WordCamp US Online Set for October 1, 2021, as Community Team Weighs Proposal for Returning to In-Person WordCamps

WordCamp US will be held online this year on October 1, 2021. Organizers are planning a free, one-day event that will feature networking opportunities, speaker sessions, and workshops. Michelle Frechette, one of the organizers, said the team is planning on hosting a contributor day and will add more information to the event’s website over the next few weeks. In August, WCUS will send out the calls for speakers, sponsors, and volunteers.

Planning for the 2020 virtual WCUS ended up as somewhat of a debacle after organizers decided to cancel due to pandemic stress and online event fatigue. The cancellation came after volunteers had already invested hundreds of hours of free time in planning the unfortunately timed event. Outbreaks in the US were worsening and political tensions were at an all-time high ahead of what went down as one of the most contentious presidential elections in US history.

Bringing back WordPress’ flagship WordCamp as an online event was a necessity in 2021, as COVID-19 cases rise and ICU’s are filling up in US hot spot regions where vaccination rates are lower. The delta variant has thrown the world another curve ball in what has become one of the most stressful and traumatic 18 months in recent memory.

Despite the continued public health crisis, the WordPress community is eager to restart in-person events. Rocio Valdivia published a proposal today, summarizing the Community Team’s discussions on how to establish a path for returning to in-person WordCamps. The proposal is based on using the current guidelines for meetups with a few additional guidelines pertinent to WordCamps. It uses the same decision-making flow chart that applies to green lighting in-person meetups:

After these guidelines for meetups were announced in early July, in-person meetups have been held in six countries, including Russia, US, New Zealand, Uganda, Australia and the Netherlands.

“Resetting expectations for WordCamps may be necessary, as the world has changed significantly,” Valdivia said in the proposal. “This is a great opportunity to rebuild the program by restarting locally, and then building back up to the levels we had in 2019.”

WordCamps had mostly fallen into a fairly predictable format before the pandemic, but the Community Team is now keen on organizers experimenting with new formats and content. One example suggested in the proposal is delivering WordCamp content entirely online, followed by an in-person social gathering, for a more inclusive experience that makes it possible for those who cannot attend to participate in the educational aspects of the event.

The Community Team is embracing the current hardships as an opportunity to improve WordCamps and rekindle the community spirit after such a lengthy absence from in-person events:

Additionally, the normal WordCamp application process requires that there be an active local community in place. As the community has faced many changes this year, Deputies are thinking about how to handle this requirement. One possibility could  be more flexibility with WordCamp applications, allowing communities that had a meetup pre-COVID to host a WordCamp, even if they weren’t as active in the last year, to help build excitement and restart community activity again.

The proposal includes a list of more practical considerations, such as securing fully-refundable venues, providing individually-packaged food instead of buffets, and limiting capacity to provide for social distancing. It also notes that WordCamps taking place during this transitional period would need to be prepared to cover 100% of their expenses, as WordCamps are currently exempt from the 2021 Global Sponsorship Program. Inclusion in the Global Sponsorship Program will be reconsidered once WordPress returns to in-person camps in all regions.

The Community Team is inviting feedback on the proposal, which is still under active discussion. If you have ideas that you think should be included in the guidelines or suggestions for this transition period for in-person WordCamps, leave a comment on the proposal.

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3 responses to “WordCamp US Online Set for October 1, 2021, as Community Team Weighs Proposal for Returning to In-Person WordCamps”

  1. Miroslav Glavić says:

    Why couldn’t the WCUS organizers just given the reins to others to organize? Even just for one year. If you are exhausted then you move on?

    WordCamps have been getting boring lately (Before covid). I stopped volunteering due to drama. The drama occurs in other events not just WordCamp/Meetups. In Toronto, for I think it was 2019. There was just no WCTO. I can’t remember the organizers announcing it. They should of, or looked for other community members to organize it, even just for that year.

    Meetups has been for the past 1-2.5 years “let’s fix up your site”. Before that there was different speakers each month talking about whatever topic. I miss that. I have absolutely not going to attend (virtually or in-person) a “let’s fix up someone else’s site” type events.

    This is what happens when it’s the same people over and over and over again for years and no one steps up to organizer a meetup. Even just for one monthly one.

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    • Meetup Organiser says:

      There’s several issues at play, but the two most important ones in my opinion are:
      1. Existing organisers are unlikely to hand over reigns willingly to others. Meetup organisers often feel that others can’t do it, and it’s partially enforced by…
      2. Many people who attend meetups and WordCamps have zero insight into the real levels of work that are needed behind the scenes to make these events happen, and when an organiser expects them to put in the same effort they did.. well.. everyone ends up disappointed. In other words, many volunteers don’t realise what they’re getting into

      Handing over reigns isn’t as easy as many make it out to be, and not only that, there isn’t enough support to back up these new organisers so when they suddenly realise just how much there is to do.. or they expect you to keep doing the “super easy organising a speaker job” (the hardest part!) and things quickly fall over.

      Event organisers have to pull in willing volunteers into working underneath them months before burnout sets in, if they don’t, they burn out and then there’s no one to give direction to the new generation of organisers.

      I spent several months being “the boss” and getting others to organise everything for the event, guiding them, but I was still the fallback for them when they didn’t feel like they could achieve something – and often did things last minute for them as a result. Being a team leader isn’t everyones skillset, being an event organiser AND a team leader is even rarer.

      The moral of this story? Meetup organisers like myself are control freaks, but we have to force one another to bring more volunteers in earlier.

      I’m commenting this anonymously, as I don’t want to reflect badly upon those who I passed the reigns to when I moved areas and could no longer continue being the main organiser. Then covid set in. The meetup is starting to recover, but I think it’ll be at least a year until the new organisers feel confident and build it back to what it was, they’re still new at this event organising thing and have much more complicated social issues to deal with than I ever did.

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  2. Daniel James says:

    I think it’s a good thing that it’s an online event. We’re still not out the woods yet with COVID-19 and political views aside, the US is still feeling the effects of the virus due to all sorts of issues.

    It’s not safe for people around the world to come together with different levels of virus control to mix. Plus quarantine differs per country.

    It’s easier and safer for the organisers to do it online and I support that. Plus it makes it more accessible to people anyway so I don’t see this as anything but a positive thing.

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