Running events and trying to please everyone #britruby

Here’s what I know:

  • an event called BritRuby was going to be held in Manchester
  • it was cancelled because they had an all-male speaker list and sponsors pulled out after a social media outcry

The problem here is event organisers who by their own admission have done this in their spare time, cannot invest their own cash but are heartily committed to making it happen.

A great and detailed blog about the specific issues is written here and largely I concur.

What I would like to add to the discussion is that, regardless of the big discussions about gender equality and the echo-chamber fury of twitter, people who decide to put on developer community events need to do so with their eyes wide open.

Conferences and events never make money and rarely break even. Sponsors are hard work to get and even harder work to retain and satisfy – indeed you can spend all of their money delivering on their expectations from the event.

I would like to think that in planning and running such an event, the organisers were doing so because they believed in what it was going to achieve, the benefit to the community, to themselves and our position in Britain on the geek world stage.

By cancelling this because the sponsors pulled out and they were not in a position to underwrite it themselves, they shot themselves in the foot – either that or they got what they wanted: a lot of sympathy and lively debate.

But for me it seems dramatic and ill-thought-through, and they do not have my sympathy.

In an odd parallel I had to seriously consider postponing Young Rewired State Scotland last week, as I had failed to secure even one sponsor. I used twitter to share my conundrum and by the end of that day I had a sponsor, for a fraction of the amount I need to raise, but some money – and so I will find a way to run the event for the money I now have. (Of course I would like to raise more but if I can’t – I am not going to cancel it, but I will postpone it or ‘borrow’ money from another event that I can get sponsored more easily).

Postponement is the answer – cancellation is not.

But the issue here was not a lack of cash, well it became a lack of cash, as a direct result of an oversight on behalf of the organisers to not having a diverse enough panel of speakers.

The blog post that was put out to explain why they had decided to bin the whole thing smacked of belligerence, a refusal to accept any blame – first twitter and then the sponsors/lack of cash forced their hand – when actually it was that they did not react appropriately to a twitter storm over a rather explosive subject.

I run events for a living, events with the developer community and sponsors and I can tell you it is a full-time job and not something to do in your spare time or as a bit of fun. It takes a hell of a lot of organisation and community building, and yes that includes twitter, and the – often strongly held – feelings of the people you are hoping will attend. This is a fact that cannot be ignored.

Built into the costs of your event that you attracted sponsorship for should have been time and maybe someone who could work on it full-time, addressing issues as they arise and dealing with them appropriately. You can’t shout at your social community for feeling strongly.

During Young Rewired State, every year, I spend the week and time ahead of it addressing issues raised over social media or in person, I have to think fast, react quickly and find a solution that does not risk the greater good of the thing that I am actually trying to do.

The problem here is people trying to run things on a shoestring, having no time and to some extent no courage of conviction that they will work to defend to the end – believing that they can do this without cost to themselves.

This event is doable without sponsors, it just needs to now be crowdsourced funds, that will depend on a certain amount of investment in creating ROI for people and can be scaled up or down according to the money available. Perhaps finding free venues, offers of food, volunteers, all of this could be found, but it would take more time-investment from the organisers to achieve.

And yes, if a large group of people are cross about something – get their help to resolve it. Would it have hurt to have asked the community to suggest some additional speakers?

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