Bring Codethecity to your city

early draft warning – may be mid-edit in parts

Running a codethecity should be fun. Using the resources available in our github repos, and picking our brains as you need to should make it go smoothly.

Here is a 6 week plan for how you can pull together a team, organise sponsorship and venues, publicise to attendees, host the actual event and finally publish the results of your work.

Six weeks isn’t long, but it’s enough time. We promise. Take longer if you like, just double up some weeks.

  • Week 1: Form your team and launch your website
  • Week 2: Set your date, confirm your venue, reach out to sponsors
  • Week 3: Release tickets and attendee promotion
  • Week 4: Preparations and final run up
  • Week 5: The event itself
  • Week 6: The big write up

Anyone can run a codethecity, you don’t need to be ‘official’. You do need to have read, understood, and bought into to the principles we put forward in the CodeTheCity Manifesto.

Week One – The team & website

Your first job is to pull together a team. Who needs to be on that team will vary from city to city, and likely depend on your existig network, but there are some obvious types of people you want to get in touch with.

  • any open data champions in local government / local universities
  • someone from local computing departments at college / university
  • someone actively involved in open source projects
  • someone with some events / logistics experience
  • someone with some degree of marketing experience
  • a designer
  • charity / voluntary sector

Keep your core team small – three or four people works – but create a wider pool who join the organisers mailing list and can lend a hand when needed. The more diverse the group, the better.

Identify who can take responsibility for each of these aspects:

  • Venue
  • Catering
  • Sponsorship
  • Publicity

Having someone lead each of these will ensure that they all get done without causing huge time pressures on any one individual. Everyone can help with all aspects if they want, but having someone in the driving seat for each will help make sure it happens.

Website

Your website matters. It has to be easy to update, simply structured, signpost things like your twitter and github, and work on mobile.
It also needs to look good.

You can grab a template site from our github repo or build your own. You should also grab the header / badge templates to modify to make sure your event looks like part of the codethecity family. Have fun with this. You don’t have to stick to a skyline – pick anything that represents your city. Be careful not to use anything that’s copyrighted. Ideally, use some original artwork you are 100% sure doesn’t infringe anyones rights.

Once your site is up, even just a holding page, let us know and we’ll add you to the codethecity homepage and tweet about it from @codethecity. We can even set you up with a http://springfield.codethecity.org subdomain and a repo in the CodeTheCity github org.

Week Two – Venue, Date and Sponsors

When we did the first codethecity in Aberdeen we went from a discussion about a civic hacking day to having a name, logo, venue, website, and full sponsorship in place within 14 days. We’ve saved you the trouble on the name and logo front.

Week two is the make or break week in many ways. Getting to the end of week two knowing you have a venue, date, sponsorship, meaning that you can now start releasing tickets feels GREAT. So get stuck in.

Date

Before contacting venues you should have two or three weekends in mind for your event. Check your local community calendars (opentechcalendar in UK) for any clashes. You don’t want to run it on the same weekend as a big nearby conference, or on a big holiday weekend.

This way you can be clearer with your questions to venues – they’ll find it much easier to answer about specific dates. Remember to check your teams calendars – and know who has to be there on the weekend.

Venue

You want to try and avoid having to pay for your venue, so get in touch with local government, universities, community centres, and other public spaces. Stress the civic nature of the event, and that you’ll list the venue as a sponsor.

Also contact larger local companies (especially if any of your team work at them) asking if they have rooms that you could use on a weekend.

If you can’t work out a venue for free, try to negotiate a discount and make a provisional booking that you will confirm once sponsorship is in place. The ‘social good’ nature of the event, the fact that it’s not for profit, and that everyone is volunteering should help you negotiate – but they aren’t a guarantee of a discount.

