#19 – Evangelia Pappa & Bernhard Kau on Making WordCamp Europe Safe and Diverse
On the podcast today we have Evangelia Pappa & Bernhard Kau.
WordCamp Europe is the biggest in-person event in WordPress. Last time the event was held, in 2019, there were over 3,000 attendees and hundreds of volunteers who participated.
The 2020 event, which was due to take place in Porto Portugal was cancelled due to the outbreak of Covid. Ever since then pretty much all WordPress events have been done online. The community has stayed together and kept things going, but it’s time to return to the in-person event.
This is great news, but what can we expect from such an event. Whilst the pandemic is less of a concern than it was just a few months ago, it’s not gone away.
On the podcast today we talk to two of the WordCamp Europe 2022 organisers and discuss what preparations they’ve been making to ensure that the event is as safe as possible. How will social distancing work? Will you need to wear a mask? Will there be social aspects to the event?
Hopefully the podcast will put your mind at rest about the precautions that have been taken, and possibly help you make up your mind about whether you want to attend in-person, or participate via the live streaming.
We also get into the subject of diversity. A few months ago, some members of the community questioned the makeup of the event in terms of the organising team.
We discuss how the team reacted to this. Whether they thought that the concern was justified and what they’ve been doing since then to address those concerns.
Hopefully the event will take place this year, and if you enjoy WordCamps, but have never been a part of the organising team, it’s really interesting to pull back the curtain and see some of what’s required to put an event of this scale on.
[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley. Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks the themes, and in this case, diversity within the community. If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player of choice, or by going to WP Tavern.com forward slash feed forward slash podcast. And you can copy that URL into most podcasts players.
If you have a topic that you’d like us to feature on the podcast, well, then I’m very keen to hear from you and hopefully get you, or your idea, featured on the show. Head over to WP Tavern.com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox. And you can use the contact form there.
So on the podcast today, we have Evangelia Pappa, and Bernhard Kau. WordCamp Europe is the biggest in-person event in WordPress. Last time the event was held in 2019, they were over 3000 attendees, and hundreds of volunteers who participated. The 2020 event, which was due to take place in Porto. Portugal, was canceled due to the outbreak of COVID. Ever since then, pretty much all WordPress events have been done online.
The community has stayed together, but it’s time to return to in-person event. This is great news, but what can we expect from such an event. Whilst the pandemic is less of a concern than it was just a few months ago, it’s not gone away. On the podcast today, we talk to two of the WordCamp Europe 2020 organizers, and discuss what preparations they’ve been making to ensure that the event is as safe as possible.
How will social distancing work? Will you need to wear a mask? Will there be a social aspect to the event? Hopefully, the podcast will put your mind at rest about the precautions that have been taken, and possibly help you make up your mind about whether you want to attend in-person, or participate via the live streaming.
We also get into the subject of diversity. A few months ago, some members of the community questioned the makeup of the event, in terms of the organizing team. Some felt that not enough work had been done to ensure that everyone was represented in the decision making of the event. We discuss how the team reacted to this, whether they thought that the concern was justified, and what they’ve been doing since to address those concerns.
Hopefully the events will take place this year, and if you enjoy WordCamps, but have never been part of the organizing team, it’s really interesting to pull back the curtain and see some of what’s required to put on an event of this scale.
If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all the links in the show notes by heading over to WP Tavern.com forward slash podcast, where you’ll find all the other podcast episodes.
And so. without further delay. I bring you, Evangelia Pappa, and Bernhard Kau. I am joined on the podcast today by Evangelia and Bernhard. Hello both of you.
[00:03:58] Evangelia Pappa: Hey there.
[00:03:59] Nathan Wrigley: Very nice to have you on the podcast today. These two fine people are going to be talking to us today about WordCamp Europe, which is happening later in 2022. There’s a couple of things that we’re going to be talking about, particularly around the two topics of COVID and also about the diversity aspect of the organization of the event. We’ll come to those two things later, but I’m just going to ask you, one at a time to introduce yourself properly. We always do this at the beginning of the podcast. Just to let the listeners know who you are, what’s your relationship with WordPress and so on. So, let’s make a start. Let’s go for Evangelia, let’s begin there.
[00:04:34] Evangelia Pappa: Hey there to everyone. My name is Evangelia. I come from Greece. I am a recruitment specialist for WPMU Dev. I like blogging. I love and breathe for the WordPress community, not only the global one. And I’m really happy and passionate about the people and culture.
[00:04:54] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you so much and the same question, Bernhard.
