Open Source Comes to Campus/Logistics

From OpenHatch wiki

This page is a collection of tips for people running Open Source Comes to Campus events. To get the full picture of what's involved in running an event, check out Open Source Comes to Campus In a Box.

Getting Started

How much time do we need to plan?

This timeline spells out what needs to be done by when. Over the last few years of running events, we've learned that while you can rush things, events are far, far better with time to plan and take care of unexpected obstacles.

To be clear: missing deadlines doesn't always mean postponing the event - although that will always be our recommendation. But it may mean it'll be harder for us to deliver on our promises to you, such as finding volunteers or helping you find funding. We strongly encourage you to follow this timeline.

By 4 weeks before the event

  • Date picked
  • Suitable location reserved
  • Tasks assigned to planners

By 3 weeks before the event

  • Minimum # of local and remote volunteers recruited
  • First round of publicity out
  • Budget planned/funding secured

By 1 week before the event

  • Minimum number of attendees signed up
  • Attendee confirmations sent
  • All volunteers recruited
  • Publicity finished

Picking a place and time

What makes for a good location?

We look for:

  • Campuses with enough students to attend the event (usually 2000+) or willing to invite off-campus students.
  • Campuses either easily accessible to us or with funding to transport us to them.
  • Womens' colleges or schools with a strong Women in CS/Tech/STEM presence.
  • At least one (ideally two or three) contacts that seem enthusiastic and reliable.

If you're running your own event, some of these may not apply.

When should the event be held?

We usually run our events as a one-day workshop on a Saturday or Sunday, however it should be possible to split between two weekend evenings or to expand across two weekend days. Our default schedule is here.

Generally, we find events early in the semester are better attended than events later in the semester, and fall events are better attended than spring events.

Things to check when picking a date:

  • School calendar, if at a school. Watch out for school vacations, spring break, midterms, final exams.
  • General holidays and three day weekends. We accidentally scheduled an event once for a three day weekend and it was very sad.
  • Season: publicity/attendance can be very hard during the summer and holiday seasons, both because students are off campus and because contacts such as mailing list admins and organization leaders/outreach officers may be on vacation. (We seem to get 75% response from mailing list admins during the school year and 0-10% response during the summer.)
What kind of space should we use?

You can use this checklist to help you pick a space, and then to check out the space leading up to the event.

Reaching out to mentors and attendees

How do you find staff?

In addition to plumbing the already-existing OpenHatch network, we reach out to:

  • Professors and graduate students at the host school and other surrounding schools.
  • User groups (for instance, Linux user groups and Python user groups).
  • Other local groups (computing professional groups, STEM groups) who might have open-source-friendly members.
  • National, open-source-friendly groups who might have local members.
How do you communicate with staff?
  • Create a staff mailing list to help you communicate. Add your host-organizers as well, even though they are not technically staff.
    • We use mailman for our lists. I've found that it's useful to set the default response to the list, so when people respond to emails they automatically go to the full list. It's also useful to set no max limit to email size, otherwise in long threads moderators may have to process held emails left and right.
  • We recommend finding staff as early as possible (as soon as you pick a date). We try to achieve a 4:1 or 5:1 staff to attendee ratio. This is particularly important during the afternoon workshop, and we often have staff who only come in the afternoon.
    • There is a template email we use when recruiting new staff.
    • Try to find:
      • People for the career panel. We usually have 3-4 people on the panel. Here's a template email specifically describing the career panel.
      • A healthy diversity of staffers, in terms of gender and other elements of personal background.
      • People to present tutorials/lead demos/lead career panel. Can be up to 5-6 separate people, but frequently organizers will present several parts of the day.
      • What we call a "software whisperer" - at least one person who is extremely familiar with setting up development environments and working with open source software, who will be able to handle most technical problems that come up.
How do you publicize?
  • Step 1: Save the date email - if there are groups you are especially hoping to reach, it's worth sending a brief "save the date/time" email as soon as you've picked a date.
  • Step 2: Create publicity website
    • Instructions for making sites like ours are here (and here, if you want to see what's happening on our end.)
  • Step 3: General Purpose Publicity
    • Once the site is made, and ideally in the time frame of 4-2 weeks before the event, we do our main publicity push. We try to reach out to:
      • The computer science department, computing clubs, ACMs, especially any diversity-focused groups such as Women In Computing groups. When doing so, we use this email template.
      • Individual science departments and clubs. When doing so, we use this email template.
      • If our hosts have given us permission, we will also reach out to students from other local colleges. When doing so, we prioritize women's colleges and community colleges, usually by emailing them a day earlier than others. You can use this preface.
How do you communicate with attendees before the event?

