BiCon structures, followup

9 August 2023 by Jennifer

More on support for teams trying to run a BiCon event, and the role of BiCon Continuity in that.

A lot more discussion has happened since my last post here, both at BiCon itself and online since.

I understand better now (I think) why the 2023 team’s proposal suggested such a central role for Continuity, and so much more work for Trustees.

  • One big factor is that this team didn’t experience much support from or connection with the wider BiCon community, and so the Continuity Trustees felt like “the only people reliably around from year to year” (my paraphrase).

  • This team also had a particularly atrocious experience of information not being passed on from past years, or (for one vital item) even from Continuity itself. So it was a priority for them to fix that problem, which means identifying a holding point for key information. (I agree that’s vital to fix, and that the Continuity web site is a reasonable place to host resources for teams.)

(I don’t know if the team would say these were the main points, and I may have missed some others. That’s just what I’ve picked up so far from listening to them. Honestly, the more I hear about what they went through this past year, the more sick I feel about the support they didn’t have.)

Also, the 2023 team was relatively new to BiCon themselves,1 and weren’t around for the era of the old organiser-to-organiser online support group, or the bi activist weekends – so those weren’t points of reference for them which might come to mind as potentially part of the solution. BiCon as a community & system has never been that great at supporting current teams, but some earlier teams had a much wider network of experience/ advice/ troubleshooters/ supporters to draw on than this year’s team had experienced.

At one point, I was talking about “how it used to work” and someone referred to it rather disparagingly as “nostalgia”! But I wasn’t wistfully reminiscing of “lost glories back in my day” haha :-) The point is, there are structures which have fallen into disuse which, pragmatically, I still believe could be valuable. It hasn’t always been as thin and isolating as what they’d experienced.

New shoots

I’m happy to see that a fresh groundswell of relevant grassroots initiatives has sprung up in the last few days.2

  • A new project to catalogue all the “how to run BiCon” / “how we ran BiCon” material which already exists, and interview past organisers. About a dozen people are in the online discussions about that so far, some already assembling material to be catalogued. This is something which had been talked about for at least a few years now, and this is the most convinced I’ve been that it’ll actually happen. Yay! (I’ve dropped in a load of links I had, mostly of my own old write-ups & BiCon-related ideas.)

  • Some of us are talking about reactivating the old biconorganisers group. The framework for it actually still exists as a locked community on Dreamwidth – it’s just that nobody had actually been posting there for a while, and recent teams hadn’t known about it. (We might simply go back to that Dreamwidth space, and egg on new teams and recently-experienced organisers to join it. Dreamwidth does have a lot to recommend it.)

  • Some of us are talking about setting up a similar locked group to run alongside that and in parallel with it, specifically to support potential teams in assembling their team and putting together a bid. For me, this is one of the most interesting possibilities in turning around the team-burnout pattern; teams at this stage can really benefit from support, to get them off to a good start.

It remains to be seen which of these will stay in existence over time. I’m cautiously optimistic that that isn’t impossible, if we’re thinking about future sustainability as we set them up. I need to mull over for myself how much energy I can put to this in future (esp as my health is still unpredictably dodgy since covid last Oct), but I do think I can help to get things onto a better footing.

If you’d like to be involved with any of these, one way to connect is to hop onto the ongoing BiCon Discord. Or, if you don’t like Discord, email me, jennifer at uncharted hyphen worlds dot org, and I’ll forward your email on to the person who’s doing email coordination.

Continuity’s role

Meanwhile, there’s also been further discussion about the 2023 team’s original proposal.

I got to thinking about: if BiCon Continuity Trustees aren’t the organisers of the community support systems for teams, what is their ideal relationship with those systems?

(The next two sections are a near-copy of something I already put up on the BiCon 2023 Discord.)

Practical proposal

Suppose we say that Continuity has a responsibility to monitor these structural underpinnings, like a sort of “health check”. For example, perhaps they would set a standing agenda item for themselves, of brief reviews of each area. And if they detect a gap or malfunction, they should make all reasonable efforts to “send out the bat signal” across the wider community (the level of alert varying according to the level of the problem).

I see this as different from making Continuity responsible for things happening. It invites the wider community: “step up now, your help is needed in this particular way to ensure BiCon succeeds”. If the necessary support/ energy/ leadership didn’t then emerge from the wider community, Trustees would continue to have responsibility to escalate the alarms, “things are failing here, people”, up to and including “next BiCon may not exist for lack of support”.

The fact that in this model, Trustees’ role is to alert, and not to do, would address one of my main concerns: that the wider community not be lulled into a disempowering and i.m.o. risky sense of “Continuity will (and can) ensure it all happens”.

My other main concern is for Trustees not to be “spread too thin”, detracting from their core responsibilities of money & safeguarding. Most of the time, I would expect this regular monitoring to be a relatively light addition to their workload (especially if the bat signal goes out early enough, so that problems never get giant).

At the same time, this framework would create a formal mechanism for ensuring that important things don’t fall out of all awareness – which I agree is vital.

A few more details

Frequency of reviews would be based on whatever frequency we think seems likely to catch problems in reasonable time. I could imagine perhaps by default reviewing around every 3 months or so (if that makes sense with Continuity meeting-rhythms), but potentially with higher rates

  1. for areas of greater importance

  2. at different times of year, e.g. for particular things in the run-up to BiCon (or, for the wrap-up/handover processes, afterwards).

Planning the initial rhythm/framework of reviews would be for Continuity to undertake with help from others, and then it could be tweaked as we saw how it worked in practice. Perhaps the review mechanism itself could be reviewed and reported on as part of Continuity’s report to BiCon.

Building on the 2023 team’s recommendation of a “project sponsor” for active BiCon teams, I think it would be good if each major area had a “Continuity Linkperson, either a Trustee or potentially (subject to Trustees’ approval) another person who regularly goes to Continuity meetings.

(Examples of areas: reactivated biconorganisers group, teams’ starter pack with key documents, community archive.)

The Link person would be the first contact if that area needs support from Continuity (e.g. money), and also has the responsibility of being able to give updates to Continuity when these recurring agenda items come around.

Further input welcome

Comments welcome on all of this, either here or in the ongoing online discussions :-)

(I’d slightly recommend putting them either here or on your own blog if you want them to last &/or stay linked with what I’ve written, because Discord isn’t the best place to re-find stuff later.)

1. “Relatively new“: My understanding is that most of the team had been to either 1 or 0 BiCons before the one they organised.

2. “Grassroots initiatives“: maybe partly catalysed by the other day’s writing, and my exposition to the meeting of how the wider community needs to reclaim ownership & initiate stuff. I’d like to think that all helped, anyway :-)

Appreciation, criticism & new ideas all welcome...

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