European Community Weekend 2014 retrospective

by blob2 min read29th Apr 201424 comments


Postmortems & Retrospectives
Personal Blog

So finally - with two weeks distance to the first European LessWrong Community Weekend - we want to share the organizers’ perception of the event, including a short overview of what went well, what did not and what exceeded our expectations.

First and foremost we thank all the participants and speakers for helping us in making this such a great weekend. We had an incredible time and are very happy everything worked out as well as it did. In our opinion the event was a great success! Meeting everyone was excellent and we look forward to running a similar yet improved event in the future.

One of the awesome things about the event were the group dynamics. The general feeling was that the participants were open and had a generally positive attitude towards each other. Even some people who usually prefer to avoid crowds expressed that it was a safe place to try different things and to improve their social skills.

Two things that strongly supported the pervasive feeling of community and friendship were the extraordinarily high frequency of hugs and the cheerful sentiment of the LessWrong study hall people that spilled over to the Community Weekend participants.

We wanted to encourage hugging by letting people put a “accepting hugs as a form of greeting” sticker on their extended name tags. To our surprise it was adopted by a huge majority and had an immense effect on social interactions by creating an atmosphere of familiarity. One story about this (anonymously shared in the post event survey) reads:

“OMFGWTF Yay Hugs sticker :D The social protocol that cuddly people are generally free to hug each other as much as they want pretty much blew my mind. I got two orders of magnitude more hugs than I usually do, and I loved it.”

The workshop presentations strongly engaged the audience and made us all participants. While this was a great thing in itself the downside was that the time planning for most of the speakers didn’t work out. It cost us a considerable fraction of the planned 30min breaks between talks. The lesson learned: reserve way more time for questions than usual when talking to a LW crowd and actively moderate, too.

A lot of people (including us) noticed that this way the talks took too much of the time meant for discussion and socializing. Building new connections between the LWers of Europe and strengthening existing ones was the main focus of the event. A lot of this happened in the evenings when people just went to a park to play ultimate frisbee or to climb trees and learn partner acrobatics.

The wide range of topics and and the high quality of discussions in general was amazing. One especially notable case is a socratic dialogue that emerged from one of the the group discussions on the first evening. The depth of discussion and the clear thinking we achieved was amazing. The moderator of the discussion will write a detailed post on the specifics soon.

Our estimations of the number of interested LWers were way too pessimistic. Even our 90% confidence intervals fell short of the actual number of participants signing up. While we were able to increase the size of the event beyond the planned maximum by 25% we still had to reject many applications.

Organizing this event was a great experience for us and we intend to do this again. We have learned a lot and got great feedback: The next event will be even more awesome, with more time and space for discussions and and social activities. We have already started planning and preparing the bigger and better:

+++ European LessWrong Community Weekend 2015 +++

Our hope is that this will become a regular event providing a meeting and socializing space for the LWers in Europe. Other groups around Europe already showed interest in hosting similar events so that it might be alternating between cities in the future.

Upcoming posts to look out for:

  • The date for the European LessWrong Community Weekend 2015 will be announced by August (at latest)
  • We are currently evaluating the results of the post-event survey and will post an overview somewhen in the next two weeks. (it’s still possible to take part in the survey and have your opinion considered if you haven't done so yet)

Looking forward to seeing you again
John, Tristan, Alexander, Matthias, Christian… & everyone else from the Berlin LessWrong meetup