[00:04:57] Bernhard Kau: Yeah. Hello. I’m Bernhard Kau. I’m located in Berlin, Germany. I’m a WordPress developer for a small agency in Potsdam and, I’m also an active blogger on my blog posts, also a podcaster and longtime contributor to the community. I think it was in 2009. I started.
[00:05:13] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you both very much indeed. Now we know that in the recent past, all events have been called off. WordCamp Europe last took place, I believe it was in 2019 in Berlin. Subsequent events have been online. There were possibly attempts made to put things back in the real world, but then they were kiboshed by the reality, the COVID strain, which was spreading throughout the world, but it has been decided that the time is now right to bring this event back. Just very briefly, is it going to be the same event that we would have been attending back in 2020 had COVID not have taken hold of the world.
In other words, are you trying to put on the full scale event, or is it in some way pared back?
[00:05:56] Evangelia Pappa: We’re going back to in-person events. In fact, we were going back to the events we didn’t have in 2020. It’s a live event, an in person event. We can host 4,500 people, which is an amazing number judging, from the pandemic that has kept us in lockdown. I’m not quite sure yet if we will be able to have everyone, but at least we will be able to see a smiley faces.
[00:06:22] Nathan Wrigley: Okay, and Bernhard.
[00:06:23] Bernhard Kau: Yeah, I think in general it’s going to be the exact same when we’ve initially planned in 2020. We’ve canceled in 2020, I think in March. Like around the time, we just decided just after WordCamp Asia postponed their events and for 2021, we, in the beginning said it’s going to be online as well.
We think now is the time to have an in-person event again. And we hope that we get the same amount of attendees we were expecting in 2020. But we cannot tell if that’s going to happen. And also if all attendees will be able to join the event, but we probably come to that a bit later.
[00:06:57] Nathan Wrigley: I guess only time will really tell whether that’s the case or not. In terms of the organization of the event, it strikes me that many people listening to this podcast, perhaps they’ve never attended a WordPress event and they may very well of course be new to the WordPress community. So maybe just if we spend a very brief amount of time discussing the structure of the organization team. In other words, explain how it is that you came to be involved, and perhaps emphasize the fact that everybody involved in the event is a volunteer. So let’s go for Evangelia.
[00:07:26] Evangelia Pappa: This is a very important topic because we will need to share stories with Bernard. I was with the WordPress Greek community since 2015 and it was pure luck. I mean, I met the community in 2015 and I was just attending a meetup to see what exactly is. What is WordPress? What is a WordPress meetup? What is that community I’m reading about? My skillset at that point had to do with PR and media, as I was working as a radio producer and as a generalist at that point. And I started writing the press releases that had to do with events of the WordPress Greek community, and suddenly I became a member of the organizing team. After two local WordCamps in Athens, the team that has become a family decided that we should volunteer to a bigger event to see how exactly it is happening. And we had never been to a WordCamp Europe, so we decided to apply as volunteers altogether. Since we were selected, we traveled to Belgrade and this was our first experience with WordCamp Europe. When we finished, let’s say WordCamp Europe in 2018 in Belgrade, we decided we would like to apply as organizers and some of us are organizing WordCamp Europe for around two, three years now.
[00:08:47] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you very much, and Bernhard.
[00:08:49] Bernhard Kau: Yeah. Usually becoming an organizing team member for WordCamp Europe, you probably have been a volunteer before for WordCamp Europe, or you’ve been an organizer for a local WordCamp. We really want to see some experienced organizers in the team. It’s not a necessity. So we even have some people very new to the community.
In fact, in Berlin, we even had one in the local team who never attended a WordCamp himself before joining the organizing team, but he was organizing a local meetup in a city in Germany. But because it’s a huge time investment, we really need people dedicated enough to spent nine months organizing an event that size. A usual WordCamp, a local one, is maybe four or five months of organizing and WordCamp European is a whole lot different, and this is also why we need people being willing to go all the way from the beginning to the end and organizing events. And quite naturally, there’s always things happening that become more important than organizing a WordCamp, and so those people drop off because they just volunteer their time, they’re not getting paid. Yeah that’s also natural. And from the 2020 organizers we initially had for Porto, many of them continued. Some take a break. I personally took a break in 2021 because it was an online event. And I could see myself in better health for the in-person events once it’s going to happen.
And so many of the organizers that were initially on board for 2020 are back again, but some didn’t have the time again to join the organizing team for this year. So, we are a bit smaller in size, but still we have quite a good team to organize this year’s event.
