Scaling the Unconference

2010

RootsCamp is an “unconference” for organizers now in its fifth year. This year, we took on an ambitious plan of recruiting volunteers to hold 25 simultaneous state RootsCamps over the course of a single weekend. The inspiration was to hold a truly bottoms-up debrief of the midterm elections, driven by those who actually ran the campaigns.

My colleagues recruited and trained the volunteer event organizers while I set about creating a system that would best serve the needs of such a wide range of organizers, as well as our internal needs. The end result, while hardly the sexiest technical option, was a finely-tuned system that provided exactly what everyone needed.

After a significant evaluation period, the final solution was a combination of Eventbrite and Google Sites. Both services offered us the ability to create fully-featured, consistent templates for our organizers, while still allowing maximum flexibility for the various needs state teams had. I was particularly attuned to the organizers’ priorities because I was personally co-hosting a RootsCamp event in Boston the same weekend.

The first thing I did was create Google Site templates for each state’s event. We have long used Mediawiki for RootsCamp, but the sheer unfriendliness of the platform and markup language drove me to introduce a new solution. No longer would embedding a YouTube video require a volunteer to install a PHP plugin on their server. We were able to create and brand 25 unique state websites, and include pre-configured tools for event updates, an event countdown, an embedded ticket purchasing form, sponsor logos, and our organization’s branding. In addition, the granular permissions systems of both services gave us an unprecedented ability to let volunteers manage their online presences without our organization ever actually losing control of content and payments.

For the event management itself, I championed Eventbrite because our CRM’s event management system provided woefully few features. Eventbrite offered endlessly useful features to both our management team and our volunteers, such as automated metrics, a dynamic public list of who would be attending to encourage others to sign up, and iPhone registration the day of the event. The ability to create and track affiliate codes revolutionized our outreach strategy. The multiple ticket types and discount codes provided a much more sophisticated way to recruit sponsors and small donors.

I was excited to fulfill so many needs, articulated or not, with a solution that served my colleagues as well as our volunteers. Managing over fifty websites and quickly training a non-technical audience to administer them was hard work, and it sometimes would have been easier to resort to a solution that served me best (such as clean code, untou WYSIWYG editor). But it was all worth it for the pleasure the various audiences had using the tools we provided, and the successful events they held were a testament to this usability.

Resources:

I created this internal chart to illustrate the balance between oversight and distribution
Framework
State organizers were given the keys to branded Eventbrite pages and Google Sites, which they quickly learned to customize with modules to serve  their events' specific needs.
Example Site
A map of the states with RootsCamp unconference organizers
State RootsCamps
I created logos and templates for each state's event
State logos