Planning the "Perfect" Conference
Daniel Selman 2700022VQ3 Visits (797)
Next week we are going to have our internal "BRMS Offsite". The BRMS Offsite, being held in Paris this year, is our yearly opportunity to get all the BRMS developers, QA, documentation and product marketing people together, along with some invited guests from Professional Services and Sales Engineering. There is a wide range of presentations, everything from updates from product management on the state of the market and competition, to technical demos of code that may not become productized for a year or more. We also take the chance to step back and review our progress in improving our internal processes: how quickly are we fixing bugs, how well are we working with the teams outside R&D, and are we organized to meet the challenges of the coming year?
Step 1: Call for Papers
Like all conferences there is an internal "Call for Papers" where everyone throws their great ideas for presentations into a bucket. We use Wiki pages for this part of the process with the submitter expected to contribute an outline of the presentation.
Step 2: Voting
Once the CfP is closed we proceed to the second phase of the process: everyone attending the conference gets to vote on which presentations they wish to attend. Everyone can cast 4 votes for example. Again, we track votes for the presentations on the Wiki page for each presentation.
Step 3: Presentation Selection
The votes are used to select the top N presentations based on the overall time available for the conference as well as the number of rooms provided by the hotel.
Step 4: Optimization
So, we now have a list of presentations with their associated votes, a list of people that have voted, as well as a set of time-slots for the presentations dictated by the overall time available for the conference and the layout of the hotel. All this data is processed using ILOG CP Optimizer which find the optimal solution (conference schedule), allowing the maximum number of people to attend the maximum number of presentations that they have voted for.
This is the second year we've used this open, democratic and "optimal" process and so far our experience has been very good. For example, this year my presentation was not selected for inclusion (it only garnered 8 votes!) but because I know who voted for my presentation I could organize an unofficial BoF (birds of a feather gathering) for my special interest group. Let the greatest happiness of the greatest number prevail!
Wouldn't it be great if some of the big technical conferences used this approach? Yes, JavaOne I am thinking of you! It builds community and removes a lot of the politics from paper selection.