WordCamp Europe 2024 and its less-is-more approach: Q&A with lead organizer Wendie Huis in ‘t Veld

WordCamp Europe 2024 lead organizer Wendie Huis in ‘t Veld shares how this year’s event has fully embraced transparency, simplicity, and diversity.

The world’s largest WordCamp has come a long way since the first event in Leiden, The Netherlands, in 2013. Back then, only 750 people attended. This year, organizers anticipate it will be the largest in-person WordCamp ever, with 3,000 people expected to descend on Torino, Italy, from June 13-15.

The organizing team has taken a less-is-more approach to programming, with half as many sessions as last year, and rather than look outside the WordPress community for keynote speakers, it has called on big names within the community instead.

The team has also shaken off past criticisms of the diversity of its team and programming. The speaker lineup is the event’s most diverse to date, thanks to an early investment in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging training for all 70+ members of its team.

We spoke with Wendie about how the organizing team has learned from past experiences and why the European Parliament’s patronage of the event is a big deal.

Q: WordCamp Europe is now in its 12th year. What was the organizing team’s vision for this year’s event?

WH: Our vision wasn’t very different from any other year, but it was clear. We wanted to create an amazing event, always looking for ways to improve. We have focused on being transparent and open, and we keep circling back to those principles.

One of the most important things for us was to make sure organizing was fun. We didn’t want it to be a drag for our organizers who all work really hard.

Q: WordCamp Europe is in its 12th year now. Does the organizing team spend much time reflecting on past events? How do you keep things fresh and evolving?

WH: We do and we don’t. Our organizing team always aims to strike a good balance between experienced and new organizers who bring fresh perspectives and ideas.

There’s been a conversation in the wider community about the new style of WordCamp events. WordCamp Europe aims to bring the European community together. We want to do the big-scope talks because we have attendees from diverse backgrounds with different focuses. While it’s impossible to cater to everyone perfectly, we try to ensure there’s something for everyone, which can make it harder to innovate.

But the formula works. One significant change this year was reducing the number of talks and workshops from over 100 last year to just over 50. Last year, it was just too much. We were more selective about the program content because we knew the number of slots was very limited.

This change isn’t just for the organizers but also for the attendees. Can you imagine having to choose between six workshops and talks every hour? It resulted in some talks having very few attendees, and we don’t want our speakers to present to just 10 people. By making the program more dense, attendees have fewer options but can make decisions more easily. There are still several sessions to choose from, but it’s less overwhelming.

And, of course, there’s always the hallway track, there’s a huge area this year where you can start conversations. So we are hoping that the tracks will be more filled this year.

Overall, we hope this approach stops attendees from feeling overwhelmed with all the options and improves their experience. 

Q: The largest in-person WordCamp Europe event was in 2019, with 2,734 attendees. Is the organizing team looking to grow the event beyond 3,000 people?

WH: We’ve discussed it, but growing beyond 3,000 attendees presents significant logistical challenges. You have to organize so much more. The venue needs to be different. The food is a lot of hassle if you want to go bigger and bigger. 

We’re not aiming to reach 5,000 or 10,000 people; our goal is to create a community event that brings the WordPress communities of Europe together. Right now, 3,000 attendees, or 3,000 tickets sold, seems like a good number that we can manage and handle with our current means. 

Larger events would require more sponsorships or larger contributions from existing sponsors and would put additional pressure on our volunteer organizers. Finding €2 million to organize an event is a huge job, and we don’t want to put our organizers through that.

Q: This year’s event feels different in the lead-up, especially compared to the past two years. There’s been controversy in the past about diversity, but this year’s speaker lineup is the most diverse yet and has been welcomed by DEIB advocates. What’s changed? 

WH: Before diving in, I want to emphasize that previous years also aimed to create an inclusive event. Each year, we learn from the past and build on that knowledge.

From the outset, our lead organizers, including Takis (Bouyouris), Juan (Hernando), and myself, along with all team leads, made a commitment to transparency. We address issues openly and honestly, which I believe has helped. 

This year, we started organizing early for good reasons – we actively aimed to get a big and diverse pool of speakers, and we managed to attract 500 applications. This was an amazing number and gave us the opportunity to create a schedule representative of the community pool of speakers.

Early on, we invested in a diversity, inclusion, and belonging expert to run a series of workshops for the entire organizing team. This opened up important conversations. This expert facilitated interactive sessions and helped us explore what diversity means and how to achieve it. This softened our approach and made us more specific about the diversity we aimed for and how to implement it. The success of this year is a culmination of lessons learned from previous years.

We also decided to present all the speakers at once rather than in small batches. Yeah, it takes away the excitement of, “Oh, who’s coming next?” But this approach made things easier for the team and it’s helpful for attendees as well because they know right away who are the people they can expect and the talks they can expect. 

Q: This year, WordCamp Europe has been granted patronage by the European Parliament. Can you explain its significance?

WH: The patronage validates our event as important for Europeans, aligning with European Union values. It enhances our legitimacy, aids in fundraising, and might simplify future visa applications. 

Laura, one of our local organizers, initially sought patronage from the city of Torino, specifically Turismo Torino, which we were successful in receiving. Someone within our team also suggested seeking European Parliament patronage, which we achieved. This recognition, received shortly before this year’s event, will be even more impactful next year.

Patronage is a way that the European Parliament grants moral support to a select number of quality, non-profit events that have a clear European dimension. The way I view it, it’s like a badge of honor from the European Parliament saying, “Hey, this is a cool event that contributes to the values that we as Europeans hold highly – like inclusion, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination.” So getting its patronage really feels like a great endorsement of our efforts. We’re still learning how to leverage this endorsement fully, but it’s very exciting.

Q: How are you continuing to refine processes to make volunteering easier?

WH: Big kudos to last year’s team—they started working on this. They began using P2s, a project management and blogging tool on WordPress.com, and all the teams made a great start by writing handbooks. These handbooks outline all the tasks for each team, which gave this year’s team a big head start. Previously, the information was in Google Drive, but the new team couldn’t access it due to privacy concerns. Now, with the handbooks, everything is documented: what needs to be done, in what order, and what to consider before starting tasks. It’s all reproducible and insightful, and everyone has access to all teams’ P2s. You don’t need to know every detail, but if you need information, it’s there.

Another change we made this year was shortening our update meetings from an hour to 30 minutes. Instead of long updates, teams post their updates on P2 before the weekly team leads meeting. This way, we can focus on important topics during the meeting. It has worked better some weeks more than others but aiming for 30-minute meetings has helped us focus on the highlights.

We also did a few town halls to boost team spirit. We had one just last week, the last one before WordCamp Europe. For day-to-day communication, Slack is working well. The communications team did a massive job moving a lot of our communications to a newsletter tool. Now, we have specific lists for attendees, speakers, volunteers, and organizers, so we can communicate directly with them. Instead of hoping people see updates on social media, we can email them directly. Steve (Mosby) and the team did a fantastic job setting up a continuum of newsletters with updates, including our venue visits. This is a huge progress that will benefit next year’s team and beyond.

Q: Finally, what session are you most looking forward to at WordCamp Europe this year?

WH: The after party. Yeah, no doubt about it… Because it’s all over and you get to relax.

Other than that, it has been a great experience and I’m super proud of the team. I am so impressed with all the work that everyone is doing, and it’s just heartwarming to see how this all is coming together, especially in these last couple of weeks. It’s like you have all these different teams and all these moving parts, and you can see it because, as a lead organizer, you’re trying to keep an overview, and then in the end, you’re like, “Ah, it is becoming one event. Yay!”


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