I think we need to have more discussion of meetup tactics on LW. At my local meetup, we've been feeling a bit lost about what works best, so I hereby propose that we have semi-regular meetup tactics discussions like the open and quotes threads.
So here's a few questions to start us off:
- What activities or topics of discussion have been particularly productive? What is not?
- Have fun adventurous things like hiking or climbing worked?
- What is your opinion on the purpose of the meetups? Is it about community? Additional discussion and learning? Practice?
- Is it a good idea to have different types of meetup (discussion night, fun day, social, ???), or should everything be scheduled into regular meetups?
- What things have worked for building community? There should have been some community disasters by now as well, what caused them?
- What has worked for actual practice and leveling up? What hasn't?
- What topics produce good discussions? How much structure should discussions have?
- How does your meetup get more people to come out (recruitment, attendance, etc). What works, what doesn't work?
- What untested ideas do you have for any of the above?
First off, thank you for this post. The Ohio meetup group is also new, and working on building our membership and activity level. I will probably make a number of posts on the various topics brought up here, instead of one big one. I'll start with ideas for helping new people acclimate to the LW memeplex and culture.
We have talked individually with people we've brought to meetups in order to get their opinions and reactions from the experience. We have also made a thread in our google group for newcomer reactions. Using this information, we have come up with the following ideas:
First, new people are most likely to be confused, and least likely to feel comfortable interrupting in order to ask for clarification. For our next meetup I am bringing weighted handkerchiefs that could be thrown onto the center of the table to signal "I'm lost! Please back up and explain!". This is much easier to do than verbally interrupting, and wouldn't carry the same negative stigma. Especially if we made a silly show of it to make it seem fun and amusing, and not rude and scary. Also, we would make sure to demonstrate this action-reaction at the beginning of the meetup (i.e "Look! We all think it's great fun when the handkerchief(s) get thrown!"). The hope is that new people will be more likely to participate, and get clarification when needed.
Also, one of our members is working on a brochure to serve as a Less Wrong primer of sorts (it has many of the terms we use when having a discussion such as "taboo the word"). I won't link to it here, because I don't know if he considers it ready for general consumption yet, but next time I see him, I'll mention this thread.
We have considered hosting a local website, as mentioned by nyan_sandwich below. I think this is a great idea, and fully support anyone who wants to work on the $location.lesswrong.com concept.
Salt Lake City, UT group. Also new.
I like your handkerchief idea, I would probably feel more comfortable bringing some newer friends to talk if there was something like this in place. Thank you for sharing.
In Toronto, our average attendance has shrunk a bit, at least partially due to some of our regulars being busy with school/work, and others dropping out of sight for no given reason. We also haven't done anything in particular to connect with other like-minded groups or recruit new attendees - we have seen some new faces now and again..
Generally, casual, no-stated-purpose get-togethers have had between 3 to over a dozen attendees. Well-attended meet-ups also included focused discussions (on, for example, nuclear power just after Fukushima), and games (Paranoid Debating, Gnomic, board games).
Our least well-attended meets were for indoor rock climbing.
Currently, we do alternating weeks of casual meets and Singularity-focused discussions, which is working well for us.
So far, we've been disaster-free.
I'd regard our Toronto meetups as something of a "null" result. No disasters, nothing spectacular yet either. Singularity discussions are a new thing so too early to say how they'll play out (I think we've had 3 so far?). Lack of attempt to connect with like-minded groups I think can only be explained by akrasia.
Also, pretty much 100% male.
We have a core group of 11 regulars, plus some newcomers who may or may not become regulars. Having a decently-sized core group, means that we typically get newcomers from our pre-existing social networks (roommates, brothers, friends, etc), especially since we tend to hang out with other rationalist types anyways.
Our worry, in fact, is that we can't get too many new people involved at once, or it would change the dynamic so that we'd no longer be an explicitly LW group (i.e. if there were 2 new people for every LWer).
Something I've noticed is that the gender ratio at the meetups seem to be vastly better than the gender ratio on this site. (Latest big Yvain poll has 8% women, whereas our meetups always have about 33.3% women). I am very curious as to whether this trend is specific to our group, or whether this is true at meetups in general. I would be very appreciative if people responded with their own experiences with gender ratios at meetups.
Why I think this is: A recent survey showed that women were much more likely than men to find LW or HPMoR through social recommendations (such as friends). (Henceforth is anecdotal evidence) Also, from personal discussions, I've found that the women in our group have expressed a preference for learning about rationality in a social setting (such as the meetups) rather than reading a bunch of impersonal blog posts.
I think we are lucky in that our group has a handful of people who can at least fake extroversion. It seems important that there is at least one extroverted (or faux extroverted) person per meetup, to keep conversation going, keep people engaged, etc. From what it sounds like to me, meetups are much less smooth and more awkward when they lack this. I would also be interested in other people's experience either way with this.
Gender ratios at the DC meetup tend to hover around 20% female, based on just thinking back to the last few meetups. Of them, most are there with their SO; we have three couples who show up together pretty regularly.