Don’t get hung up on the ideal venue. Functionality is more important than beauty. The key things to consider are:

  • is it easy to get to – good public transport links and plenty of parking?
  • does it have great wifi?
  • is the room flexible, allowing teams to cluster naturally?
  • can you cater in the room? no food policies make this difficult?
  • can you pick a caterer, or are you locked to (often expensive) venue catering?
  • can you stick things to the wall?

Only fully confirm your date when you have a confirmed venue.

Sponsors

Before seeking your sponsors you should have an idea of your budget. Here was the approximate budget we used for codethecity Aberdeen 2014. We planned for 30 attendees, and to keep the catering reasonably low cost per head:

venue 						free, donated by University
Catering 					£700 	
tshirts, laptop stickers & badges		£50

TOTAL						£1,100

So we knew we needed to raise around £1,100.

We created a page for sponsors on codethecity.org. I’d really recommend this, it makes conversations with sponsors much easier to have. This page needs to have a simple structure, to give the potential sponsor the information they need to make a decision.

  • name and date of event
  • two line overview of event
  • information about attendees
  • information about the wider post event audience (this is important)
  • sponsorship packages (this is important)
  • contact details

The sponsorship packages should be realistic, easy to understand, and allow you to run the event if three packages are taken. You should also make it clear that you are open to other ideas, levels, and ways for companies to assist. Here are the packages for the first codethecity:

  • Lead sponsor £500
  • Sponsor £200
  • Supporter £100

By making the lead sponsor £500 we cover half the cost of the event. Also, we cover most of the essential costs. It’s nice to do tshirts but if we don’t raise enough, we can leave them out.

The other levels just give potential sponsors some expectation – they shouldn’t be hard and fast. You might get a sponsor offer to pay for the saturday evening meal, or for coffee, or for tshirts, or offer £50 because that’s all they can do without going through a long process. Great. You don’t need to stick absolutely to the sponsor packages.

One other thing. Many companies have long processes for event sponsorship. If you get a keen sponsor who can’t figure things out in time – suggest that they start now to sponsor the next one in 6 months. Don’t let the enthusiasm die. This also means you get to do another codethecity later. Yay.

Week Three – Tickets & promotion

tickets

You should keep your tickets free. It’s at the core of codethecity that the event should be accessible to a wide group of people. You need enough coders to get things done, and enough community members to keep things on track.

We use eventbrite as it’s free to use for free tickets. You should make it as easy as possible to register – try to avoid overly complex ticketing setups.

Promotion

It’s important to get news of your event out to the community. It’s important to get noticed by coders – but it’s also important that you get other folk along too. The vital domain knowledge that makes CodeTheCity different comes from people from community groups, charities, local government (they often control a lot of the data you’d like to use), etc…

If you don’t have contacts in these groups already then reach out. Our experience has been tremendously positive, with people very quickly realising what the event is about, and that the people involved are doing it for the right reasons.

Look to find the main mailing lists and websites locally for these communities and approach them early. Don’t assume that twitter and facebook are enough. You’ll need to pick up the phone.

Week Four – the run up

In the run up to the event you need to make sure a few things happen:

  • people register, and commit to come along
  • any guest speakers can be found
  • finalise catering details
  • finalise sponsorship details

You also need to prepare your materials for the weekend. Have a look in the CodeTheCity GitHub for ideas of the kind of things it can be useful to print out. Posters, worksheets, other helpful bits and pieces.

Keep pushing the event on twitter. You might book out very quickly, you might have to push a little harder.

Send emails to your attendees in the run up to remind them that they signed up (seriously, people forget) and to ask them questions about food, what they are interested in working on etc… This helps boost turn out, and helps people to get started early as they have been thinking about the event in the run up.

The room

Preparing your room to feel like a hack space is important. There is a series of posters in the wiki that you can customise to feature your sponsors and city logo. They are a good way to make the space feel active before people arrive. Print them A3 in colour if you can.

Buy a big bag of sweets / candy and some crisps / chips. Sugar and carbs are important. Also have plenty bottled water and soft drinks around. This makes the room feel more friendly and accomodating.

