Reasons for (& against) BiCon being online again in 2021

14 January 2021 by Jennifer

BiCon 2020 was online. Here’s my reasoning for why I think it’s probably best to do it that way again in 2021.

This last autumn, I spent a lot of time listening to people about BiCon, because of the anti-racism review. (Here’s the main write-up from that.)

I was talking to a friend one day in the middle of that process, and put into words: I think BiCon 2021 ought to be online, not in person – supposing there is one at all.

Even though I’ve been thinking about this, I don’t consider it my decision. There are other people who are far more invested in BiCon these days than I am. However, I thought it would be a good idea to explain my reasoning, in case it was helpful to other people.

By the same token, there are people for whom the idea of no 3D BiCon this year would be much more of a downer than it is to me. I’m sorry, folks.

Short version of why:

  • Covid makes it a bit more complicated
  • Covid/vaccine timeline uncertainty
  • Inexperienced team, who took over relatively late in the run-up
  • Few veterans available to support them
  • Prioritising anti-racism work
  • Investment in online frameworks won’t be wasted.

If anything, circumstances have moved even more that way since I first said it: a new covid variant which is evidently a bit more infectious than the original, and the relatively slow roll-out so far of the vaccines.

In terms of getting the best possible outcome from some difficult circumstances, I think it would be useful to the BiCon community to think about the possibilities & implications now, and re-focus on the lemonade which could be made given these lemons – rather than let the decision drift further into the year and potentially be made in more of a hurry.

I do also think there are some worthwhile up sides to developing the online framework! I like that BiCon 2020 was accessible to some people who couldn’t have come to the 3D one. In the long run, I think it would be good to have both.

And I’d like to encourage organisers to invent new local/regional events outdoors for the summer of 2021, which would enable people to meet in 3D at low risk for covid.

Here in more detail is what I’ve been thinking: for, against, and a positive way to look at the possibilities.

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Reasons to have BiCon online again in 2021

(a mix of difficulties and up sides)

  1. Even if everyone who can have a covid vaccine has been vaccinated by the summer, that won’t be everyone. Some people can’t get vaccinated, or the vaccine wouldn’t work well on them, because of things like immune system problems.

    And will our current government ever properly go for Zero Covid like New Zealand, Taiwan, Vietnam etc? I’m not counting on it, because the people with the most power (a) are incompetent in practical matters, and/or (b) aren’t that bothered if a lot of people die.

    So on top of the complexity already involved in running a BiCon, the next 3D BiCon will probably also require decisions about protocols to reduce covid transmission. Would people be required to wear masks in sessions, for example? If someone turns up at the event, and they’re saying “covid’s only like the flu, may as well catch it, not doing these pesky precautions”, what happens next?

    Even if the decision were “we’re not making any rules, it’s up to individuals” (I hope not)… someone still has to decide that and communicate it. But I think more likely, there’d be discussions about it, either on principles or at least to think through the details. That’s a fair amount of extra time & responsibility for the people organising.

  2. The rate things are going, a lot of people won’t have had a vaccine yet by the summer. At the moment, it’s hard to estimate how much that process may yet speed up. By the time it became clear how viable a 3D event might be, we could be a lot closer to BiCon weekend.

    (And, touch wood won’t happen, it’s also possible that a new variant will emerge which doesn’t match the current covid vaccines, so that people would have to get vaccinated all over again – potentially also meaning a new round of restrictions.)

    Rather than having uncertainty for several months and then a late decision to either confirm or reschedule, it would be a lot less stressful to start planning now for an online one to be really good.

  3. The current BiCon 2021 team is relatively inexperienced.
  4. Few of the experienced people have any energy to spare at the moment to support them.The Continuity Trustees are overstretched, and arguably ought not to have that role anyway.The old “biconorganisers” private discussion group, once the prime place for a team to ask for advice, has been inactive a while. (I get the impression some recent team members hadn’t even known it existed.)
  5. The 2021 team stepped in late when the original team dropped out, and last I heard, they were still only in fairly early stages of planning. By way of comparison, some earlier teams had begun laying foundations 2 years ahead, and were able to open bookings at the end of the previous BiCon. It could be, even if there hadn’t been the added complexity brought by covid, the team would be struggling to put together all of BiCon’s many pieces in time.

    Switching to an online BiCon would immediately reduce the scope of what the team needs to handle, e.g. no accommodation bookings to worry about.

