I always have a feeling that every city’s burgeoning creative and technology community would indirectly benefit the its economy and well-being by attracting more movers to migrate or inspiring its citizens to take self-action.
So for the past seven weeks, I’ve been working on a guide that may help you:
- Grow such communities through organizing great meetups, groups and events
- Relate and justify your event to organizations, companies and, ultimately, the city
I chose to frame this discussion around Portland, a city that I’ve been living vicariously through for the past 5 years.
The document is meant for both event organizers and sponsors, and will be organized in this manner:
- Introduction: why Portland is the perfect place to start, and what to do about it (you are here)
- Plan: write a goal statement that demonstrates depth and details
- Manage: help your sponsors use their time wisely
- Measure: continue to engage after and throughout the event’s lifecycle by using a Social Intelligence Dashboard
- The Big Picture: examining Portland’s capacity for creativity and innovation, making a case for more grassroots initiatives
Ultimately, this guide isn’t just about organizing your event well, it’s about relating it to the growth of a community and the city’s social capital. The principles could be applied everywhere, but I’ll be writing from the Portland’s point of view.
I’ll be releasing the draft of each part periodically, and, at the end, compile it in a nicely designed package.
We’ll start with the Introduction, then work our way down. Ready?
Introduction: why your city is the perfect place to start, and what to do about it
A city has to have the right combinations of
To make it a fertile environment for creativity and technology to prosper.
What Makes Portland Unique: Community
There are two facts that contributes to this:
- It’s an
awfullyrelatively small city
- People who are “in the know” (for example: developers of certain language, interaction designers, art directors) naturally gravitate toward each other
If you’re an event organizer, there are two actions that can be derived from these facts:
- Find a niche and start a new community (for example: a mix of designer and developer who thirst for no-holds-barred feedbacks on multi disciplinary projects founded PDX Critique)
- Linking disparate communities together (for example: Legion of Tech organizes event that brings all technologists, and technology groups from all platforms, together)
Very often, the existence of these two kinds of comminutues is closely tied to a citywide movements toward learning and creativity. In other words: you are not alone. There are others like you, in different fields of study, who are trying to reach the same goal. We’re all just heading toward it a little bit differently.
Also, note that this city has more:
- Freelance/independent workers
- Bike commuters
- Farmer’s markets
- District-wide art events
- Professional service industries workers (think advertising, marketing, PR and design)
- Technology workers (this goes without saying)
- Open source practitioners and developers (from Linux to Android)
- Small and micro businesses and startups, like Shizzow and Cubespace
- Awareness for ecology and sustainability
- Breweries (see the Portland Beer Wiki Project for listing)
- Park areas
- LGBTQ population
Per square inch than most other cities in the West Coast and even the US.
On the contrary, we have less:
- Cost of housing
- Cost of living
- Cost of office space
- Cost of flex space
Than many other cities (source: 2008 Greater Portland Prosperity Index: A Regional Outlook)
What Makes Portland Unique: Environment
Many anecdotes have mentioned the fact that Portland’s technology community is more tight knit and supportive than many other cities—even those that are made up of primarily technological industries, like The Valley.
There are many reasons for these:
- People play in sandboxes that are different enough, so they don’t directly compete with each other.
- People appreciate the benefit of “staying small” and growing by bootstrapping as a business model, rather than “going big” and growing by venture capitals
- Many are freelancers, which means that they have to rely on each other for help and support, both in their work and day-to-day life
- Community members share a natural affinity for technology, not just because it’s their day job. This is evident in many events that are not centered around a specific language pr platform, but rather, social activities like breakfast, lunch or after-work drinks
- The city is small enough, so that community that are established online can often meet in real life. Real life interaction plays a big (but often overlooked) role in growing a community
- Meeting members of other communities, or those that belong in a web service like Twitter, is made much easier. In Portland, it is possible to step into a room and see 100 people that you knew from Twitter, routinely every month (called Lunch 2.0.) This may not be as easy to achieve in other locales. Meeting people that you interact with online, in real life, is an activity that is both addictive and can benefit the community-at-large
This isn’t to say that Portland is the only one who experiences this phenomenon. Other cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. have been, and still continue to lead the way in technology, creativity and innovation development in years. It’s just that the same energy that they all had in the 80’s and 90’s, that bloomed this movement, now migrates to Portland, if for no other factor, then for likeminded individuals who chose to move here in recent years.
(There are warnings and caveats about this, and we’ll come back to it much later.)
What Makes Portland Unique: Industry/Governance
We know that a thriving community is good for its own sake, but do you know that it can also benefit local companies, industry sectors that the companies are in, and the city-at-large?
- For companies, more developers and users they can rally under their wings mean that they can greatly simplify the feedback process, which in turn will speed up the development cycle and deliver products that are tailored, hyperlocally, toward its audience, which will generate more profit in the end. Jive Software, Vidoop and Intrigo are just three of many technology companies who relocated to Portland and, in many levels, succeeded
- For the industry and the city, the more they can demonstrate the uniqueness and vibrancy of their creative and technology communities (and its fundamental differences from other places), the more it can attract out of state talents and companies.
- For the industry, this means a much easier time to scout and hire talents.
- For the city, this means more jobs available, higher GDP and stronger economy
You Have A Unique City, What’s Missing?
We know that organizing events is one of the most effective way to create stronger community. But we still have to properly quantify and qualify its success/failure, then demonstrate its values to our sponsors.
So I posit that we as community managers and members develop a framework to gauge just how successful we are, and how can we be more successful at increasing sustainable prosperity for our company, industry and city. Later, I will attempt to quantify these factors in terms of planning, management and measuring, but I don’t think there is ever going to be a hard number.
But I think we can begin to look at it from two areas:
1. Hard Measures Of Success
Why? In a shrinking market, where there are less money available, you have to justify doing everything, if only because you could be doing everything else that may be more useful.
I ask myself this:
How do I know that I organized great events, and that they’re worth my time?
- Should I still look at number of attendance? Or should I look at the number of people who develops anything of equal value from things they learn from the presentation (side projects, implementations, change of attitudes toward an idea?)
- The events are non-profit, so who are giving money? Who should be? Why should my events get sponsored? Do I really have a good reason?
- What’s the value of coverage? Sure, more coverage is always good, but is there a specific one that I need to target? And does one place of coverage means more than the other?
Asking questions like these will help you figure out the value of the events you plan, and demonstrate to the sponsors that those events are worth their time and money.
Remember: sponsorships mean more events, but it also means that the quality of those events must be higher.
2. Understanding Of Objectives
Why? We must remember that with width, there must also be depth. Anecdote: on the last web bubble, it was enough to present 10–15 slides of PowerPoint to get a funding. After it bursts, people actually went back to writing the classic 10–15 pages business plan.
In light of the current situation, we, like them, must also demonstrate understanding and extensive depth of knowledge behind your decision to plan.
In other words, while it’s good to have a strong manifesto when you start to organize events and foster communities, it must be backed up with a sound plan to grow. I still believe that a good plan, no matter how dull and uninteresting, is a key to success. Have the enthusiasm and the vision, but be able to back it up and link it to something bigger than yourself.
In the end, allowing your events and communities to grow organically is good, but growing with noticeable, measurable improvements that generate values for everyone (attendees, organizers, sponsors) is better.
This framework will be organized in three parts:
- Plan: write a goal statement you can rave about before the event happens
- Manage: love your sponsors, use their airtime wisely at the event
- Measure: continue to engage after and throughout the event’s lifecycle by using a social intelligence dashboard