[00:10:35] Nathan Wrigley: How many people do you have currently, and how many people did you have previously? You mentioned that it was smaller this time. I’m just curious to know what kind of numbers we’re dealing with on the volunteer side, whether that’s organizers who are doing the event prior to the actual event, as well as those people who show up and volunteer their time during the event. How many people in total are you looking at there?
[00:10:54] Bernhard Kau: So organizers plus volunteers, I would say it’s around 260 to 300 people.
[00:11:01] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. That gives us a really good metric as to just how large it is. Needless to say it’s incredibly complicated to sort out and incredibly complicated to put on. It’s a marvelous event, but there’s so many moving parts. It must be really difficult to get right. And so rewind to whenever it was now, I can’t remember the exact month of the year, but WordCamp Asia was about to have its first meeting and we all know the story, COVID spread throughout the world, and WordCamp Asia was canceled. The events around the world, the whole thing just rippled and all of those events were canceled and it feels to me like WordCamp Europe is one of the first, if not the first, I think there’s been a, maybe a couple in the United States that have happened more recently. But you’ve taken the decision that you’re going to bring it back. And, as with all these things, safety and keeping everybody updated about the situation and how you are hoping to maintain safety is going to be important.
And that’s a big component of this podcast episode, to reassure people as to what you’ve done. So, let’s get into that discussion.
In terms of the organization team, what are some of the key things that you would like the audience to hear? If they were hovering over the hotel booking button or the airplane purchasing button, or maybe just getting the ticket itself, and something in the back of their mind is niggling them. They’re potentially a little bit worried thinking about all of the different things that could happen that have happened over the last few years. What are some of the main things that you could highlight, which would assuage their fears and let them know that you’re taking the safety in terms of COVID seriously.
[00:12:40] Evangelia Pappa: To be honest because I am at this let’s say situation at the moment, trying to book my accommodation and flights for a Porto. I did make a list with the things that I would need to have ready or have with me do to arrange my travel. But first of all I felt safe to go there. Not everyone feels safe because we have been through two very difficult years, but this is the reason because we are also humans and we do care about safety and health, not only of the attendees, but also our families.
We are going to come back home after the event and we don’t want to contaminate anyone or give COVID to our family and put anyone in danger. We are taking measures for the venue and for the event, measures that are regulations of the Portuguese government, and also some extra measures right now that are mandatory, like the facial masks, which is not a measure that is mandatory in other countries most probably. We do have hand sanitizers that will be available inside the venue. And we will keep also social distancing guidelines, at the moment is to respect the distance of two meters.
We also know that the regulations are changing. So we are keeping an eye and monitoring the whole situation and the restrictions in Portugal. And at the same time, it’s not only you know, about the event and the venue, but we need to be careful a little bit outside, and before we get to the venue or while traveling. And also make sure we have whatever is needed to travel for the entry to Portugal.
[00:14:25] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you very much Bernhard. Anything that you would like to add into that?
[00:14:29] Bernhard Kau: Yeah. In the organizing team, we agreed that the bare minimum would be any regulation the Portugal government would put in place. But on top of that, we really want to make sure that everyone is safe. We have parents within the organizing team, just having a new child and, they want to come home to a family and not having bad feelings about infecting them.
And so we also take additional measurements that might not be necessary by like government law, but we still think they are something we want to have. Serving food outside, not inside, because we really want to have a strict mask mandate and eating with a mask is not possible. So we’ve moved the catering to outside.
You have fresh air and it’s safer to eat without a mask being outside and not inside. So things like these. We really try to make the best possible measures to keep everyone safe. And we probably also provide some testing stations where people can get themselves tested, if they feel that they want to know if they are infected or not. We really want to make everyone feeling safe, attending the event.
[00:15:33] Nathan Wrigley: Let’s just drill down into a few of those. You mentioned that there was going to be social distancing. Maybe the word in forced is the wrong word, but the request to be socially distant. So in an ideal world, in all of the indoor components of WordCamp EU this year, you’re going to be asking people to stay whatever the minimum safe distance is, be that a couple of meters or six feet or whatever it works out to be. That’s going to be a request. And I think I heard the word mask being used as well. So if you’re in an indoor space, there’s going to be a supposition that you’re going to be wearing a mask as well. Is that right? Did I hear that correctly?