  6. The recent anti-racism review identified some substantial pieces of work to be done, which I don’t think should be rushed or skimped.

    Although a lot of the central direction-setting must be led & guided by people of colour, there’s also practical stuff which could do with logistical support from white BiCon organisers.

    Imagine a situation where it’s just about possible to pull together a 3D BiCon for summer 2021, but not much has changed yet on the anti-racism front. I don’t like that picture.

    If enough people genuinely do have the energy which would be required to produce a 3D BiCon this year, I think it would be better invested in the anti-racism work, and other foundational improvements.

  7. Something which will evolve as the situation changes: ethical implications of in-person gatherings while a deadly-to-some virus is going around.

    How valuable does BiCon have to be, to justify the risk that someone catches covid there and dies or becomes disabled – even if they chose to be there?

    How big is that risk at a given time, e.g. summer of 2021?

    Who’s de facto excluded because they’re not willing to take the risk? What alternatives exist for them?

  8. Although some people probably perceive online-BiCon as merely a pale imitation of “real” BiCon, the online one does have some advantages, even in non-covid times: most obviously, being more accessible to a lot of people, either physically, financially or for reasons of time.
  9. The online one in 2020 was already a success despite having been put together very quickly. (Thanks to Kate, Katy, & everyone else who contributed!)

    2021 could build on that experience – it wouldn’t be starting from scratch.

  10. The software options for online events are improving rapidly at the moment.
  11. Any energy that’s invested in how to make an online BiCon really good has the potential to pay off in future, not just be a stop-gap.

    For example, if the current volunteer-shortage continues, it might work well to alternate online one year, 3D the next. Or if in future, BiCon were to resolve its volunteer-burn-out problems and become more sustainable, there could be a 3D BiCon each summer once again and online events in the rest of the year – perhaps even a whole “Winter BiCon” which happens online in Jan or Feb.

    Until it’s better at anti-racism and not burning people out, I wouldn’t encourage BiCon to grow any bigger – but supposing those weren’t problems, it’s a fact that online events can complement 3D ones, and in the long run support the 3D event to grow and thrive. For one thing, an online event provides a great opportunity for new people to dip in.

    So, overall, the creativity & learning involved in building the online framework would be an investment.

On the other hand…

Reasons to have a 3D BiCon in 2021

  1. A 3D gathering could boost people’s mental health, as long as it didn’t result in sickness or bereavement.
  2. The Leeds 2020 venue deposit had already been paid and was transferred to 2021, and it’s unclear under what covid-circumstances that money could be transferred onward again or returned.

    (If people conclude it might be best to postpone, an obvious next move would be to look at getting part or all of that deposit transferred to 2022.)

Looking on the positive side…

I suggest that if people still think they would have the time and energy to run a 3D BiCon this year, that abundant energy gets channelled instead into:

  • Building a really good online event, with a glorious variety of different contributors, formats & topics in the ents & sessions, & different options for socialising.

    (One new possibility is to have a social space in GatherTown or something similar. Thanks to Anna S for showing some of us round a GatherTown mini-world the other week!)

  • Some solid next steps on anti-racism, including code of conduct stuff and the big picture of how BiCon works.
  • Laying foundations for better nurturing of BiCon’s volunteers: developing accessible management systems so that it’s easier for newcomers to get involved, exploring what division of tasks & what software work best, supporting beginner session leaders, etc.

    Under this heading, I’d suggest also reactivating the biconorganisers private discussion group, and opening it to future team leaders & key volunteers. (It still exists on dreamwidth, it’s just nobody’s been posting in it.)

  • Better-than-average outreach & publicity, especially building links with other organisations centring marginalised groups.
  • Supporting local organisers in planning regional outdoor 3D events throughout 2021, which are low-risk for covid and not so much at the mercy of the failures of our atrocious government.

    For example, in 2020, Nottingham Bitopia had an outdoor meetup at Attenborough Nature Reserve, pre-organised into subgroups of 6 to fit then-current group-size regulations. (Tip of the hat to Alan for inventing & organising!)

    It’s true that BiCon is different from local events, and special to a lot of people… but our in-person meetup options aren’t limited to “BiCon or nothing”.

Disclaimer / offer

Like I said, I don’t think this is my decision. However, I’m happy to engage in a bit more practical-thinking-through if people want to talk about it more, either here or somewhere else.

Appreciation, criticism & new ideas all welcome...

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