When I started writing this blogpost, SoCraTes Day Berlin was well on its way for its third edition. The weekend turned out great and I was delighted to see people are returning and are even inviting their friends, because that means I’m doing something right. Here’s what I did.

This post is the first one in a series I call “From The Community Toolbox”, along with the first tangible tip for facilitators, “No Photos, Bitte.”. I hope it serves both people who want to join us at SoCraTes Day Berlin but would like to know what they’re getting into first, and those who’d like to create something like SoCraTes Day Berlin themselves.

Organizer, singular.

SoCraTes Day Berlin is my brain-child and besides Susi from Leanovate (🤗), who is working tirelessly on making us feel welcome at their office, I’m the only other person organizing everything else about the event, like tickets, registration, cancellation, reach-outs and all. If you’ve talked to me about organizing communities before, you most likely are about to call me out on my hypocrisy: i usually stress that you should never organize anything alone.

Here’s my excuse as to why I fly this almost solo: i’ve organized events like this dozens of times and I think I’ve grown an understanding of their critical path, the base-line of things that have to be taken care of for the event to happen and I know what to spend my energy on to make the event happen. With Susi taking care of so many of the hosting bits, I feel like I’m in good control of the workload around SoCraTes Day Berlin.

The actual reason I organize it myself though is that I want to be able to shape it in any way I’d like before inviting others to contribute. An example for this would be the Friday warm-up conference. In June, when I started writing this post, not even I knew exactly what’s going to happen on Friday. What I knew though is that there will be a room, we’ll get food and beverages there and then about 30 of the attendees of the Saturday event. With this taken care of, I could focus all my energy on reaching out to people I always wanted to hear talk who I think would make for a great framing of the Saturday openspace.

Attendees, plural.

A picture of radialsystem v, a space I initially considered for SoCraTes Day Berlin. Taken by Andreas Praefcke
A picture of radialsystem v, a space I initially considered for SoCraTes Day Berlin. Taken by Andreas Praefcke (Source)

When I arrived in Berlin a few years ago, I brought with me the idea of running an Open Space event here, just like the ones we used to run in Münster, the ones that got me excited about Software Craft, TDD, coderetreats and all the cool stuff I’m doing nowadays. My problem back then was that I felt like I need to make the event “Berlin-worthy”: a huge unconference in an interesting venue, with some framework program for the hundreds of attendees and all. Naturally, and not the least because I didn’t feel like paying a downpayment of a few grand for a venue, this didn’t materialize for some time.

A picture of the couch corner at Leanovate
A picture of the couch corner at Leanovate

The moment I saw Leanovate’s new office was the moment I understood that just 50 people in a company office were enough (well actually plenty) back in Münster, and they will be in Berlin. 50 worked out quite well, so I will always stick to that number for the following reasons:

  • 50 people is large enough to allow for some anonymity, but at the same time it’s small enough to allow for meaningful connections and for creating group-belonging
  • 50 people is a crowd I can comfortably facilitate, especially given that I know a lot of the attendees and can provide framing around mindful communication in groups.
  • 50 people is few enough to accommodate special requirements as much as I can possibly do, especially when it comes to dietary requirements.
  • not everything – no actually most things – aren’t better at scale, so why scale this 😉.

The most important point I want to make here is: if you’re organizing community events, your capacities and your energy determines how much you can do, and that’s perfectly fine. If your event can have an impact on a handful people, that makes it worth it. If you feel comfortable inviting a dozen or more, that’s cool, too!

Same applies in the worst-case: if you feel drained and burned out, you don’t owe someone a community event at the sacrifice of your personal well-being.

If you’re still up for the task, here’s the topics I will cover bit by bit (sustainable pace and all 😉):

  • No Photos, Bitte. - How to gather census without exposing those deviating from the default, especially when collectively deciding on a photo policy and when asking the attendees to keep to a commonly shared language.
  • [Lotteries and diversity] - How to sell your tickets in “a fair way” and extending an invitation to underrepresented people and those who have to travel from afar.
  • [Format and Facilitation: OpenSpace] - Why OpenSpaces are my go-to format, how I facilitate them and what to look out for.
  • [Counterintuitive Catering] - How to provide catering to 50 people, accommodate special dietary requirements and why there will never be meat at an event I organize.