February 25th, 2014

Raising the bar: BarCamp Portland reimagines the local unconference

Raising the bar: BarCamp Portland reimagines the local unconference

I’ve always been a huge fan of the BarCamp model—an unconference format that has participants decide and chair sessions on a variety of interests. And BarCamp Portland has always been one of the shining examples of that format. So it should come as no surprise that they’re rethinking BarCamp Portland—to provide more value to the community.

I mean, I can still remember when Dawn Foster and Raven Zachary pitched the town on this wacky idea. (Truth be told, it was that gathering that was one of the motivations for starting Silicon Florist.)

So it’s successful. And we’re unconference town, USA. So why change it? Well, long story short is that it’s never really pencilled out. Huge venue for all of the tracks—at a cost—coupled with a hard-to-describe platform for sponsors.

But that’s not the only issue.

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.

So they’ve thought about some ways to fix the model. Ways that will continue to keep BarCamp Portland at the forefront building the rich Portland community.

How? Well, I’m not going to steal their thunder. But you can read more at Re-envisioning BarCamp Portland.

(Image courtesy Reid Beels. Used under Creative Commons.)

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