Having a table covered with paper, persona templates, other service design tools, pens, stattys, etc… also really helps people to get started working.

Getting all this prepared in the run up to the event makes things so much easier to set up on the day, it really is worth it.

Goodie bags

Goodie bags are optional, but can be a good way to welcome people and set the tone of the event. At the first CodeTheCity our goody bag had:

  • sharpie
  • stattys
  • artefact cards
  • small A5 notebooks
  • event stickers
  • sponsor stickers
  • sponsor pen
  • event badge
  • event tshirt
  • sponsor jelly beans
  • sponsor flyers
  • sponsor tea

That’s quite a lot. Having the sharpies, the stattys and the artefact cards was really useful in terms of getting people qorking quickly.

Survey

Doing a survey ahead of the event can help you to gauge the attendance, and to know what kind of people to expect. We asked:

  • Please let us know if you have special dietary requirements.
  • Please check any skills that you have. (Selection of coder, designer, service designer, photographer, writer, illustrator…)
  • Areas of Interest. E.g. “open data”, “social mobility”, “transport”
  • Vocation / Job / Sector / Passion – or “what do you do all day?”

A low response rate might warn you that you will have a low attendance. If a majority identify as writer with few coders, you should start thinking how this will impact what you tackle.

Week Five – the event itself

This guide is long enough already – so head over to the example schedule for full details of an example schedule for running the two days of your weekend.

The keys to success seem to be:

  • post the schedule online and on the wall
  • read it out to the group every now and then
  • be strict with food timings – people like to know when they will be fed
  • be flexible with everything else, let people get on with things
  • be available to attendees, don’t get tied into your own hack

Inclusiveness

Make sure no one gets stranded without a team. Talk to them, find out what they are interested in, and introduce them to people. A room full of people you don’t know can be intimidating, it’s your job as organiser to welcome attendees and help them to get the most out of the day. Don’t just hang out with your chums, or hide behind your keyboard.

Volunteer Scribes

Scribes are awesome. Scribe is a great role at CodeTheCity.

At the first CodeTheCity in Aberdeen we asked for volunteers to help with documenting the work the teams produced. This was incredibly effective. I cheekily called them our scribes. Sarah, Erin and Rowan did a great job of taking photos, blogging activity, interviewing teams and updating twitter during the event. This allowed the teams to keep focussed on their work, and ensured our off site observers got a real feel for what was going on.

Things to capture:

  • general atmosphere shots
  • post-it walls
  • sketches
  • paper prototypes
  • team photos (well tagged / described)
  • the food

Use the #hashtag consistently, and give them passwords to your twitter / tumblr / etc… so scribes can work quickly. Agree the core platforms, but if they prefer to blog on their own blog sometimes, that’s fine. Using a service like eventifier helps to archive this flow of content, but isn’t essential.

Week Six – the write up

If you’ve been smart through the weekend your wiki will be full of information, notes, links to projects etc… and your flickr will be stuffed full of photos of participants, prototypes and walls of stattys. Your youtube may also be full of participant interview videos, and guest presentations.

To ensure this happens ask for volunteers to help document things through the weekend. Some of your attendees will likely be keen bloggers / photographers / videographers. Give them access to your channels and wiki to get things flowing.

You should aim to produce some or all of the following after the event:

  • final list of projects
  • final brief write up of each project, including it’s origin story and finishing state
  • links to any external sources, flickr, github wiki etc…
  • reach out to project teams where you’ve implemented or extended an existing project

Collecting these on the homepage of your event website is a good way to make sure people find them. Also add them to the codethecity wiki so that other cities can see what you worked on.

You can also consider if there are any of your projects that could find a home on any of these sites:

Oh, and write a few thankyou emails.

Week Seven

Start planning a follow up event to capitalise on all the lovely excitement and enthusiasm you just helped bring together.

Happy hacking!