All the emails asterisked (*'d) below have templates which can can be found in the Template google docs folder. The wiki version of the templates is deprecated, but you might find you like them better.

The low-effort communication strategy we sometimes follow includes:

  • A quick confirmation email* within 24 hours of sign up.
  • A one week out reminder email* with event details
  • A day-before reminder email*.

A higher energy strategy involves asking attendees about projects they're interested in using info from the sign up form. (See here for details and templates.) This strategy usually involves an extra 5-15 minutes of work per attendee but attendees are much more likely to show up (our experience is that personalized emails double-triple the attendance rate.) (Note: this strategy may need to be adjusted as we focus more on including projects which we already have relationships with.)

We recommend using strong language ("You *must* confirm if you want to attend on Sunday.") to ensure higher attendance.

During the event

How should I document the event?

Taking attendance: the classic method of the paper and pen sign up form works well for us. It may be useful to assign a mentor to keep track of late arrivals and make sure they sign it.

Nametags: nametags can be very useful for identifying students to follow up with (ie students who seem engaged and excited). I will frequently make a note of such students, and later match their names to their sign up info.

Notes: Get as many staffers as are willing to take notes about the event. Prompts to inspire note-taking include:

  • What problems did people have? What made them seem frustrated?
  • What made people laugh? What did they seem to have fun with?
  • What questions did attendees ask? Were there any that two or more attendees asked (ie common questions)?

Pictures: It's important that students consent to having their picture taken. We tell students at the beginning of the event that we will be taking photos and posting them online. We ask them to let us know if they're uncomfortable with that, so that we can avoid taking photos of them/delete any we accidentally take.

To get a high quantity/diversity of pictures we tell the staff that if they've got nothing else to do we encourage them to grab the camera and take some pictures.

Don't forget to upload them! Right now they just go into a public folder on Asheesh's flickr account but we're hoping to get a bit fancier soon.

How do we order food?

Figure out your food budget ahead of time, pick a place and make an order at least 24 (we aim for 48-72) hours in advance.

Make sure to coordinate with the person managing attendees. Make sure you are taking into account allergies and dietary preferences. When ordering vegetarian/vegan food, get at least a few extra orders, as meat eaters may choose to eat vegetarian/vegan but the reverse is very seldom true.

Because our events start early and run a full day, we like to provide breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack. This usually costs between $300-450, depending on the size of the event. Less, if we order pizza for lunch. Your needs may vary, but we like to get:

  • Breakfast: 1-3 boxes of coffee + milk + sugar, donuts/bagels/pastries, fresh fruit
  • Lunch: If possible, order sandwiches and salads rather than pizza. Fats and proteins are better for a long day of hard work than sugars and carbs. Try to provide vegetarian/vegan/dairy/gluten free options even if no attendees have listed it. Make sure to order beverages!
  • Snack: Something light (people generally aren't that hungry or are willing to eat lunch leftovers) but fruit and chocolate never hurt anyone.

When ordering:

  • Ask for plates, napkins, cups, and utensils (if necessary.)
  • Ask the vendor to label food as containing meat/vegetarian/vegan, as spicy or non-spicy, and as containing allergens if needed.
  • Place the tip on the credit card you order with. If you need to adjust it, you can (presumably) do that after the fact.
  • Tell the vendor to bring things at least 20 minutes before the actual lunch time, if you have reason to believe that they might slip.

After the Event

How do I follow up with attendees?

There is a template follow up email in the google docs folder. Before sending it out, email your staffers and see if there's any information about their projects or organizations (or just opportunities they know about) that they'd like to see included.

We have a very low traffic OSCTC alumni list that we like to add attendees to as well.

We strongly encourage you to make note of attendees who seemed especially engaged, and follow up with them personally.

How do I follow up with OpenHatch?

We're happy to talk with you about running future events!

Additionally, our classic follow-up is blog posts. We strongly encourage writing up the event and posting it on your organization's blog. We'd also love to feature posts about OpenHatch-affiliated events on the OpenHatch blog!

For OSCTC events, we usually make two posts:

  • A summary-type post (unofficially titled the "bug report") - see this post
  • Infrequently Asked Questions, where we answer in depth novel questions we received at each event - see this post