[00:16:09] Evangelia Pappa: You will need to wear your mask, covering all over the nose and your mouth. Also went in closed spaces and outside the venue. At the moment though, the Portuguese government requires the face mask covering only in closed spaces, but we will also see how that goes in the future. At the moment the facial mask is mandatory in and outside of the venue. We’d like to see people wearing it, that if they don’t wear it correctly, we might popup, pinging on your shoulder and asking you to wear it properly.
[00:16:42] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you. The event arena itself is a simply magnificent piece of architecture. I believe, forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, it’s called the Superblock Arena and it’s a giant dome, and so the central auditorium where I guess some of the larger events will take place are going to be in that gigantic auditorium, but there’ll be many smaller. spaces in use as well. And I would imagine a lot of people would want to know whether or not you’re kind of limiting the amount of people that can go into certain spaces at certain times. So for example, this room over here we’ve only got a capacity for 15 people and you may not sit in this chair, but you can sit in this one so that we maintain the social distancing. Is that all happening as well? You’re limiting the numbers that can go into different parts of the building. Is that happening?
[00:17:31] Bernhard Kau: We are limiting the number of people who could go into the arena and that we would allow as attendees. I think the arena has a capacity of well over 7,000 people. And we are not going to have 7,000 attendees. And also we have different floors. So like the place we were talking about is the main floor.
And this is going to be split between an exposition, area and track one. And then one level lower, we have the second track and we also have the workshop rooms and those rooms are quite large and we would not allow too many people into the workshops. So there’s enough space between attendees. So it’s not really a fully packed area. And also we have lots of area around. There’s a huge, a nice park around and we’d like to see attendees browsing through the park and enjoying everything around. So only when they go to visit the sponsors or some of the sessions or workshops, they go inside. And as we said earlier, we have the catering outside and also things like WP Cafe would be located outside. So it’s really attendees going in and out. And if they need to. distance themselves a bit, they can find places around.
[00:18:43] Nathan Wrigley: It’s lucky that you’re doing it in Portugal and not Great Britain. You may have found it quite difficult to have the outdoor component quite so easily, but I presume the weather in Porto, Portugal is going to be fairly predictable.
An important question I suppose to ask is, whether or not you guys have actually seen this space because it’s very easy on a piece of paper or on a computer screen to take a look at what the venue looks like, but actually being there in person and imagining it on a piece of paper are two very different things. So have people from the committee been, looked around, made judgments based upon being there in the real world?
[00:19:19] Bernhard Kau: We just had a venue visit last month and a huge number of our organizing team was there, I think it was 15 people, something like that. I don’t know the exact number. And some organizers have been there multiple times. I was not there, unfortunately myself, because in 2020, when we decided to go online, I was not going to see the venue.
And then this year, just two weeks before I was going to go to Portugal, I got to COVID myself, canceling my travel plans. But those organizers who went there, they took pictures. They even had a video walkthrough. So all the organizers who were not able to go to the place, they have a pretty good impression of what it looks inside.
And those teams really need to know how it looks. Like the sponsor’s team, the content team. They really know how to arrange things And we also have a company helping us with many of the logistics and they have been to the arena multiple times. So they really have a good plan on how to make things in the best way possible in the arena and the park around.
[00:20:20] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you. That’s great. Evangelia, it sounded like you needed to add something to that.
[00:20:24] Evangelia Pappa: A team that is seeing the venues very often in every WordCamp Europe is always a local team. That is the one also that selects the venue after a very careful research, when they apply for the call for her city. Because you see, we are always in search of a venue that can provide us certain things.
The ability of people that have certain issues to be able to enter and navigate a big space that can host a specific amount of people and stuff like that. So, they have already checked the venue before they apply for the called for host city, and also, they need to visit it often in order to check other things that are necessary.
And usually we have two visits, two venue visits for the rest of the team, where the team leads are available to the visit, or they send a representative of the team. I wasn’t able this year to the venue, visit too. But I had a representative of the team to check for the spaces that my team would need so we can discuss further. It’s not only, the plans, for floor plans.
[00:21:28] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you very much, indeed. Now the next question is, obviously the answer that you give here is subject to change, but assuming that WordCamp Europe were to happen over the next week or so, do you know what the restrictions are right now in Portugal, in terms of, let’s say, for example, as Bernhard, you just said you had COVID relatively recently. Do you know what the restrictions are in terms of accessibility, your ability to fly into Portugal? Should you have had COVID and I guess, it’s a question nobody wants to probably happen to them, but nevertheless, if you were to catch COVID in Portugal, do you know what your options are there in terms of repatriating yourself and getting yourself home? Do you have to isolate in a hotel or wherever you may be settled for a period of time before you can come out and resume normal life?
