Using the SSI Event Organisation Guide to plan the first Research Software Camp

Posted by j.laird on 29 July 2021 - 10:00am

Research Software Camps logoBy Selina Aragon, SSI Communications Lead.

Originally published on 25 March 2021.

The Software Sustainability Institute’s (SSI) Research Software Camp on research accessibility took place from 21 February to 5 March 2021. The Camp focussed on different aspects of research accessibility, ranging from making tools, datasets and software reproducible, open and sustainable, to exploring formats and tools to facilitate and improve accessibility for the disabled. In this post, we will share how we used relevant sections of the SSI Event Organisation Guide to plan, organise, and deliver the Camp.

Released last year, the SSI Event Organisation Guide (EOG) is a detailed step-by-step guide to plan and deliver successful events, led by the SSI Community team (Shoaib Sufi and Rachael Ainsworth) with contributions from other staff members.

The EOG mainly draws from experiences organising the Collaborations Workshop, an unconference event which the SSI’s been running for over 10 years. As the guide focuses on larger events (around 100 attendees), we didn’t use all of the sections. Overall, we found most useful some of the sections included in the Event Project Stage. Here, we discuss the key sections that influenced the organisation and delivery of the first Research Software Camp.

Infrastructure

The EOG recommends various systems to manage event registration and communication with (potential) attendees. For the Research Software Camp, we used Eventbrite to host three separate live sessions, and set up a registration of interest Mailchimp list where people could sign up to receive relevant news. 

In future Camps, we might create separate lists in Mailchimp using the Eventbrite integration, especially if we’re sending very similar email reminders where using Mailchimp would simplify and streamline our effort. 

Timeline

The beginning of this EOG section emphasises the importance of “think[ing] about a timeline for the project as soon as it’s confirmed.” We drafted a timeline for the RS Camp back in November 2020 as soon as we knew it would take place in February/March 2021. Later on, it was clear that in future Camps a timeline needs to be drafted at least four to five months in advance, as an extra month or two would have helped our planning process. 

Unlike CW and other events the SSI runs, a key element of the Camps is the content we post on the website. To be able to deliver the scheduled content, we need to identify potential content contributors, commission guides and blog posts, allow enough time for writers to develop a draft, then edit and schedule all the content. All of which can take from one to up to three months. It is essential then to have a timeline that considers this pipeline.

The EOG also recommends “open[ing] registration as soon as the event is confirmed.” However, because we were effectively running three small stand-alone events, we had to wait until we had confirmed information (e.g. abstracts, confirmed speakers) for each of them. We ended up opening registration in the month before the Camp, although this didn’t impact the number of registrations we had for each of the events.

Committees

The organising committee for the Camp consisted of the SSI Communications team. However, we also needed expertise and guidance from a steering committee. From suggesting content and keynote speakers to reviewing contributions and helping out at the event, Rachael Ainsworth, SSI Community Manager, and Claire Wyatt, RSE Community Manager, helped us shape the sessions and content of the Camp. As this was the first Camp, we thought we’d trial an internal steering committee, and this worked very well. We also asked other SSI staff to help out during the live sessions and assigned them specific roles.

A variety of perspectives will most likely translate into a diverse programme, so one of our future plans is to recruit external content curators (volunteers that can help steer the topic of the Camp in the right direction) for the steering committee. As the Camp content evolves and we host more live sessions, we may need to consider recruiting more members for the organising committee.

Outputs

The EOG suggests “it is important to plan what you will make available after the event.” This is mainly so organisers can identify and make sure that the planned outputs can indeed be made available (for example, recording the live sessions so that they can be posted on YouTube afterwards).

The Camp hosted a mix of live sessions using Zoom along with content posted on the SSI website and social media channels (Twitter & LinkedIn), so the planned outputs were:

  • A recording of the live Q&A on YouTube for people who couldn’t attend the session and for future publicity use.
  • Video extracts of the workshops published on YouTube for future publicity use.
  • Highlights of Week 1 and Week 2 blog posts.

A Wakelet story gathering all of our website resources and social media posts:

We have published all of these outputs accordingly, except for the workshop video extracts which will be published as and when future publicity dictates.

In practice: CW20 online

This section was exceptionally useful when working on the logistics for the live sessions as it talks through the elements of organising an online event (CW20 had to be moved online due to the pandemic) in detail. One of the most useful was the Event Role section. As these differ from in-person events, we needed to think about and plan for roles specifically for online sessions.

Take-home message

The Research Software Camps propose a significantly different format to that of the Collaborations Workshop (the main event the EOG draws its experience from). It was useful for the organisation committee to skim through the guide identifying first (and then reading in detail) the sections that would play a key role when planning and delivering the Camp. Overall, the EOG was a great starting point to think about the many aspects of putting together any event, and a good reminder to keep those aspects in mind.

About the Event Organisation Guide

The Event Organisation Guide brings together years of experience of the SSI in organising events. The EOG is listed here in the Guides section. If you’d like to raise any issues, offer suggestions or get involved, you can use the GitHub project associated with the guide.


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