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WordCamp US Online Set for October 1, 2021, as Community Team Weighs Proposal for Returning to In-Person WordCamps

WordCamp US will be held online this year on October 1, 2021. Organizers are planning a free, one-day event that will feature networking opportunities, speaker sessions, and workshops. Michelle Frechette, one of the organizers, said the team is planning on hosting a contributor day and will add more information to the event’s website over the next few weeks. In August, WCUS will send out the calls for speakers, sponsors, and volunteers.

Planning for the 2020 virtual WCUS ended up as somewhat of a debacle after organizers decided to cancel due to pandemic stress and online event fatigue. The cancellation came after volunteers had already invested hundreds of hours of free time in planning the unfortunately timed event. Outbreaks in the US were worsening and political tensions were at an all-time high ahead of what went down as one of the most contentious presidential elections in US history.

Bringing back WordPress’ flagship WordCamp as an online event was a necessity in 2021, as COVID-19 cases rise and ICU’s are filling up in US hot spot regions where vaccination rates are lower. The delta variant has thrown the world another curve ball in what has become one of the most stressful and traumatic 18 months in recent memory.

Despite the continued public health crisis, the WordPress community is eager to restart in-person events. Rocio Valdivia published a proposal today, summarizing the Community Team’s discussions on how to establish a path for returning to in-person WordCamps. The proposal is based on using the current guidelines for meetups with a few additional guidelines pertinent to WordCamps. It uses the same decision-making flow chart that applies to green lighting in-person meetups:

After these guidelines for meetups were announced in early July, in-person meetups have been held in six countries, including Russia, US, New Zealand, Uganda, Australia and the Netherlands.

“Resetting expectations for WordCamps may be necessary, as the world has changed significantly,” Valdivia said in the proposal. “This is a great opportunity to rebuild the program by restarting locally, and then building back up to the levels we had in 2019.”

WordCamps had mostly fallen into a fairly predictable format before the pandemic, but the Community Team is now keen on organizers experimenting with new formats and content. One example suggested in the proposal is delivering WordCamp content entirely online, followed by an in-person social gathering, for a more inclusive experience that makes it possible for those who cannot attend to participate in the educational aspects of the event.

The Community Team is embracing the current hardships as an opportunity to improve WordCamps and rekindle the community spirit after such a lengthy absence from in-person events:

Additionally, the normal WordCamp application process requires that there be an active local community in place. As the community has faced many changes this year, Deputies are thinking about how to handle this requirement. One possibility could  be more flexibility with WordCamp applications, allowing communities that had a meetup pre-COVID to host a WordCamp, even if they weren’t as active in the last year, to help build excitement and restart community activity again.

The proposal includes a list of more practical considerations, such as securing fully-refundable venues, providing individually-packaged food instead of buffets, and limiting capacity to provide for social distancing. It also notes that WordCamps taking place during this transitional period would need to be prepared to cover 100% of their expenses, as WordCamps are currently exempt from the 2021 Global Sponsorship Program. Inclusion in the Global Sponsorship Program will be reconsidered once WordPress returns to in-person camps in all regions.

The Community Team is inviting feedback on the proposal, which is still under active discussion. If you have ideas that you think should be included in the guidelines or suggestions for this transition period for in-person WordCamps, leave a comment on the proposal.