[00:22:21] Bernhard Kau: I cannot tell you what would happen if you get COVID while being in Portugal. The local team could probably answer the question. For entering Portugal, as of today, you need to have proof of full vaccination. That’s between 14 and 270 days old. You can also have a proof of recovery from COVID 19. That’s quite usual in European countries. It’s not so normal in other countries that a proof of recovery is also treated the same as the vaccination. And you also need to present a negative pre-departure test. So it’s a PCR test or a rapid antigen test, that’s not older than 24 hours. And for me, when I was planning to travel to Portugal, I would just get a test at the airport, like an antigen test. And that would be enough to enter the country. But Portugal is lowering restrictions right now. And, our local team leads was telling us that they are at level one and level zero would be no restrictions. And they will soon be at level 0.5. So they are about to lift all restrictions.
So I would assume that even having a negative tests for entering the country would not be in place anymore when we have the event, but you’d never know. It’s still a long time to go. I mean for your own safety, it’s probably good advice to have full vaccination, if it’s possible for yourself.
If there’s no medical condition hindering you from being vaccinated. And then also when I see my family or people, I know that’s not as healthy. I just get myself tested. So I’m safe that I’m not infecting someone. So that would be my advice to get yourself tested before you travel to Portugal, because you don’t want to get stuck in another country, you being infected and then you might not know how to isolate in a hotel room or something. And then how many days you need to stay there before you can leave. But that’s something I don’t really know, like the restrictions in Portugal, if you are getting infected and then traveling back to your country.
[00:24:21] Nathan Wrigley: Yes, but thank you. That was an excellent answer nevertheless, and like everything else, if you are planning to travel, just make sure you’ve got the necessary documents. And now along with the ride, is have your documents. Your travel insurance, your passport, and also some proof that you have been inoculated or that you have had COVID or that you are COVID free. So that’s just another thing to add into the itinerary of things, which you must bring along. But thank you. Yeah, that’s great.
You mentioned that there was going to be testing stations in the venue. Is that, presumably they are what we call in the UK at least anyway, lateral flow tests. So you just had a different word for it, but they’re going to be freely available are they, or is it, do we need to pay for those? How does that work?
[00:25:03] Bernhard Kau: Those will be freely available for attendees. If they choose to get a test and we would not have testing mandatory for everyone entering. And we would probably need to have some kind of proof that you are not positive. So either recovery, vaccination, something like this, which would be checked when you get your tickets. Your badge for the event. But we would not have a mandatory test for every single day for every attendee, that would just be too much. But if you feel you would want to get tested, we have some testing next to the venue. So you don’t have to go to a public testing place somewhere in Portugal.
Because I also think that they are not free for people not located in Portugal. So that Like be a high cost. And then also let’s say we have 4,000 attendees and they all want to get tested in the testing centers around the venue. That would be quite a lot of work for them. And we probably would have attendees coming late because they need to wait for some hours to get their test.
[00:26:04] Evangelia Pappa: At the moment, we will have this option and also if someone has symptoms of COVID like fever, or they have a difficulty breathing or a cough or they feel they have an issue or they test positive. They can contact immediately the Portuguese national health service. We have listed the telephones on our website too, and we will have someone available to assist them when they are outside of the venue and, also, they can call 1 1 2, that is the number for emergencies. At the moment, people that test positive need to be isolated. However, previously it was mandatory also for the high risk contacts. This limitation has been eliminated, it has been removed. So now only people that test positive for COVID will be required to be in isolation.
At the same time another measure like the digital certificate that was required for entry into restaurants, bars places like that. Was required and now is no longer required. However, it is required if you’re traveling, like we said previously, and you need to cross the borders or you need to pick a flight or something like that. And also the capacity limits of closed spaces has been eliminated. Previously there was a capacity limit and according to the last measures, this does no longer exist. Looking at the situation right now seems like the pandemic is phasing beyond, things are improving daily.
So we have the hope that if variation prevails among the others, it will be lot easier on people, and also more restrictions will be eliminated until we get to the event date.
[00:27:49] Nathan Wrigley: Now, I know that we all love WordPress and we love attending WordPress speakers, presentations and so on, but another thing we love is the after-party. I suspect that this is a very large reason why many people attend these events. It’s just such good fun. Now that, I’m presuming, has been modified in its scope and in its limitations, and what have you. So just very briefly, the social side of things, how is that different now?
