We held our second TICTeC conference in Barcelona at the end of May. The feedback has been generally very positive, and there are many aspects that we were very pleased with: the quality and diversity of the speakers, the smooth running of the event, the opening up of debates that will continue to resonate in the civic tech world.
But, nothing’s ever perfect, and on reflection there are some aspects, some large, most small, which we can improve for our next big event.
These are conversations that often happen behind the scenes, but we thought it might be useful for anyone else planning a big event or conference, if we share some of the things that didn’t work so well, and our plans for making things better next time.
Please do feel free to join in the discussion in the comments below, whether you were there or not.
It was obvious from the number of hands up, and disappointed faces, that we hadn’t allowed enough time for questions or discussion about the presentations. We’d allocated twenty minutes’ speaking time to each speaker, intending that slot to include questions and discussion. But most speakers filled, or almost filled, their time with their presentation.
Next year we propose formally splitting the slot into 10 minutes of presentation time and 10 minutes of discussion time for each speaker. Oh, and although we were sitting in the front row waving ‘five minutes left’ cards in the speakers’ faces, we appreciate that there are improvements to be made here, too. We’ll use countdown clocks to make it very easy for the speakers to see how much time there is left.
mySociety cares so much about gender balance that we even built an app around it. And yet we could have done better when it came to the gender balance of the panels.
Speakers were chosen on the quality of their submission, and while we don’t believe we have any internal biases we’d be interested to see what happened if we introduced an entirely name- and gender-blind selection process.
For 2016, there were no all-male panels, but overall the gender-split of speakers was 60% male to 40% female (incidentally, the same gender split as made up the delegates as a whole).
Also, there was a strong European and US bias among our speakers, with only 8 out of 62 coming from outside North America or Europe. So we could be criticised for giving a voice to those who already speak quite loudly enough in the civic tech world.
We’ll definitely aim for more equal balances next year.
No-one likes lugging their heavy bags around, and this especially becomes an issue on the final day of an international conference, when people may have checked out of their hotel and have their luggage with them, too.
Yet in our chosen venue, there was nowhere for people to put coats and bags. This is a pretty simple fix — we’ll make sure that there’s a secure cloakroom next year.
Coffee was only available during breaks, and wasn’t self-service.
Conferences run on coffee (and tea) — we know that — but it was whisked away at the end of the breaks and people had to wait to be served when it was there. Next year there will be limitless, self-serve coffee available the whole time. Because it’s important.
Somewhere to network
There was no real networking/seating area. Other than in the auditoria, there wasn’t a space where people could sit and catch up between sessions. That’s partly because Barcelona didn’t pony up the stunning sunny weather we thought we could rely on, so no-one felt inclined to linger in the outdoor space, but still. Something to allow for next time.
Time to mingle
There wasn’t enough time for networking/breaks. We crammed an awful lot into the one and half days, but it meant for a pretty packed programme. Next year we’ll run the event for two full days and allow more break/networking time.
The venue map should have been printed on the main programme, rather than being a separate insert in the bag. That was confusing and yet another piece of paper for people to wrangle.
All hands on deck
We needed more mySociety people on hand. We ran the whole event (including note-taking and session chairing) with a team of seven. With more people, we could have ensured that, for example, the reception desk was always manned. Raising the numbers would also make things a little less stressful for our team.
The usual wifi issue
The wifi wasn’t great. This is a perennial issue, we know. It’s hard to know how a venue is going to perform when there are 140 people with multiple devices each trying to get online.
Next year we’ll try and contact those who ran previous events at the shortlisted venues to find out how things were for them.
Something we all got right
At the last moment, we decided to introduce a Code of Conduct, setting down in black and white what kind of behaviour was not acceptable at the conference, and providing an anonymous route via which to report any contraventions.
We’re glad to say that this wasn’t used — we hope we’re right in surmising that this is because it wasn’t needed — but more than one delegate thanked us for putting it in place, and it’s something we’ll be replicating and refining for future events.