Thanks for reminding me - we've actually had a very poor M:F ratio - we currently have no female regulars. We've had a few people bring their SO - we had one couple show up regularily, but they moved to a different city.
This has worried me as well, and is why we havn't been fishing randoms from everywhere.
The only female attending ours is my wife. I guess it varies a lot.
hmm. we have no extroverts and have regular awkward moments and rough flow sometimes, but we've all agreed that awkward silences don't have to be considered awkward. That has helped some.
I suspect that you are asking for answers to wrong questions from a wrong crowd.
If you want to find out why people do not show up, you ought to ask those who do not show up, not those who do, otherwise it is just guesswork.
And the question you probably want to ask is "You learned that there is a LW meetup in your area, but you decided not to participate. Do you remember what went through your mind when you made this decision?"
I don't see how asking lesswrong people about what has and hasn't worked is the wrong approach. We have very little discussion of that topic here and I think we need more.
We are asking people the question you suggest, but that's not really what this thread is about. Anyways, I'll ask you to start. IIRC you are from vancouver, and your reason for not coming to our meetups is something about us being to young. Can you elaborate on that and what we could do to make you feel more welcome?
Since you asked... From what I recall, my issues were, beside the apparent age difference, scheduling conflicts, low-interest announced topics of discussion, loss of (real or perceived) anonymity, and maybe a faint negative vibe from some of the members' posts/comments on LW.
Are you at least on the list? If you're interested in coming to the meetups, I'm sure we could work out a schedule and topics of discussion that work for everyone.
I participated in a couple of Helsinki meetups, but the atmosphere didn't grab me - it was mostly geeky, slightly awkward discussion about geeky topics. Nothing that I couldn't find plenty of elsewhere. (Any Helsinki meetup attendees reading this shouldn't take it personally. I'm not blaming anyone who was present - I'll be the first to admit that I probably contributed to that atmosphere as much as anyone else.)
Was there anything in particular you were hoping to get more of?
Not sure. The reports of the NYC meetup group might have inflated my expectations, but maybe more of a feeling of being at ease and being able to let down my guard. I acknowledge that I was only in a couple of meetups, and that isn't much time for such a feeling to develop, but I do remember hanging out in groups that put me at ease from pretty much the first time around.
If you want more people to show up and you don't mind if they're just random folks interested in rationality but not familiar with less wrong, you could try making a meetup.com group to advertise your meetups there–there seem to be a fair number of people who browse that site looking for meetups to attend.
Thanks for recommending this site. I found a quantified self meetup that looks interesting in itself and may possibly be a place to recruit for our fledgling rationality meetups in brussels
Good idea. Has anyone tried it?
I think I'll try that anyways.
We tried it recently in Ottawa and it approximately doubled the size of our local network. Only a few people have actually come out to the single meetup we've held since, but I'd say it was worth doing.
Local universities and colleges are a fertile ground for people interested in both rational decision making and existential risks. Posting a note in a place like the UBC SUB is bound to net you a few hits. To make it easier for people to check out your website, use a 2D barcode they can scan with their cell camera. Make sure the front page of the site has a mobile-friendly version and contains a perfect elevator pitch for what you want to convey.
Good idea with the universities.
So do you think individual meetups should maintain a website? I think a mailing list is enough, but would like to hear more arguments.
My guess is that there should be a well-maintained blog of the "local chapter of LW" and a quality landing page. Mailing list is so 1980s.
I wonder if LW could do something about that. It might be useful to pool work between meetups so that we don't all have to maintain our own stuff.
like I'm thinking $location.lesswrong.com would be the site for a meetup at $location. Hosting and back-end stuff would be managed centrally with lesswrong.
Some of the NYC meetup leaders have went to other meetup.com groups scouting for potential members, tactics, and crowds to draw from.
It worked well, if I recall correctly? Not sure though.
The most productive discussion so far has been about Thinking Fast and Slow. Our de facto guy-in-charge put an overview on a whiteboard and linked to some LW posts about the book beforehand, so I was able to follow the conversation despite not having read the book. But it's too early to really tell what's working and what's just the excitement of a new group starting up.
The purpose of the meetups I hope is to a) meet sane people who can become good friends, b) push each other to become better thinkers, and c) coordinate projects. Building community is good for a. and b., b. and c. are good for practice and learning.
I would note that passing around a textbook does not appear to be that great a method of group study. Probably would work better to assign someone to do a presentation on a chapter or two and then pass it to the next guy.
Great idea for a post. Unfortunately, there's no meetup in my area (Knoxville), and worse, there are very few aspiring rationalists to begin with. But I've often wished there were a meetup.
One thing that I've thought might be good at a meetup would be a game of Resistance.
The Wikipedia description probably provides a more concise and accurate description of the game than I could provide, so I'd recommend reading it if you'd like to understand my recommendation.
Because of the advantages over games like Mafia, Resistance becomes much more about game theory than about pure luck. It requires thinking on several levels, especially by the spies, who must choose whether or not they want to sabotage the mission, exposing themselves, or let it succeed, and let the resistance score a point. I haven't been in a position to play it too much, but when I have, it's always been good for rationalist training.