[00:28:14] Bernhard Kau: Yeah, basically the same applies as for the conference days. So we would have foods and drinks served outside. So we make sure that’s if you eat or drink something and you cannot wear your mask at the same time, you do that outside. And for the party itself we have it inside, it’s in the same area as track one was the same day.
So like after the closing remarks, we would move everything out and then this area would be for the after party. And it’s quite huge space, so there’s enough space for those who want to go inside and listen to music. And those who want to talk to other people, they would probably go outside because it’s quiet outside, and there they can also have drinks and food.
[00:28:52] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. This section wasn’t a part of the show notes when I originally wrote down the questions, I was going to be asking you but, in the last couple of weeks, we’ve had really seismic events happening in Europe. On the Eastern side of Europe. We’ve had the events happening in the Ukraine. And I don’t know if there are any thoughts as to whether this will change anything, whether or not the event has any posture on that at all. I don’t really have a question around that. Just whether or not the Ukrainian situation has forced something to be changed on the WCEU side?
[00:29:26] Evangelia Pappa: At the moment the war is not changing anything regarding the event. Location dates, restrictions remain the same for everyone. We can say how things might end up in the future. It will depend also, for example, in the Portuguese government, in case they have any restrictions for citizens from Russia for example. As things that are floating at the moment, and it might not change anything regarding the event.
However, this is a very tough topic and being Europeans, we have a really big history of wars on this continent. And some of them are really recent. It definitely does not make us happy and it does affect everyone. Mentally, mostly, in the rest of the continent. As many of us have colleagues there, relatives, friends and we wake up and sleep with the news everyday.
Talking about the WordPress side of things and the community. Both countries, Ukraine and Russia have active local workers, communities, and our organizing team in WordCamp Europe includes members from Ukraine and Russia? This is a very difficult period. One thing that makes us proud during this whole situation is to say that we have members of the organizing team that are offering their help actively and our hearts and minds at the moment are with our people over there.
If we have any information about further restrictions that might be, we will definitely inform everyone through the website and the social media. At the moment, nothing is changing regarding the event.
[00:31:03] Nathan Wrigley: Okay, moving on then, that’s the first part of our discussion. And this next part will probably be a little bit shorter, but nevertheless, equally important. After the event website had gone live with the organizing committee details and the speakers being announced and the sponsors and all of that. There was some conversation that arose, I believe, but I could be wrong about this, I believe it began on Twitter. Where questions were raised about the event. I’m not sure specifically around which aspect of the event, whether it was the speakers or whether it was the event organizers. Maybe it was both or one or the other, I’m not entirely sure.
But there were questions raised about the diversity of the event. I know that upon those questions being raised, the response you gave was pretty swift, and there was a lot of soul searching going on. I don’t know who wants to answer it first, but really, do you want you to summarize what the concerns that members of the community were raising about WordCamp EU and the diversity of it.
[00:32:08] Evangelia Pappa: It was a social media post on Twitter that started the whole conversation. And it was based on the diversity of the organizing team Which is something that was a really difficult discussion and a really difficult thing this year. You see this organizing team and this conference in 2022, it’s coming back after two years of lockdowns. It was really difficult to get it started to find people that were able to commit.
So the problem that this Tweet was raising was that there was not any black person among the organizers. However, where I come from for example we don’t even say black, because it’s considered, a form of racism. When we saw that Tweet, it was really difficult for us.
Nobody had reached out. Nobody asked why we don’t have people of skin color or why we have, for example only Europeans and North Americans or anything regarding diversity. But suddenly we are being called out on social media. It gives the team, the feeling of being chased unfairly.
Europe has a different background and history regarding many things. Before we start a discussion about diversity, or inclusion, which is definitely important. If you do not discuss, we cannot fix anything. But you need to have some knowledge about how things worked out when we started organizing. How things are progressing during organizing the event.
At the same time, you need to take a look at the background of the organizing team and also the background of Europe. Location, culture, demographics, history, and all this factors that can help identify what is the diversity we need to aim to. So definitely, seeing it from the point of view of someone that resides in the United States.
It’s not a good thing to see an organizing team that doesn’t include a person of skin color. I’m not quite sure if I’m using the correct word, because I’m not a native speaker in English. So, I hope it is the correct word, but I don’t want to use the black color, because, where I come from, it’s not a nice thing to call people like that. I understand where the person that started the Tweet comes from, and I understand also the people that were replying on threads and the whole discussion. However, we should make a larger discussion to understand how diversity factors and what metrics are different in the US and in Europe and in Asia, for example. Because there is not any continent that doesn’t need to take care of diverse.
