I've recently been reminded of what a great set of conferences the PLoP conferences are. Let me take this opportunity to explain why.
The PLoP conferences were started by the Hillside Group, a collection of visionary computer guys. They wanted to take Christopher Alexander's ideas about patterns and pattern languages and figure out a way to apply them to our jobs of developing computer software. They decided a good way to do it was to start a conference. The focus of the conference would be not to talk about patterns, not to present patterns, but to write them. And the focus would be not to talk about the patterns they'd written, but to help each other improve the patterns they'd written. The focus would be on the writing, and the writing would produce a library of patterns, literature on how to do software development well.
So how does PLoP work? First, you don't submit an abstract of an idea, or a presentation (a la PowerPoint) of an idea, or a paper that discusses your idea; you submit a paper that is the idea. It's not "This is a paper about what you should do," it's "You should do this!" Second, when you submit a paper, it's neither accepted nor rejected, it's shepherded. An experienced author helps you improve you paper to make it good enough for the conference. If a submitter is undedicated, uncommitted, or simply lacks the necessary time and effort, this gets rid of him pretty quickly. But for those dedicated to the task, good shepherding can take an idea expressed awkwardly and make the expression (the paper) much better.
Third, the conference itself is run as a set of writer's workshops. In these workshops, the participants are all authors who have submitted papers they want feedback on for improvement. Non-authors and non-submitters are generally not welcome; experience as a writer is what you bring to the group; you're committed to the group knowing that your paper will be one of those reviewed. There's a workshop per paper, whose purpose it to review the paper (see "How to Hold a Writer's Workshop" and a Writer's Workshop Pattern Language). The paper's author listens silently while the readers discuss what's good about the paper and make suggestions for improvement. As an author, you often wonder what readers are thinking when they read your paper; this workshop lets you know. The focus of the workshop is on helping the author improve his paper.
Notice that so far, I haven't said anything about patterns. Yet the purpose of PLoP is to help with writing patterns (about patterns) and pattern languages. This is the purpose of PLoP. Shepherding and writer's workshops are the method. The focus is on helping interested authors write good patterns papers.
It's a great process, one I must admit that I'd grown accustomed to and bored with over the years. But I've recently become more interested again, as I'll talk about next.
How PLoP Works