A SkeptiCamp is basically a skeptic conference organized by a local community of skeptics where the attendees themselves create and present the content. They are "open" in that everyone is encouraged to take part in their organization and giving talks.
It's a new breed of skeptic gathering based upon the wildly successful BarCamp format. Where BarCamp focuses on technology, SkeptiCamp focuses instead on critical thinking, science, pseudoscience, alternative medicine and the many topics of interest to skeptics. Both BarCamp and SkeptiCamp turn the traditional conference on its head, stripping away the barriers to organizing events and providing a range of meaningful ways for everyone to participate and have fun.
These events can be organized by anyone, including yourself. You don't even need to ask permission to do so! The steps below serve as a guide to get you started.
Steps to organize an event Edit
Much has been learned from the hundreds of BarCamps that can address the typical challenges we face in organizing these events. The experiences of other organizers, documented both at the BarCamp site as well as in this wiki can serve as a reliable guide in organizing your group's own SkeptiCamp event.
First-time organizers should keep things simple and focus on participation. This will serve to introduce members of your group to the open conference and provide rich new opportunities to get involved in ways that can fit into their busy lives.
SkeptiCamp at its core is about sharing knowledge within communities of skeptics. That extends to organizing events as well, where the key to a successful event is to learn from the experience of other organizers. In turn, we ask that you share your experiences (both good and bad) with others on the What Went Right and What Went Wrong pages.
Schedule an organizer kickoff party Edit
Main Article Kickoff Meeting Agenda
Organizing a SkeptiCamp should never be a solitary effort, even for the smallest of events. If we cannot develop and adopt the practices to distribute the burden of organizing, others will be deterred from hosting events. Fewer events will result, and the promise of the open skeptic event will struggle and die.
Announcing a 'Call for Organizers' and scheduling a kickoff meeting is your very first step towards a successful event.
Even if you expect to lead the organization of the event, you should defer most of the core decisions (when, where, how, etc.) to those who will attend this gathering. Where possible, make those decisions collaboratively to give your fellow organizers a stake in the success of the event.
Assemble an agenda (what you will talk about) beforehand to distribute to those who will attend. This will set their expectations of what needs to be done and where they might volunteer.
At the meeting, your goal is to fill the various organizer roles, come up with candidate locations and dates, and make various other decisions.
Plan, but not too much! Edit
Resist the urge to plan every detail! A relaxed and adaptable approach will often produce better results than one that is formal and rigid. Also resist the urge to take too big a bite! A smaller event with heavy participation is usually better than a larger one with scant participation or otherwise beset with problems.
Work closely with your fellow organizers to ensure that everything is on track.
The Event Page serves as a cork board for the planning and coordination of the event. It should be visible to all, including potential participants. Update the page regularly with the latest details to build confidence that planning is actively moving forward.
Include a prominent section for participants to RSVP their intentions. This not only hints at turnout but allows each speaker to publicize their involvement and the topic of their presentation.
Related tasks can often be combined into a larger role, such as food czar, suitable for filling by a volunteer organizer.
You'll likely need donations of equipment as well. Be specific.
You'll need to determine how talks will be scheduled. A popular approach is to let the speakers select their own time slots on the day of the event, negotiating amongst themselves and the organizers. Introductory talks are the exception and should be negotiated to the top of the schedule as many attendees will be new to skepticism and require some context for the talks that follow.
Finally, if you find yourself stressed by the planning, you should simplify. For example, if you're distressed over not finding a sponsor, skip the t-shirts. You can offer them at an event the following year.
Experiment, but keep the goals in mind Edit
Main article: Experimenting with SkeptiCamp
For SkeptiCamp, innovations can come in many forms. You may seek to increase diversity in your group by reaching out to women or a local ethnic group. Or you may desire a keynote speaker to kick off the day's events.
If this is your first event, any experiment will have subtle risks. Your choices will set expectations in the minds of the participants that will carry onto future events, so sticking to the basics is strongly recommended.
Discuss the idea with your fellow organizers, asking whether the proposal enhances or detracts from the goals of the event -- i.e., to tear down the barriers to distribute knowledge within your community of skeptics.
Pick a time and place Edit
Finding a time and place for your first event can be as easy as reserving a local library meeting room on a Saturday that doesn't conflict with any other major event.
Your first task is to collaborate with your fellow organizers to choose both a date and a venue.
In choosing a date, check the calendar to ensure there's no conflict with another major event that could cause problems with traffic, parking, holidays, crowds, etc. Be aware of local academic calendars so that you're not scheduling on top of finals week. Be aware of national skeptic events (TAM, CSICon, Dragon*Con, etc.) so you don't force attendees to choose between the events.
You'll want to select a venue to match expected turnout. In small to medium-sized metropolitan areas, four or eight hours at a local library meeting room should work fine for a first event. These are usually inexpensive and often offer projectors and free wireless connectivity.
Create an event page Edit
An example Event Page (UPDATED)
Event pages are a shared resource for all organizers and particpants.
It should contain all the latest details of your event and serve as the principle tool through which organizers collaborate.
Your Event Page should feature a visible list of attendees - don't hide them. A prominent list of attendees can actually drive attendance. See Is Social The New Conference Black & Are Attendee Lists The New Allure?
Promote shamelessly Edit
Promotion is also a shared responsibility for organizers and participants. The Communication Czar is the source for all advice, pamphlets, graphics and promotion.
Now that you've got a date and perhaps a venue as well, create a web presence for the event -- your Event Page on this wiki, for example, can serve as the authoritative source for all details surrounding your skepticamp event. Feature a link to this page in all communications and promotion.
