On Friday, we are hosting Django Day Copenhagen 2023. If you click that link, you can read a lot more about why this 1-day event makes a lot of sense for us. It's gonna be small. We'll be around 60 people, but that's enough to have a small budget and book a venue.
This blog post is about having smaller local conferences, it's basically giving practical cases for the old saying:
Quality over quantity.
As a an organizer of many smaller events, I also dipped my toes into larger event organizing in 2019, when we hosted DjangoCon Europe.
Here's my pick of all the major challenges that everyone is facing right now, but some that are especially important for software communities:
And lets also quickly summarize what we want to achieve with conferences in general:
I'm actually part of a group of Danish people that largely met one another at early-day DjangoCon Europe, which is typically a 300-500 people international 3-day conference. It's been perceived as pretty normal that people would meet with other people from their own country at an international event.
Going local largely means to scale down a few things. But it all makes sense!
Let's start with some basic logic: If you have a smaller event, you will have fewer people and a smaller budget. So you will have fewer speakers, too. And ultimately, you will just have a 1-day event. But that's perfect for a local event! Most of your local attendees aren't traveling and staying at hotels.
At Django Day Copenhagen, we've mostly attracted speakers from abroad. But that makes the event better for the "locals". It's also as if the knowledge sharing now makes even more sense: Speakers from abroad come and visit and share knowledge from a different context.
Have you seen this before? Yes of course! This is how the whole deal is with concerts and festivals.
In a recent episode of BBC's The Climate Question, the matter of environmental impact of music festivals is discussed. And the answer is very clear: The largest contributor is audience travel.
They ask the question: "Is our love for music becoming a climate problem?". We can ask the same question about our love for open source community.
Almost all larger cities have large conference centers and a cluster of hotels close to an airport. Cities have put a huge economic stake in large groups of people traveling in for face-to-face events. Fair enough, in some cases it's necessary. But for most cases, it's gone too far. An example are all the B2B Incoming Tour Operators. Traveling for conferences is now incentivized by leisure.
This is not to say that you shouldn't get something out of the stay - but how many times per year should everyone travel before we reach Earth Overshoot?
At Django Day, we're gonna be ~20% from nearby countries and ~80% local. And most abroad travelers are also speakers.
That's pretty good, and I would think that in most ideal scenarios, we will see a similar ratio of knowledge sharing from experts from other contexts vs. local contexts. The ratio improves when there are more local attendees.
I'm pretty sure at this stage that companies (and software companies!) are cutting away travel benefits. In a similar trend, they're also requiring people to work at the office. The decree is to focus on core business values. Owners and managers are reluctant to think long-term, and the former optimistic networking opportunities from conferences aren't a priority. And well, software developers can learn from remote events, right?
We're not gonna concede to this logic. As software developers, we need to meet face-to-face and have social networks. We want to attend real talks.
In the context of the "local conference", the idea is this: The speakers come to you, and the bar for becoming a speaker is lowered. This means less traveling and more public speakers.
Asking for a day off to attend a local 1-day local event is definitely easier than asking for a plane ticket, hotel room and 4-5 days paid travel.
It's perhaps also more relevant? Instead of shaking hands with long-shots, you can directly engage with a future client, partner or employment opportunity.
This is a very quick take. But let's try to capture why small/local conferences are great:
When we hosted DjangoCon Europe, we had a big event on our hands that brought a much bigger crowd and sponsor community, and therefore our economic buffer-zone turned into a large profit. This is definitely ideal for a non-profit organization to mobilize financial resources for the future, and something that we (Django Denmark) have also benefited from.
I would like to note that Django Day Copenhagen has been break-even in other years (no profits, no deficits). However, this year, we took some freedoms and will have a deficit on Django Day Copenhagen 2023.
Overall, I think that running small local events will likely have a more "tight" economy that can be stressful for organizers unless they have a financial cushion.
In 2018, we ran our first small local event without having any resources in the bank. It was fun, it was using lots of hacks, but it was worth it! I think anyone can do this, but of course it requires you to ensure that you follow your first budget so you don't end you selling fewer tickets than the event can profit from.