Curating or Crowdsourcing Unconferences?

August 12th, 2010 by

There are a lot of great things about being involved with THATCamp, and I’m super excited about having the opportunity to help organize THATCamp Bay Area October 9-10, 2010.  Not least of those great perks is meeting all kinds of super smart and motivated people who are using their intellect, expertise, and contacts to do something for each other and for the common good.  But there are other aspects which are typical of a growing community or network that require tough decisions that can’t please everyone.

One that we’ve struggled with at THATCamp Bay Area is the question of a curated or crowdsourced gathering, a question very relevant to those in the library, archives, and museum space already!  What I mean by that in this context is whether we should open our rendition of THATCamp to anyone and everyone (crowdsource) and let the chips fall where they may, or should we use an application process to vet invitees to create purposeful cross-disciplinary dynamics (curate)?  I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in both types of unconferences, as have some of the other organizers, and we’ve certainly seen some of the pros and cons of both.  This is something that deserves more discussion amongst the THATCamp community to be sure.

While every regional THATCamp has the ability to organize things their own way, there are several key characteristics (listed on THATCamp.org/about) that we wanted to be sure to abide by. Granted, these are not set in stone, and as THATCamp seems to be a growing movement, some of us have gotten together at THATCamps and other places to talk about these kinds of organizing and network weaving questions.  But one of the key elements here that helped us make the decision of curate vs. crowdsource was that THATCamps have no more than 100 participants.  Since there has never been a THATCamp in the Bay Area, 75-100 seemed like a reasonable number to shoot for, and we began the search for a (non-academic, different story) space to accommodate about that many people, and sponsors to support it.  Once Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com, got behind us and offered to host THATCamp Bay Area at their space, we were on.  We figure we can accommodate about 75 people, and we decided that if we got more applicants than that, we’ll need to do some curating.

Now, just over a week and a half into our month long application window, we already have over 75 applicants.  Assuming there will be more, we’re going to have to make some tough decisions.  So, to the extent that we have to, we’ll be making decisions based on several factors that are intended to extend the reach of THATCamp and inspire more cross-disciplinary events like it in the Bay Area and beyond.  For the sake of transparency and in the hope that our process can help inform other organizers, these are the things we’ll be taking into consideration as we curate this gathering.

  • Your applications matter.  We are not asking for a lot of information, but we’re trying to make sure that the people that attend have a passion for their work or vocation or hobby and want to share their experience with others as well as learn new things.  You don’t need technical skills or academic credentials.
  • We’re aiming to create cross-disciplinary connections across a wide array of sectors, and so are looking for applicants from as many diverse fields as possible–with not too many from one organization, institution or sector.
  • We’re looking for catalysts to keep this conversation going.  We hope that people will take what they learn from this and share it widely, act on it, build collaborations, pursue ongoing conversations, and include others.  Because we have more people interested than we can facilitate, we have an added responsibility to continue opening the conversation.

Clearly, in future THATCamps in the Bay Area, we’ll need to either plan for more participants, or take a FOOcamp model of having nominations.  It will be worth discussing, and in the meantime, there’s great excitement over the demand!


One Response to “Curating or Crowdsourcing Unconferences?”

  1. Curating or crowdsourcing unconferences? | LookBackMaps blog on August 12, 2010 6:26 pm

    [...] (Cross posted on THATCamp Bay Area) [...]

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