The Chronicles of From The Front

Call for Papers is tough


Origami Cranes

Since we started From The Front we always thought transparency was important.
We never got to a point to be as transparent as we could/would, mainly due to the lack of time: we are all volunteers and bringing on the table everything would cost a lot of efforts.

But sometimes it is worth to stop and share some of the processes that goes along in the team, to discuss them publicly and to try to learn from any potential mistake.

The call for papers is one of the most delicate things for a conference organizer.
Back in 2011, when we created Back to the Front we didn't consider to run a call for papers: until then we had to go find the speakers for our meetups, we invited some personally, some others were colleagues and friends and it was natural to us to follow that path.

But starting the following year we started having people asking to join our line-up. In 2012 we decided to join on board two speakers we didn't think of without a proper call and both Linda Sandvik and Denys Mishunov were absolutely amazing.

That is how we embraced it and run a proper, formal call for papers process.
We didn't think to get more than 50 proposals this year.

We needed to figure out how to deal with the proposals enhancing diversity and avoiding to be driven by our own bias.

We anonymized all the proposals, only Marco, in the team, was aware of the speakers' name (and knowing his memory issues that wasn't a big deal either).

We started discarding all the ones that we thought were not matching the direction we did want for our event: we didn't want anything that was explicitly related to a brand or product, we value a lot our audience and we know it's a melting pot of different professional backgrounds (from designer to javascript hard core developers, SEOs and UX experts, PHP programmers and even people non techy at all) and we try to include topics that would not kill the mood of a huge part of them even if only for one session.

That's always the tricky part: find what is acceptable to run in front of that amazing community we helped creating over the years. The risk on the other side is to never be able to get deep into anything. In the last few years we think we managed to propose a somehow balanced landscape, but there is always this thin line we have to walk on.

After that we started figuring out a path across the submissions, a series of scenarios that could have empowered the content as we wanted to shape it and then we uncovered the speakers' name.

This is the most critical step: right now we know who submitted what and we need to figure out if they could meet our expectations not only in terms of content but also in terms of delivery.

Sometimes it's easy, because the speaker has at least one video that we can refer to, but then some speakers don't, and they are the most interesting ones, but we need to be careful: we do really value a lot our attendees and we don't want to spend our budget on a talk not worth to be there, we are a no profit and the risk is not just ours, the risk is community shared and we do feel that pressure.

We came to the conclusion that a human touch is always the best solution.
In the next few days we will get in touch with a few potential speakers, we will have a face to face chat over skype/hangout either to get more informations about their speech and to get a sense of how they could deliver on stage. We know it's not the same to be on hangout and on stage, adrenaline could boost or paralyze anyone, but still we need to start somewhere.

Let us know if you would have done it differently, if you think this is not enough, if and what we could have done better or in a more sensible way: we are sweating exploring how to handle a call for papers in the best way, we do it for the community, we need help from the community

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