Re-envisioning BarCamp Portland

Starting with BarCamp Portland 8, we’re going to have smaller, single-day, single-track events and we’re going to have them more often. We will not be hosting BarCamp Portland 8 as originally planned on March 28-29 at the Eliot Center.

Read on for the details, including why we’re making this change and how you can get involved.

A bit of history

Since its beginning, we’ve followed what has come to be known as the traditional BarCamp format: a day or so of multiple, simultaneous “unconference” sessions. Topics discussed have included all the things you’d expect from the Portland tech crowd: web design and development, open data, journalism, bike tech, do-it-yourself, crafting, and much more. BarCamp grew to include even more of the maker community in 2012 and 2013 to include an indie game showcase as well as a digital interactivity and a mini-maker expo.

What has worked well

Many things about our weekend multi-track unconference have worked well. Enthusiasm and participation is high at the event itself. Participant feedback is always positive. It’s clear that people enjoy having an inter-disciplinary forum available in which to share and collaborate.

What has not worked well

However, a few critical areas have not been working well. For one thing, having a day-and-a-half-long event with multiple tracks requires a lot of space. There aren’t a lot of venues in Portland that meet the space requirements of BarCamp Portland, and we have been incredibly fortunate to work with the Eliot Center and their amazing, generous staff over the years. However, space rental remains our greatest singular expense, one that we have struggled to cover during the last several years.

And this brings me to the second area of producing BarCamp that hasn’t been working well: Fund-raising. BarCamp is a difficult event to raise money for. It’s a generalist event, which are always harder to fund-raise for than events focusing on a specific technology or platform. We also have a distinctly anti-commercial focus, which is not very sponsor-friendly. By that I mean that we don’t allow sponsors to buy speaking spots or to take up a lot of space advertising to our audience. We could, of course, raise funds by selling tickets to BarCamp, but that action would be in direct conflict with our mission of keeping our events as accessible as possible for all. We feel it’s important that BarCamp remain a free event.

Lastly, BarCamp has been organized by the same small group of people over the last several years and we’re worn out. It’s clear that not only do we need to find a way to make BarCamp easier to run, but that we also need to cultivate a pathway for new organizers.

How to make BarCamp sustainable and still serve the community?

With all these issues in mind, we’ve been brainstorming ways we can make BarCamp require fewer resources to produce and grow its community. The question we’ve asked ourselves was: How can we simplify while maintaining what’s special about BarCamp, which is having a multi-disciplinary space for sharing ideas and projects?

The first area we identified for simplification is the number of simultaneous tracks. Having seven sessions at the same time has meant that BarCamp needs a fairly large venue with multiple available rooms. Once we allowed ourselves to consider having fewer, or even a single session at a time, we realized our list of possible venues, some free, increased substantially.

Right away we realized that reducing the size of our chosen venue would reduce our participant capacity. An obvious way to address this reduced capacity, we realized, would be to hold BarCamp more often.

Once we started thinking about having smaller BarCamps much more often, we realized this might have a positive effect in terms of growing our community. We’ve noticed over the years that participation is high during BarCamp but low between events. Perhaps, we thought, if we saw each other more often on average, even if not everyone attended every iteration of BarCamp, would we build a stronger community over all?

Conclusion: Smaller events, more often

So this is where we have landed: We’re going to try having smaller BarCamps several times throughout the year. We’re going to attempt to foster more of an on-going community around what we love about BarCamp rather than just coming together to celebrate and share once a year.

What does this mean for BarCamp Portland 8?

We have canceled our reservation at the Eliot Center. We’re working on securing a smaller venue on the same weekend we originally scheduled for BarCamp. If we do get together that weekend, it we will do so on Saturday, March 29th.

We’ll post additional details as soon as they are confirmed. We’re still working out specifics such as format and theme.

Will BarCamp Portland ever be a multi-track event again?

We recognize that for many of you, having an inter-disciplinary event with multiple, simultaneous tracks is critical and that BarCamp just isn’t BarCamp without that. We share that feeling and we’re committed to having an event like that again after we’ve figured out a sustainable way to do so.

Your help needed! How to get involved and give feedback.

We want to hear your feedback about this change and we want you do get involved in creating BarCamp’s future.

Ways to get involved:

  • If you know of a venue or your company can donate space where we could hold a multi-track event in the future, let us know!
  • Better yet, join our planning group and help shape the future of BarCamp Portland.
  • Attend our next planning meeting: Monday, March 3rd at 6pm. Join the planning list for meeting details.