Hiya Skepticonderites! On this episode of Inside Skepticon, I want to talk about how Skepticon makes decisions and gets work done. The structure of Skepticon is something that has changed in the last year, in ways that we hope will make life easier, and I’m going to share how it’s gone so far.
Since the dawn of Skepticon it has been sacred tradition for the organizers to make decisions via (friendly) argument among those who were both available and interested. Work was performed by those who were willing, (or bribed, or cajoled), and had the time and energy to cope with it. This has the advantages of immediacy, flexibility, and if no one else is around at the moment, autocracy! In a small volunteer organization this is pretty common, since life often interferes with everyone’s ability to participate regularly.
The disadvantages of this system, though, are that things slip through the cracks (including important things, sometimes – hey who was supposed to pick up that speaker at the airport?), work gets divided poorly and unpredictably, and a few hardy adventurers have to take on whatever hasn’t been done, usually at the last minute and at great expense.
So, around a year ago we were approached by a friend for something of a corporate intervention. (Thank you, D.R.!) The big recommendations that came out of that meeting were for Skepticon to organize around an active Board of Directors, and to get commitments from each director to take full responsibility for a part of Skepticon. Up to this point, our board had met only once a year to satisfy the usual corporate requirements. Day-to-day, and month-to-month work was done by the organizers. Over the next several months we shook up the board (gently), had elections for corporate officers, and defined specific roles to be performed by each board member.
This was a slow process, with plenty of hard-way learningness, some misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. But by the time SK9 hit the stage, we were settled in to the system pretty well. Our goal was to reduce the stress felt all year long by the organizers, particularly by Lauren. We still have a lot things to learn and do, but I think we’ve made some really good progress.
SK9 itself ran very smoothly, from our perspective, with little, if any, behind-the-scenes panic. (If you hadn’t noticed these in prior years, that’s because we have some very good people as organizers and volunteers!)
The only problems we had were not due to being unprepared, but due to circumstances beyond our control. We had two speakers drop out, one due to sudden, severe illness, and one (we think) due to the legalization of recreational pot in California. (No, not due to excessive celebration – she is a marijuana policy expert.) This has happened in many years, and we are fortunate to have some excellent speakers as friends who can fill in, sometimes on a literal moment’s notice. (Thank you Niki! We miss you!) The election results also hit everyone pretty hard, and resulted in some last-minute topic and speaker shuffling, handled with a minimum of fuss. The lesson here was that being well prepared on everything else left us with time and energy to deal with the unexpected.
Here are the twelve roles we defined, and for which the seven directors are responsible. I plan to discuss each in more detail as the series of posts continues, but for now I’ll just list them alphabetically with a brief description (taken largely from the written job description documents):
- Activities (Bluebecca) – by far, the most important role, responsible for all organized activities at the Skepticon event that are not part of the main program. From past Skepticons these include the prom, food pantry, raffle, art contest, game night, community room, and blood drive.
- Art (Lauren) – by far the most important role, responsible for production and maintenance of all assets of Skepticon that are primarily art-related (web graphics, signs, banners), and arranging the licensing or otherwise ensure the copyright clearance for all art used by Skepticon (yeah, we had an issue with a speaker’s headshot, one time).
- Attendees (Bluebecca) – by far the most important role, responsible for everything related to Skepticon attendees, working to ensure that attendees are safe and welcome, and will feel that way.
- Corporate (Lauren) – by far the most important role, responsible for supervising the officers of the corporation, seeing that the work of the corporation is done, from filing tax returns to holding board meetings, to maintaining bank accounts.
- Fundraising (Lauren) – by far the most important role, responsible for raising the money needed to put on Skepticon each year. This includes production of merchandise for sale at the event or on the website.
- Publicity (Micah) – by far the most important role, responsible for all communications with the public. The goals for this role are to increase awareness of Skepticon, and to present a positive message of what Skepticon stands for.
- Speakers (Lauren) – by far the most important role, responsible for recruiting event speakers, arranging their travel and rooms, and seeing that they have everything (legal, ethical, and within budget) they need for a comfortable and successful Skepticon.
- Tables (Steven) – by far the most important role, responsible for recruiting tabling vendors and organizations, arranging space for the tables, and coordinating any technical and volunteer needs of the tablers.
- Tech (Bart) – by far the most important role, responsible for providing the technical expertise and work for the Skepticon website, and for the event. Responsibilities for the event include video and audio production, and implementation of closed captioning.
- Venue (Bluebecca) – by far the most important role, responsible for finding and booking an adequate venue within Skepticon’s budget, and for working with the venue to provide for the needs of the attendees, organizers, speakers, workshoppers, and tablers.
- Volunteers (Lois) – by far the most important role, responsible for recruiting, scheduling, training, and supervising Skepticon volunteers for both the event itself, and for occasional efforts during the year.
- Workshops (Jeffrey) – by far the most important role, responsible for recruiting workshop presenters and seeing that they have everything (legal, ethical, and within budget) they need for a comfortable and successful Skepticon.
The roles are intended to cover everything that needs to be done in order to put on Skepticon for the year. The director in charge of a role plans what must be done, by when, in cooperation with the other directors, and reports progress and the needs of that piece of Skepticon at each board meeting.
The work for each role isn’t necessarily done by that board member, but at this point it usually is. That means that they are usually swamped with work all year. We’re always looking for volunteers with expertise in these areas!