Friday, January 3, 2020

More Words is Better Than Less

Recently, I've found myself teaming up on Agile Alliance initiatives Seb Rose is facilitating.

Agile Alliance is not big in popularity in the speaker fairness circles. They would seem to make quite a lot of money from the big Agile conference in the US, and only pay hotel not travel or honorarium to their speakers. They're established. They draw thousands of people. Feels unfair. Add the "agile" with no support for pair presenting where the second presenter needs to even buy a ticket for the event to come speak, it's fair to state there's unhappiness around these choices.

On the other side, Agile Alliance has helped new conferences get started (remembering them fondly for support in starting European Testing Conference on its 1st year), support a lot of local chapters and meetups, and probably are of a size that needs paid stuff to run in the first place. There isn't that many other sources of financing, so they might need to make some (even if on the expense of speakers) from their big conference.

All of the financials are speculation. I have absolutely no visibility on where they make money and where the money goes, other than the few friends I know rightfully benefit from their support making the world a better place and that alone earns a little bit of my respect.

Around end of the year 2019, Seb Rose shared the news of two initiates he was preparing for Agile Alliance around changing the face of speakers in Agile 202x conferences.

The first initiative was a one time experiment of handing out a lump sum of money to pay speaker expenses under a diversity flag for Agile 2020 conference. This 25k could enable new and seasoned voices that were unable/unwilling to make their voices available without the travel compensation to add to diversity (in the large definition of it).

The second initiative that was very clearly a match for what we do with TechVoices was on mentoring new voices, with the idea that this initiative would be a continuous one for multiple conferences. Without skipping ahead beyond Agile 2020, as experimenting with approaches seemed like a smart thing to do.

As I have my perceptions of what these programs are and I am not writing in Agile Alliance official channels, I thought I'd use more words to explain what these are and why I believe they are a good thing.

The Diversity Initiative

A few days ago, I saw this launch and today I tweeted in support of this initiative:
I love the step. I don't love how the invitation reads, and have provided ideas on how to improve it. While it has not been improved, imagine it saying something like this.

Agile Alliance allocated a lump sum on 25 000 dollars for diversity initiative led by Seb Rose. Seb is lovely and really cares for this stuff. The initiative is an experiment to figure out the reality of what the Agile 2020 conference could be getting if they were paying the speaker's travel (and other participation preventive) expenses against receipts.

This initiative is to seek those voices that really are unavailable for this conference as per financial constraints. Getting listed gives us a feel of scale of the problem and a mechanism to help some portion of these.

There are still two parts: get listed for financial limitations diversity initiative AND submit your proposal. Give us a chance of considering your great content part of the Agile 2020 program. Here is where you can join on making your appearance financially conditional: 

The lump sum is limited, and the impact we'd love to make with this money is changing the face of speakers in Agile 2020, even if just a little bit. There are people who quietly (or loudly) can't join a Pay to Speak conference and the reasons for this are many fold. A working  theory is that people in particular groups might be hitting financial constraints, making their voices unavailable in proposals where acceptance would have a financial implication.

It is clear 25 000 dollars will not be sufficient for all Agile 2020 speakers (I believe there is over hundred of them) and organizing all of this dependency to finances needs to somehow fit together with multitrack multichair Agile 2020 Call for Proposals process. The chairs cannot deal with distributing responsibility of this initiative on top of what they already do. So the proposals need to come in normally and we need to experiment with this on the side.

Registering for this initiative tweaks the usual proposal as little as possible. If you registered with this program, you are saying it is ok to bundle together your financing decision according to diversity prioritization and decision on your paper's acceptance. Your paper could be great and acceptable, but if finances are unacceptable, that totals in hoping for another time when finances can be sorted. Your withdrawal is part of the process and there is no blame assigned to you for having to say no. Your availability is strongly conditional on the finances.

Even if the form asks for your sad story, feel free to skip it. Focus on explaining what the conference diversity is missing out with your person being absent. And particularly, focus on making the conference call for proposals a proposal they feel bad at losing for making speakers pay so that we have better chances of changing this in the future years.

The Mentoring Initiative

The mentoring initiative targets 1st time speakers. There are so many great sessions we don't get to fully consider, because while new speakers can make great sessions, they also greatly benefit from help in making their idea shine by focusing it, ensuring its specialty and usefulness, and just giving some ideas of improvement. Mentoring is great for this, and the conference normal format includes the track chairs and volunteers giving feedback on submissions added early on into the submission system.

The mentoring initiative adds a little extra support. We are currently collecting a group of mentors, who volunteer to spend 15-minutes in collaboration calls helping find the core of the speakers idea. 

Next week we open the calls for people who want to try this extra support for getting their proposal ready. A personal touch with someone who has done it before can do wonders and at worst, you'll have a lovely 15-minute discussion about your idea with someone who wants to see you succeed with it.

Out of this we get a quick view of what is out there, and get you started with writing the proposal into the call for proposals system. The mentor you spoke with online can jump in to help you get what you said in the call in the writing you submit as they will know more of what you're trying to say than someone who did not spend the 15 minutes with you.

Give us a change of hearing your ideas. We can't change the teaching the sessions do if the sessions repeat the same people's experiences. And we have a whole agile journey ahead of us where different experiences are crucial for us to get the hang of what others can teach us.

See, I use more words. I don't need to try to say things in a nutshell. I believe there are people who need to read more words to feel welcome to what we are trying to do here. Our intentions are good, and we are listening.