Will We See In-Person WordCamps in 2021? An Open Discussion on a Path Forward

Now that COVID-19 vaccinations are becoming more widespread, many hope that in-person WordCamps can once again be a reality. There is no official path forward just yet, and decisions will likely be locally based in the coming months. Angela Jin, a community organizer for Automattic, announced an open discussion around the topic.

Currently, all WordCamps are online-only events. There is no official decision on when in-person events will begin anew.

This is a follow-up to an earlier discussion that began in December 2020. It served as an initial opinion-gathering mission. For communities that have more effectively contained the COVID-19 spread, the Community Team posted guidelines and a checklist for local Meetups in February.

Most of the ideas from the December 2020 dialogue are at the forefront of the current open discussion. Mandatory masks, restricting the length of events, limiting attendance, and capping attendance according to the venue’s capacity top the list.

One of the tougher-to-achieve goals might be setting up safety guidelines around food or drink, which are often steeped in the local culture. It will also be a primary safety concern.

Mandatory registration is on the table. This would allow organizers to contact attendees in case of exposure.

Other suggestions center on maintaining local events, which is what WordCamp is all about. While some of the conferences are held in major cities and draw international crowds and speakers, this could be an opportunity to make sure that events focus directly on their communities. It would also be necessary for containing any spread of the virus or variants to outside populations.

There is one suggestion to recommend that only vaccinated conference-goers attend. This would likely fall under an honor system. Making this mandatory could create potential hurdles based on local jurisdictions. For example, there is a House Bill in Alabama, my home state, that would not allow entertainment events to “discriminate” based on vaccination status if passed. I have yet to verify if WordCamps fall under the definition of “entertainment events” like a concert or sports match.

There are still many unknowns at this point, and every potential in-person WordCamp would have to follow local laws. However, we are nearing a time where such events may once again be a reality.

“I’m going to get a little more personal here: returning to in-person WordCamps is going to be an emotional experience that is going to affect everyone differently,” Jin said in a final note, sharing thoughts that echo throughout the WordPress ecosystem.

“The WordPress community has a big range of introverts to extroverts, and we’ve gone through major changes to how we interact with each other. For all that I want to hug everyone, it also is strange and a bit frightening to think about all that human contact after a year-and-then-some of this pandemic. Supporting organizers in bringing back WordCamps in a way that acknowledges and accommodates all our excitement and fears, as well as our love of WordPress, is a worthy goal.”

7 responses to “Will We See In-Person WordCamps in 2021? An Open Discussion on a Path Forward”

  1. I would love to see a return of in-person WordCamps! There’s something invaluable about meeting with your peers, learning, networking, and having a great time together. However, as someone who has organized several WordCamps, Covid has presented a huge additional obstacle to overcome.

    Organizing WordCamps is a hard job. You’re volunteering for an often thankless and stressful endeavor. Throw in Covid and now what? I think you’ll see a lot of WordCamps that once existed will no longer have the volunteer base to see it through. I hope I’m wrong though… returning to “normal” won’t be easy but if we don’t try we don’t ever get there.

  2. I don’t see why this is so complicated. If large, indoor gatherings are legal in the host country, then WordCamps should go ahead with no extra restrictions beyond those prescribed by the local law. People can then decide to attend or not.

  3. I think it very much depends where you are. New Zealand could likely do in-person events this year while other locations would struggle with capacity limits just for starters (it’s not only capacity in total but capacity and distancing in breakout sessions and cleaning in between)

    I volunteer with a local performing arts organization, we aren’t going to do an in-person event until 2022 because of the capacity limits, enforcing mask requirements and distancing, and other things that fall to volunteers. We already have people who won’t mask up at the grocery store and harass employees, now some poor volunteer has to deal with them? We rely on and like our volunteers too much to do that to them.

    I think there’s an ROI to be considered here, but let’s talk beyond money and call it a ROHI—return on human investment. The event is only worth it if it’s not overly burdensome and stressful on the volunteers organizing, running, attending. I’m not sure that’s going to be true (in the US at least) until late 2021 at the earliest

  4. I do miss traveling to see my friends in the community, and missing the opportunities to meet new ones. I hope we can get back to it soon, but the challenge is real.

    Let’s all be understanding and patient with the changes and try to get back to the state where we can say hi to each other in person once again.

    Also, get vaccinated. That’ll help immensely.

  5. Personally speaking, I feel it is too early to consider in-person events. This is far from over and we have not nearly reached a critical mass of vaccinated people to make this a safe proposal.

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