WP Weekend Phoenix to merge back into WordCamp Phoenix


It’s been confirmed that WP Weekend Phoenix is merging back into an official WordCamp as WordCamp Phoenix.

I first heard about the announcement on Twitter and confirmed with Andrea Middleton today.

As you may recall, I posted about WP Weekend Phoenix in late July. At the time, the WP Weekend Phoenix website noted three things to differentiate them from a traditional WordCamp: opportunities for sponsor partners, speaker diversity, and the scope of the event.

About a month later, Andrea Middleton posted on the Make WordPress Events blog with a draft of guidelines for event organizers planning non-WordCamps, though it wasn’t specific to WP Weekend Phoenix. The post sparked a great deal of conversation in the comments and offline.

And now, it’s been announced that WP Weekend Phoenix is going to be a WordCamp again, so naturally I was curious what caused the switch.

How two events became one again

In essence, it appears that the WP Weekend Phoenix organization came about due to a series of miscommunication, misunderstandings between former WordCamp organizers and WordCamp Central, as well as a desire for more clarity on a specific number of WordCamp guidelines.

A while after finding out about WP Weekend Phoenix, Andrea Middleton spoke to the organizers to see what the specific issues were that caused them to want to start a new event. After a few conversations with April Holle, the primary organizer, the two parties were able to resolve most of the issues as well as gain more clarity on existing guidelines.

Clarity in guidelines

The “guidelines” are probably the key part of the issue here. Essentially, from a WordCamp organizer’s point of view (of which I am one myself), a guideline from WordCamp Central feels like a rule. After all, they do carry the liability for the event in the end. However, as Andrea noted to me in our conversation, many of the things she recommends are guidelines, but they serve more as best practice, and WordCamps do have leverage to do things differently than the guidelines.

WordCamp Phoenix organizers wanted to clear up a number of things in regard to these guidelines, to differentiate between rules and best practice. They wanted to know explicitly what things are rules, and for Central to say those are rules. If it’s a guideline, they wanted to know that it’s just a guideline.

Specifically, a few guidelines were sticking points for them:

  • The organizers wanted to have final say on the budget, based on Foundation recommendations, including sponsorship limits and the amount of money that could be spent on the event (which the Foundation agreed to as long as it wouldn’t affect the Foundation’s status with the IRS as a non-profit).
  • They would like to see more clear guidelines in terms of what are good and bad sponsorship benefits. They didn’t want to come up with ideas for sponsorship benefits, and then receive negative feedback from the foundation that it’s not allowed.
  • Phoenix didn’t want to be limited to 80% local speakers, because they have over 900 people in their meetup groups where local speakers have an opportunity to learn from one another. And it’s also a “destination WordCamp” that many people outside of Phoenix enjoy going to.
  • Phoenix didn’t want to limit attendees. They wanted to be able to support an event with 500 people, 1000 people, or perhaps even more; and they didn’t want to do a smaller event as previously recommended by Central.

Essentially, April made the decision to do a non-WordCamp, but still non-profit event, with a desire to put on a bigger and better event for the Phoenix community. Because of a number of “warnings” she got from past organizers telling her the various struggles that came from working with WordCamp Central, she made the decision to do the spinoff.

Our intention for the spinoff was really to better serve the community. We wanted to get more butts in seats so they could better learn and see what’s going on [in WordPress].

However, WordCamp Central and the WP Weekend Phoenix organizers were able to settle these differences in their meetings and come to an understanding where the WordCamp Phoenix folks will be enabled to try some things that, while aren’t what WordCamp Central recommends for most (or even all) WordCamps, they can try them.

Takings risks with WordCamps

This is pretty striking to me. For one, I’m sure the Phoenix organizers felt like they were rules and not guidelines, which is natural in such a situation. But what I’m amazed by is that WordCamp Central is essentially letting WordCamps introduce added risk to an event, despite carrying the liability in the end. That’s very empowering to WordCamp organizers.

That sparked Andrea sharing with me something one of her colleagues noted to her: “If there are no failed camps, then our oversight is too strict.”

So, WordCamp Central and WP Weekend Phoenix were able figure things out, and WordCamp Phoenix may do some things for their next event that aren’t exactly in-line with WordCamp Central’s normal recommendations.

This decision is represented well from another of Andrea’s comments:

We sometimes need to communicate better the difference between WordCamp core principles and best practices.

One of Andrea’s goals is to improve the WordCamp Planning website. She feels that they need to better describe why recommendations are recommendations, and present that on plan.wordcamp.org in a way that’s easy to find for organizers. “If people don’t understand the background of it [a particular guideline], then it feels pretty arbitrary.”

Details are still being worked out

WordCamp Central is still working with WordCamp Phoenix to finalize budgets and some specifics to their camp before announcing the 2014 event. However, it is coming soon.

One final note that’s great for all camps, but especially big ones, is that Cami Kaos has been hired to manage all finances and reimbursements for WordCamps. And that is huge. As an organizer, it’s easy to have thousands of dollars worth of costs on your personal dime that need quick reimbursements.

And some folks were really feeling the burden of putting items on their own accounts when reimbursements weren’t quickly given. I can say in my own case I was paid within a day and a half of properly fulfilling my expense reports to Cami.

This is a good thing

I look forward to seeing what WordCamp Phoenix tries with their event. I hope it’s successful and helps a number of camps get outside the box of standard WordCamps. But it’s also important to remember that the guidelines in place are in place for a reason, and most camps should probably follow them.

But it’s outstanding that WordCamp Central and WordCamp Phoenix are able to come to terms on this event, because it’s one of the best in the country, and it helps pave the way for more events to get all of the many benefits of being under the WordCamp Central umbrella, without too severely limiting their own creativity for putting on an outstanding event.