Summary: Sometimes, your regular organizer catches the pandemic, or moves to the bay, or has a newborn, or does a bunch of sketchy stuff, or just doesn’t have time anymore. If the usual organizers suddenly weren’t around, would your community be able to keep going? 

Tags: Investment 

Purpose: This is a test run at organizing your local community if for some reason the usual organizers aren’t available, and it should both test that the community can continue and also level up some attendees into organizers. 

Materials: This test is open book, open notes, and open internet. Bring whatever you want. 

Announcement Text: “Lets find out if this community would keep running if the usual organizers stepped away from it.

There’s a concept in business called “Bus Factor.” It describes how many people are crucial to your organization, such that if you lose them (say, if they were hit by a bus tomorrow) your business would be in trouble. Well, we’re going to have the people who organize things sit in a room available to answer questions as someone new sets up a meetup. If it works, then there’s at least one more person who can run things. If it doesn’t work, then we will have learned something.

If you’ve ever wondered how the sausage gets made, or if you’ve had an idea for a meetup but haven’t run one before, come on in!"

Description: Oops It’s Time To Overthrow the Organizer Day has, at its core, only two rules.

1. You must schedule and run a meetup.

2. Nobody who has already run a meetup is allowed to do it. 

There is one extra rule used purely for score keeping.

3. Your score is the number of attendees attending the next meetup minus the number of times the usual organizers answered questions. 

All other rules and instructions are secondary. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your movement through to running a good meetup.

With that in mind, here is the suggested format for Oops It’s Time To Overthrow the Organizer Day!

However many usual organizers are available sit together in the centre of the room. They should make themselves comfortable, and bring something to entertain themselves that can easily be paused or put down. Everyone else sits around them with whatever notes, documents, or communication devices they want.

We’ll call the usual organizers “The Establishment” and everyone else “The Usurpers.” (You don’t have to call them that, but it makes it easier to refer to. Also, these titles amuse me.) Anyone who has run a meetup in the last year counts as The Establishment.

The Establishment, in particular whoever organized this meetup, should explain the rules and goals of Oops Its Time To Overthrow the Organizer Day! Then they should sit down and stop helping. From here on, it’s The Usurpers’ job to organize themselves. They are trying to set up the next meetup of your group. They can ask The Establishment questions but The Establishment should not directly do anything. They cannot rely on The Establishment's resources; if your group typically meets in one of The Establishment's apartments or The Establishment generally brings most of the board games, those aren't available.

Establishment, you should feel comfortable stating that some questions will cost extra points. In particular, questions that attempt to circumvent the part about you not doing things should be penalized or refused, for example “What words would you write in the announcement text, verbatim?” I would advise outright refusing giving specific knowledge such as “What is the password to the admin account for the email list?” but it might be worth you taking notes on what information would be needed in the event you left and to set up distribution or dead-man's switches after. It’s up to you how helpful or difficult to be.

Usurpers, you should avail yourself of existing resources. Kaj’s How To Run A Successful Less Wrong Meetup, the Meetups In A Box sequence, Nikita's Easy Guide and other such documents don’t cost points to use. You should also feel perfectly free to copy previous meetups The Establishment has run. If you copy their announcement text, announce in the same places they did, and get the same number of attendees, you should consider that a victory.

Oops It's Time To Overthrow The Organizer Day doesn't need to take any longer than the Usurpers feel that it has to. More than usual, you all should feel free to spend time socializing or to run another impromptu meetup while you're already all here. 

Variations: The default method of point scoring cares only about attendance at the Usurper's meetup and questions the Usurpers asked. Another option is to attempt to minimize time spent planning. In this variation, start a stopwatch when Oops It's Time To Overthrow The Organizers Day begins. The Usurpers also lose one point for every ten minutes that pass. (Adjust the time to penalty conversion to taste.) On the one hand, this could lead to extra stress and unnecessary mistakes. On the other hand, any group that gets scheduling a new meetup down to ten minutes is better situated to schedule new meetups quickly and easily. 

You certainly could survey attendees and score the Usurpers based on how their meetups compare to the Establishment along any number of metrics. I would discourage that. Don't feel a need to over-complicate things and beware Goodhart's Law.

Notes: I recommend this not be one of the first events a new founded group runs, but it might be interesting for a visiting organizer to try this in a city without regular events. Under most circumstances, I believe every group should run some variation on this event at least once a year.

A better scoring system might use attendance for the next two meetups. If the Usurpers run a terrible meetup, they might get good attendance from people used to The Establishment meetups, and then the meetup after that drops in attendance as people realize it’s not as good. In practice I don’t think you need to take the scoring system that seriously, as attendance itself is more of a proxy for harder to measure quality anyway.

There are a few dials you can turn to make things easier or harder. You can do this with zero Establishment input. You can do this assuming that all infrastructure (any email lists, meetup groups, or even LessWrong itself) are down. You could also relax who counts as Establishment: it might be easier to only count people who ran a meetup within the last six months, or three months, or even one month. You can allow people from outside your local community, such as asking someone from New York for advice if you live in Boston.

If nobody who hasn’t already run a meetup shows up to this event and you only have a couple of organizers, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your community is doomed if the existing organizers burned out or left but it’s not a good sign. If you get a decent crowd of people but everyone has run a meetup, I salute your community. You have achieved the goal of this event.

Lastly, one might point out that The Establishment is hardly "overthrown" just because different people ran one meetup. Most groups I'm aware of don't have that much formal structure. If you do have bylaws or a governance structure, this can be an excellent time to make a new draft or version, and also an excellent time to evaluate whether you need one. 

Credits: This is a synthesis of Eleizer Yudkowsky’s “Oops It’s Time To Overthrow The Government day” holiday from dath ilan and Raemon’s “Melting Gold” post.

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5 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:08 AM

I consider doing this for the upcoming ACX meeting in Hamburg. The data is not yet sent to Mingyuan. It is a small meetup, so the risk is low. The question is: How do the Usurpers get to know about it? Do I send a mail to the usual suspects linking to this post and then wait? Ten upvotes and I will try it.

I wrote this with the assumption that there's an existing meetup with an existing organizer. (See the first paragraph in Notes.) If that's the case, then the existing organizer can run this event the same way they'd usually run any others. In Boston we usually post events to a facebook group, so I'd announce this to the group as "Hey, I'm running an event at this time and place, the event is titled Oops Its Time To Overthrow The Organizer Day, drinks and snacks will be provided." The Usurpers know about it because The Establishment invites them and explains the goal.

I don't think I'd run it during an ACX Everywhere meetup; you'll have people who aren't particularly involved in the community and just came for some conversation. Maybe run it as the second or third event after the ACX meetup?

That said, I'm not going to stop you from running the experiment, and if you do I'd be curious to know how it goes. . .

I have decided against trying the usurper thing with this meetup.

  1. This is an amazing idea
  2. Right now might be a very bad time to do it.
  3. Measures should be taken to make sure that, if it doesn't happen now, it will happen in a few months. Such as having half a dozen people simultaneously set a notification for december, and also tell themselves "it's december, I'm going to schedule a rogue meetup" in case the notification itself fails to fire or make itself reasonably noticeable.

. . . You know, I hadn't considered that people would assume this should be done today, on the day I posted it. I totally should have. I've been humming along writing meetups-in-boxes assuming local organizers would run them on their own local schedules, basically planning for this to be evergreen content. Obviously in hindsight this one would look different if you just saw it on the front page.

Why is right now a bad time to do it? Seems ideal to me. Neither of the Solstice are close, ACX everywhere and EAGx are about to flood most communities. I think it's the perfect time to give existing organizers a couple weeks off.