Contact your local and regional skeptics to publicize the event and to build buzz and excitement. To reach the widest possible audience and to reinforce the message, approach promotion from many different directions. Post in forums. Talk about it at meetings. Ask bloggers to give it a plug, offering each a hook to lend their post some exclusivity for their readers.
If there's an influential skeptic in your community, talk with them about your plans. Explore ways in which they might help promote the event and participate.
Be sure to get your event listed on public calendars, including the SkeptiCamp Upcoming Events sidebar (on the main page of this wiki), calendars for skeptic events, FaceBook, etc.
Day of event Edit
Many of the attendees will be attending their first skeptic event and may not understand contemporary skepticism or the goals of the open conference format.
The Master of Ceremonies should cover the basics in her opening remarks to set expectations for everyone involved. Most importantly, attendees should be made aware of the need for interaction between audience and speaker -- during the talk.
The burden of quality control falls upon everyone's shoulders. If a speaker says something that doesn't sound right, it is up to that attendee to raise his hand and pursue the issue. In turn, speakers should be aware that they must take questions during their talk.
First-time events Edit
The practices of BarCamp/SkeptiCamp can place substantive events within reach of informal groups of skeptics. Nevertheless, first-time events can be a challenge because few in your local community of skeptics will understand what SkeptiCamp is, how it works and the value they gain from participation.
To overcome these initial hurdles and get your first event off the ground, focus on simplicity and emphasize participation. Find an inexpensive or free venue and pour most of your organizing resources into finding speakers from both within your group of skeptics and without. Skip the t-shirts or food unless you're confident you have enough organizers and sponsorship.
If the experience of earlier events continues, most first events have started out small -- 30 attendees or fewer -- so don't worry about numbers.
Your first event will set those expectations among your members and get the word out. You can then start planning for a more ambitious event the following year.
Should I have extras like food, t-shirts, etc.? Edit
First-time organizers should focus on the core practices of SkeptiCamp - participation and simplicity. Usually this means finding an inexpensive or free venue and focusing on finding speakers.
However, as you grow you may find that you do want to provide extras like lunch and t-shirts to round-out the experience, where the t-shirts provide attendees a sense of ownership and pride that can be displayed to their fellow skeptics at other events.
Whether you charge admission (discouraged, as it's not the BarCamp way) or find sponsors to pay for these extras, it's nevertheless an increased organizing burden that must be born. It can involve financial risk as well, though nowhere near that of a traditional event.
One approach is to divide the responsibilities, isolating the extras from the core needs of venue and speakers. Only have t-shirts if you have spare volunteers who will be responsible for finding sponsorship to support them, designing them, getting them made and delivering them to the event. Similarly only have food if you have spare volunteers to coordinate it.
You can skip meals without impacting your event by scheduling your event around meals: Friday from 7pm-11pm and Saturday from 1pm-6pm, for example. More frequently however, is to choose an event venue chosen near restaurants or a food court.
You may want an 'official' photographer, to get better pictures of speakers than those from the audience.
Alternatively, you can encourage participants to post their photos to the event page, whether on wiki, Facebook, Meetup, Lanyrd, etc.
In the spirit of the event model, we encourage (but don't require) that all content be explicitly licensed with Creative Commons, as can be done on Flickr and many other photo sharing services.
Scaling up Edit
Growing your SkeptiCamp event will usually involve more than acquiring more rooms, chairs, food and sponsors. Quantity can have a quality all its own.
With sufficient numbers of organizers to distribute the burden, you can accomplish much more. A larger venue, perhaps with multiple rooms to accommodate larger numbers of speakers, comes within reach. Sponsors are more likely to pay attention, providing you with support for that larger venue, as well as extras like t-shirts and food.
You can experiment in ways not practical with a first event. You can attract more people including those from outside your community of skeptics, providing your group an opportunity for outreach and benefiting from interacting with speakers from outside skepticism.
Interestingly, a few of those attracted to your open event may be not be skeptics at all, and may be ignorant of or possibly even hostile to skepticism. (The interactive nature of SkeptiCamp is designed to compensate for this and is discussed elsewhere.)
It's not clear yet how far we can expect these open conferences to grow. The largest SkeptiCamp (as of May 2009) was in Colorado and saw about 90 attendees. It is likely to grow further with its next event in 2010. A few BarCamps routinely see participants in the hundreds, such as the annual MinneBar in Minneapolis with over 400 participants. The BarCampBlock in 2007 may have had numbers over 1000, but was a one-time event spread over many buildings.
Growth has its pains and excitement. Larger numbers will change the dynamics of the event, both in good ways and bad. Organization efforts will require greater skill with less room for error. Those heading up these events will need to manage and delegate at levels not seen at our smaller events -- spreading that burden will be more important than ever.
How that changes the organization of your event is unexplored territory for SkeptiCamp. Studying the experiences of these larger BarCamps and talking with their organizers is the best approach.
If we can develop, document and share those practices, we expect that SkeptiCamp can grow both in numbers and size of events. Whatever the size of your event, please share your experiences in this wiki for the benefit of other organizers!
See also Edit
- What Went Right - successful aspects of SkeptiCamp events, as reported by organizers
- What Went Wrong - not-so-successful reports from organizers, along with suggested solutions
- Organizer Kickoff Meeting Agenda - an example of issues to cover in your first planning meeting with fellow organizers
- SkeptiCamp Tips - the source document for the automated SkeptiCamp tip feed to Twitter and Facebook
- Sponsorship - sponsorship is typically not necessary, but you may want swag to give away to participants