensuring that the ideas have the opportunity to breathe and live beyond the end of the hackathon, and having a process in place ahead of time to nurture the best ideas, grow them, evaluate them and ideally build them out is key to the overall success of a hackathon.”

Prototypes are often the end result of two or three days of intense applications of brainpower and other resources by individuals or teams of people. In the case of teams, their hackathon-produced prototype may represent the work of several hundred person-hours enabled by a background of hundreds of years of education and relevant work experience. When you look at what is worked on during a hackathon that way, it seems a shame to let those prototypes, products and projects die simply because no one had the time, tools or support to keep the work moving forward.

summaryPerhaps a minimum post-event standard practice should be developing and publishing a comprehensive event summary. The summary could include the title of every prototype, product or project developed during the event, along with a description of it, names of people who worked on it, status and plans for future work, and a list of resources the team needs in order to continue working on it and to get it to the next level. A bonus follow-up item that fits in well here is a video interview with each team, done at the end of the event or within several weeks after the event. This information can be linked to from the event website, or from another website which is used as an information source for the group that sponsored the event or community that participated in it.

The progress of the work for each person or team could also be updated periodically, maybe monthly to begin with, when teams are actively working on their projects, or every 6 months just to let event participants know which ones are still active.

Four benefits come from publishing this event follow-up information:

  1. Provides incentives for people and teams to continue work on what they started at the event
  2. Provides visibility for people and teams seeking additional people and other resources to continue their work
  3. Keeps event participants informed about projects whose births they witnessed
  4. Provides marketing and promotional content for recruiting participants, partners and sponsors for future events

facilitate successA more powerful way to leverage the work started at a long tech event is for organizations to facilitate ongoing work for those event-launched projects. An organization which sees value in that work continuing could support a specific project, a few projects, or all projects from the event. Having project work continue might be seen as valuable for improving the tech culture of the region, or the entrepreneurial and innovation opportunities. Supporting ongoing work might have direct benefits for the supporter, such as development of a product a company may want to buy when it’s past the prototype stage. Creating viable prototypes designed to meet an existing product need may have been the primary reason the company was a sponsor for the event. For investors, supporting the post-event work may be a good investment opportunity.

The ongoing project work could be supported with a specified amount of resources, such as two mentors for three months, project office space for six months, a lump sum of cash, in-kind equipment, supplies or services, or whatever other assistance the teams say is most needed. Support could also be open ended, with more resources available if the project team has positive periodic reviews or meets specified milestones.

Below are two excerpts which talk about intentionally facilitating post-event ongoing project work:

This year at Create Baltimore 4 we are keeping tradition in letting you lead with your radical ideas and dreams about the city. But this year…we [Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship, University of Maryland, Baltimore County] want to make sure those ideas turn into action. We gonna help by making sure you get connected with next steps, partners, and a little bit of funding to jumpstart your efforts.” — “In the closing session at CreateBaltimore, lots of participants reported on their sessions and outlined possible next steps. Many people are already at work on their spin-off and follow-up activities, but how can we keep the momentum going? How can we ensure that something comes of these connections and conversations?”

The problem with the majority of hackathons is a failure to monitor and follow up post-hackathon. People are excited to come together and build something, but the majority of hackathons stop short of the “after.” But it’s what happens after the hackathon that can often be most valuable. Tools like…help attendees believe in the project and track it once the event concludes. Having allies willing to use, finance and publicize the best products arising from the hackathon also encourages participants to complete their projects beyond the test phase trial. This also helps community members take the hackathon seriously and not just see it as a sandbox for adults.”

It is my sincere hope that reading the above thoughts about better follow-up after long tech events has made you wonder why more of it was not done for events in which you’ve been involved.

Even more importantly, I hope you spotted at least one idea here that you’re going to take responsibility for making sure it happens at your next long tech event!


[PS — I’m sure you realize it, but a few of these ideas will also be relevant to non-tech events…]

Posts in this “Improving Long Tech Events” series:

Making Long Tech Events Better
Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities
Improving Long Tech Events: #1 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #2 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #3 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #4 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #5 Priority
#6 Priority: Follow-Up For Greater Impact
Priority #7: Storytelling & Documentation
Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities #8 – #13


Improving Long Tech Events: #5 Priority

#5 Priority: Intentional Relationship Building

Even though Relationship Building wasn’t the top item on my list of ways to improve long tech events, the most valuable thing I’ve gotten out of unconferences and other long tech events is the new relationships that started at those events.

At least one other person also sees immense value in events organized and run to effectively build relationships; he wrote this about his experience:

“…I drove to Philadelphia for a two day conference without having any idea what the topics would be, who would be speaking, and what the format would be…Before you try to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge, I should tell you that, it was one of the most innovative and eye-opening professional experiences I’ve had…I easily established triple the number of new contacts, and formed stronger relationships with them, than at any other conference I’ve been to…”

power of participationNetworking = Relationship Building

It can be challenging to explain to a doubter why relationship building, or networking, at events has high value. I especially like Adrian Segar’s presentation of why talking to people you don’t already know is a worthwhile part of events, as described below:

“…Whether the benefits are intangible or concrete, we all know that there is some kind of calculation that goes on when a potential attendee decides whether to attend an event…here’s a core component of Conference 2.0

Conversations => Relationships => Value

Meetings provide wonderful opportunities for conversations…for all but very small meetings, the number of conversations doesn’t scale with event size…at a large conference it’s often harder to find the people you really want to talk to than at a smaller, more focused event…Conference 1.0 sessions are not designed to foster conversations. Conversations are relegated to breaks and socials. Compare this with Conference 2.0 designs, which excel at providing opportunities for relevant conversations…Let’s take Conferences That Work as an example. This conference design starts with initial roundtables that not only provide a structured forum for attendees to meet and learn about each other’s affiliations, interests, experience, and expertise but also effectively uncover the topics that people want to discuss and share. Within a couple of hours, every attendee has the initial introductions and information necessary to go out and start the right conversations about the right topics with the right people. Other Conference 2.0 designs encourage fruitful conversations by giving attendees the ability to meet around topics that they choose during the event…”