[00:34:59] Nathan Wrigley: Bernhard, anything to add to that?
[00:35:02] Bernhard Kau: Yeah. As I mentioned earlier, we had quite a tough time getting the organizing team together because many of the organizers have been on the organizing team in 2020 before we canceled the in-person events and went to an online event. You can also see on the 2020 page on the organizers page there’s the in-person team, and then there’s the online event team.
And you can see that back then, it also was a quite diverse team. But it was really hard to convince all the organizers who’ve committed themselves in 2020 to rejoin the team. So we really had to find people who are willing to invest that huge amount of time into organizing and WordCamp Europe, and for us, diversity is not just dictated by skin color or by gender or something.
It’s also by origin, from which country applicants are coming from also in terms of how experienced are people. We don’t want to be gatekeepers only inviting the same organizers over and over again. So we really want to have some experienced organizers, but we also want to welcome new organizers. And then it might be that you have to reach out to people.
But for 2022, it was really hard to find people that were in the organizing team in 2020 to rejoin. And that was one of the many factors why we are not as diverse as we’ve been in the past. And it’s true that reaching out to people is important, but in these times it’s really hard. And also, many organizers weren’t really sure, and it was back in September, I would say when we asked people and back then the COVID situation was not as positive in quotes as today. So people were really not sure if WordCamp Europe in-person is going to happen at all. And if they would be able to help organizing it.
[00:36:51] Evangelia Pappa: People are not able to commit at the moment. Not only their time, but it also costs some money. I know it doesn’t sound, really romantic. But being volunteers, we’re not being paid for the time that we offer while organizing. And at the same time we have to be present at the event. So this means accommodation. This means travel expenses. And even if someone wants to assist is not able to travel to the event and knows it in advance, then they know they will not be selected. This is one thing. Because, practically, there are funds, companies that can fund someone and help them do this trip, but not everyone knows it, or not everyone is willing to ask for this kind of help. And this is really important. At the same time, as Bernard said, feeling not safe, and also not believing that the event is going to be in person was one of the reasons that people were turning our invitations down, and this is totally understandable.
During two years we had so many online events, not only WordPress related, but, we had so many online events. We did everything online, zoom meetings with the companies you work with, with clients with everyone. So, you were stuck on a display. People still when we started didn’t believe we are going to go for an in-person event.
Frankly, they were saying, I don’t want to do an online event again. I don’t want to be part of it. I don’t want to commit myself, and then in the end we end up with an online event. And I understand that it was tiring for many people, online events have different duties than in person events, and it wasn’t so easy to get it going and get the ball rolling.
[00:38:43] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you very much. So since that tweet was posted and this diversity debate began. Are you able to tell us the ways that you’ve interacted with those people? The lessons potentially that may have been learned, but also the things which you are now doing differently. Measures that affect this particular event, or perhaps you’ve put things on hold and you’ve got procedures, which might be different for the next WordCamp Europe, whether or not you’re both involved I don’t know, but things that would be done differently the next time around. So, essentially I’m wrapping that up all in the phrase of, are there any lessons that you’ve learned here?
[00:39:22] Bernhard Kau: I think the lesson that the whole WordPress community learned is that diversity is important. And it’s something the whole community has to have an eye on. It’s not just the organizing team, and it’s something that can help an organizing team to solve because being a diverse team is not just posting a call for organizers form and waiting for people to respond.
It’s how you promote the call for organizers. How do you maybe find people you invite directly into the organizing team? And there are some great resources and some great initiatives. There’s the diversity training program which targets more towards speakers. The same things can be applied to organizers as well.
And I have been taking part in this training and many other organizers as well. So we really know how to make sure that the next organizing team is even more diverse as the current one. But for this event, we cannot change the organizing team. It was hard enough to get enough people. We also had help from some companies. Volunteering some employees to us. So we have enough people to get all the workload done we have in the organizing team. But for other things, it’s a bit easier, like for the call for speakers and call for volunteers there it’s easier to have a diverse group of people. And this is always something we kept in mind.
So in the past we’ve increased the number in the gender ratio. But as I said earlier, diversity is not just dictated by gender. So we really want to have a very diverse group of speakers. So in terms of gender and experience and all of that. And the content team really focuses on that a lot and has focused a lot in the past. And the volunteers, I would say every year, you can see that the volunteers group is really diverse. We have people from all around the world because being an organizer, you need to be within some time zones. It’s really tough to have someone from, I don’t know, Australia in the organizing team, we had some people from that time zone back in 2019, which is really a challenge.