[Segar’s “Conference 2.0” appears to be pretty close to my concept of well-designed participant-driven events — BW]

Networking can mean various things to different people. For the purposes of this post, networking refers to people connecting with other people. It’s definitely not computer hardware or software networks I’m thinking about here…

twitter followersPeople often look at networking as a competition — how many people can they be connected to on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or on some other online service. Another way many approach networking is, “Who can I get in my network who can do something for me?” If you don’t enjoy networking, maybe your view of it is, “somebody told me I need to do more networking,” “most jobs these days are gotten through networking, not through submitting online applications,” or even, “why did I let my friend drag me to this networking event?” Maybe you can look at it differently if you think of it as “relationship building” instead of “networking.”

The equation should always be: Networking = Relationship Building.

never eat aloneThe book about relationship building that helped me realize that networking is best thought of as relationship building is “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi. It was first published in 2005, but an updated version was published in 2014. If you’re not good at networking or if relationship building is no fun for you, I highly recommend it as a starting point for learning to enjoy and get more out of relationship building.

YMMV: Not All Long Tech Events Are Equal

Not every long tech event has relationship building as a stated or implied goal. Some events will be offered strictly as an opportunity to get training or certification you need or want, others are primarily vendor opportunities to introduce or demo their products, mainly in an effort to convince you to buy them. Maybe you’re going to a weekend workshop to build a 3D printer or another tech item, and networking wasn’t a goal for the workshop organizers.

But every long tech event you decide is worth your time and money is also an event where you should spend time and energy building new relationships. There’s a good chance a relationship with some of the people getting trained or certified with you would be enjoyable and mutually beneficial. Your relationship with a vendor could turn into a friendship between people who have common interests, or maybe you’ll get a job with that vendor or hire the vendor’s rep you met at the event. Someone else who built a 3D printer at that weekend workshop would be a great person to commiserate with when your printer or their’s isn’t working well after the event…

The bottom line is that every long tech event you go to is certain to have a few people you’d enjoy getting to know. Even if the event doesn’t do anything to specifically encourage networking, you’ll benefit from making sure you get to know a couple new people at the event.

Intentional Relationship Building: Have A Plan

have a planNew relationships are most likely to be built at an event if the events wrangler and other organizers incorporate that goal into their plan. They can structure the event prep to encourage and facilitate relationship building. They should design the event to make it easy for every speaker, attendee or participant to connect with like-minded people. The organizers may also make it easy for people to connect with each other before the event, or after the event even if they didn’t get a person’s contact info. Below are a few relationship building ideas for organizers to consider:

  • Pre-event, have web page promoting relationship building and write a post about the topic
  • Set up and promote an event networking tool or service to enable people to connect before and during the event
  • Send registrants an email with details for connecting with people before, at and after event
  • Provide name tags, greet by each person by name, welcome them to the event, confirm contact information, check off on list or add name to list
  • Give everyone 20 “event cards” with their name and preferred contact info
  • Set the expectation that everyone at the event gets to know at least five new people whom they’ll contact after event
  • During unconferences and other relatively informal events have an intro session where everyone says their name and 3 things they’re highly interested in
  • Encourage people to introduce themselves in sessions (if group is informal and small enough)
  • Encourage hallway conversations and suggest people ask others for their “event cards” or contact info

I highly recommend that participants or attendees, before they get to the event, develop their own plan for intentionally connecting with new people. Here are action items I include in my relationship building plan for events:

  • To the extent possible, research speakers or session leaders to know what you have in common; figure out  reason for person to consider building relationship with you, especially trying to come up with a way you can help them
  • Connect with at least two speakers or session leaders (including before the event, if possible)
  • Connect with at least twenty participants or attendees (before the event if possible) and connect with at least five of them after event
  • Get one of the twenty new connections to help you organize a small group (six to twelve people) restaurant outing during event
  • Ask the twenty new connections to connect you with one other really cool person they met at the event
  • Talk with people at the event about being involved in follow-up events, related events, same event next year, etc

Relationships Not Only Reason For Long Tech Events, But…

I’m not trying to say new relationships are the only reason to go to a conference, unconference, training class or weekend workshop. Other things I’ve gotten out of long tech events are:

  • Training and certification

    led throwies

    LED Throwies

  • Opportunity to learn more about topics of interest to me
  • Practical experience of making something, e.g. LED Throwies and laser long exposure photos
  • New resources or customers
  • Fun experiences, like riding on Pehr’s remote controlled go-kart, playing many games of Werewolf, a group Friday Fish Fry and brewery tour at Lakefront Brewery, and meeting and talking with the pilots of the Solar Impulse aircraft
  • BarCampMadison 2008 Bob LED profile pic A

    Laser long exposure photo

    Understanding of what it takes to put on an event for medium to large groups

  • Knowledge that, if I want to do the work, I can create from scratch an event that lots of people will enjoy
  • Opportunity to get better acquainted with another city

The long and short of it is that people have many reasons to go to long tech events, but building relationships may be one of the most valuable long term benefits you take away, even if it wasn’t your primary incentive to go.


Posts in this “Improving Long Tech Events” series:

Making Long Tech Events Better
Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities
Improving Long Tech Events: #1 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #2 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #3 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #4 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #5 Priority
#6 Priority: Follow-Up For Greater Impact
Priority #7: Storytelling & Documentation
Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities #8 – #13