But for volunteers it’s really easy to invite everyone to become a volunteer because they all have to travel to Porto and time zones are not a huge tissue. But for the organizing team, that’s really something that can be challenging.
[00:41:42] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you has the debate on Twitter, has it led to a conversation? In other words, when that was mentioned on Twitter, presumably it was a calling out of something that people felt needed addressing. Did you engage with those people and ask for their opinion and what it was that they thought needed to be looked at? How has that conversation, that debate move forward over the last several weeks?
[00:42:06] Evangelia Pappa: Regarding having a discussion with the people on Twitter. We don’t want to use the social media for such conversation as some of the social media, not good enough, and not the proper way of communication for such discussions. And the reason is for example, Twitter has a limitation of characters. It’s not easy to make a discussion over there for diversity. That is a huge topic and really important for the whole community. So we had to have another way to discuss this and move forward with a whole situation. You see, diversity means you belong here and you’re not the only one. So you give people the opportunity to representation and the feeling of inclusivity.
It is one of the things that makes a community viable and creative. It means that people with different backgrounds are able to express themselves freely. They are able to stand behind their ideas. They have a voice. And this is very important. And it is a goal that takes time. It’s not a post a post on Twitter that, you know, can make things different, there is no a quick hack.
We can only focus on the work that is needed to make it happen. And it takes time. It’s not going to happen from one day to the other. It takes time and we need to work on this. So we have asked for help from WordCamp central. We have asked for resources, the ones that Bernard mentioned previously, and we’d like to thank everyone for this help.
And a great open discussion has been opened to the make WordPress website which is a discussion well to follow closely about diversity in WordPress events. This was the way, not WordCamp Europe, but WordPress community in general approached the people that felt underrepresented and opened this topic about WordCamp Europe, because it’s not only about WordCamp Europe it’s about all the WordCamps and also local events like meetups.
[00:44:02] Nathan Wrigley: I think that I’ve asked all of the questions that I would like to ask. Just one quick thing. We were talking previously about hybrid events and the fact that people were possibly a little bit fed up of being online, but for those people who, for example, are unable to attend WordCamp Europe, is there a plan this time around to have any of the sessions broadcast live?
In my parlance I’m terming that a hybrid event live mixed with online. Is that going to be happening at WordCamp Europe this year? Or is it just live with WordPress TV to look at them after the fact?
[00:44:38] Bernhard Kau: We’ve been livestreaming WordCamp Europe, I think since 2017, when we were in Paris. Maybe even in Vienna. So we had live streams for a long time. What would make WordCamp Europe really a hybrid event is the opportunity to connect the online world with the offline world. So for example, we are planning to have in the Q and A after a session, someone taking questions from the online audience and asking the speakers onstage some questions from the online audience so they feel more connected to what’s happening in Portugal. We cannot have every aspect of the events being put into the online world as well, but we really try to make it more hybrid. So those were just watching on our websites. They can also participate in some way, and we are still figuring out in the many different ways how we can make as many aspects of the WordCamp Europe also available for the online world, but at least for the Q and A, this is a plan we already agreed on. So we would have questions from the online audience after the speakers onstage.
[00:45:47] Nathan Wrigley: Lovely. Thank you very much. If anybody wanted to reach out to both of you, either of you, are you able to share the best place to do that? That could be a Twitter feed or it could be an email address, whatever you’re comfortable with. So I’ll start with Bernhard.
[00:46:04] Bernhard Kau: I think that the best and easiest way is either by my personal block or through Twitter. You probably have to put that into the show notes, my exact Twitter handle. It’s second cowboy, but it’s K A U. So my my last name that’s my Twitter handle and yeah, my blog post and my block is listing as well. So that’s probably the best way to get in contact with me.
[00:46:26] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you very much and Evangelia.
[00:46:29] Evangelia Pappa: If someone needs to get in contact with us as organizers of WordCamp Europe, they can always find us at europe @ wordcamp dot org, which is the official email of WordCamp Europe. If someone needs to talk to us directly, social media I think is the best way at the moment. And. Twitter or Facebook or something like that.
Mine is, Evangelia Pappa my handle on Twitter, so they can find me over there too.
[00:46:55] Nathan Wrigley: I will make sure to put all of those into the show notes, which can be found on the WP Tavern website. Bernhard, Evangelia, thank you so much for talking to me about WordCamp Europe today. I really appreciate it.
[00:47:09] Bernhard Kau: Thanks for having us.
[00:47:10] Evangelia Pappa: Thank you for having us.