The lesson of the Esperantists' conferences

Spend any time with Esperantists and you discover how important conferences — kongresoj — are. I think it’s because the community is so small that it helps to have intentional times together. That, and since one of the language’s selling points is your ability to speak with people from other countries through a non-national auxillary language, international travel is a frequent option. Little wonder that the word for registration form shows up on beginners’ wordlists.

No doubt due to the lack of sponsors, the likely fact that most attendees pay their own way and the long duration of conferences (perhaps due to custom — Esperantists have been doing this for more than a century — and the long distances traveled) great attention is made to keep costs down.

Discounts routinely go to the young, persons from particular sets of countries and early registrants.  The lodging costs are often very low — with comforts to match. Room-sharing is routine, and camping and floor-space accommodation (bring your sleeping bag) are well-known. Meal plans are common, and a vegetarian option is a given. Some conferences allow for cooking, and I even noted a United States conference info page that tacitly apologized for this option not being possible.

It’s possible to have a private room with a private bath. There are sometimes banquets and very often day trips. There’s little to help the cost of very long distance travel. One can spend money (and donate money to help offset others’ costs) but a conference trip, doubling as a modest and interesting vacation, is kept as affordable as possible.

A couple of examples. The Universala Kongresothe big international conference at the end of July this year — is in Copenhagen: a very expensive city. A 29-year old attendee from Poland, who is already a member of the Universala Esperanto-Asocio, registering before last December 31, would have paid €60 for the 8-day conference. Even my late-registering, non-UAE-joining, forty-something United State citizen self would only pay €300, which doesn’t seem unfair for occasion.  The whole conference in a college dorm share with one other is €190. No word about self-catering.

Or you can go to the Christian (mainly Protestant) Esperantist conference (PDF, in Esperanto, of course) the week following in the spa town of Poděbrady, Czech Republic. Our early booking Polish friend would get this 8-day conference for €160, shared room, meals and (perhaps) day trip included.

This is a long way around to saying that there’s nothing wrong about counting pennies when putting together a conference if it means more people can attend. I’m thinking of the next General Assembly. My first was was in Charlotte. I got the young adult rate, a shared room (thanks I think to Joseph Lyons) but had to live on vending-machine Cokes for three days because there were no grocery stores within walking distance and the restaurants were full and expensive. (I think the area is more built up now and in any case there’s a light rail system that did not then exist.) One dear minister — no longer with us on Earth — bought me lunch, under the excuse I’m sure of examining my interest in the ministry. It’s largely because of the experiences at the 1993 General Assembly that you have me today. So when I organized a seminarians’ breakfast the next year in Fort Worth, I found a place that everyone could afford, even if it wasn’t fancy.

Costs matter if people matter.



Camp model not magic, but can make a very good meeting

Please excuse the bloggy silence this weekend — and the bragging to follow. My employer, the Sunlight Foundation, hosted this weekend TransparencyCamp 2011, organized on the highly participatory “unconference” or “camp” model. And it came off very well, if I do say so. I’m very proud of my colleagues and incredibly inspired by the work the participants are doing to make open, transparency and participatory government in the United States and around the world.

Campers crowd session wall
"Campers crowd session wall" CC-BY-NC-SA sunlight foundation. Photo: Nicko Margolies

A word for a moment about the mode of organizing conferences like this. Because there is no theme speaker, nor an invited roster of presenters — indeed, apart from a publicly-chosen first round of speakers, the sessions were promoted and space assigned on-site — you may hear the camp model of organizing meetings described as easy or self-organizing. That’s not true. It takes a lot of dedicated and constant effort to secure and maintain the space, the food, the facilities (wifi is vital), keeping the meetings moving and on schedule and putting out fires, large and small. (Pizza is OK, but better food takes a lot more effort. A small camp is much easier to manage than a large camp and so on.)

A better way to describe the camp model of meetings is that they are challenging but possible for a quality experience that, with the same staff and resources in a traditional convention model would be overwhelming and impossible.

And so it is noteworthy for those planning meetings for church-related organizations. And I’ve been to enough of them an traditional conferences to know I like the camps better.

Interested? Here’s one model and here’s another [ah can’t find what I indended — for later]. This is one way (that needs a different name in a church context) to share information within a camp and this is another.

Reading roundup: August 16

Whew — five days without a blog post. I’ve been ill and Hubby and I are buying a condo, so you’ll excuse my absence. Working on a couple of larger posts, but I’ve also been reading widely and found a few things of interest on the ‘net worth sharing in the meantime.

I don’t follow 304 blog- and news-feeds for nothing. (And if you use Google Reader and would like to share your finds with me, let me know. And then there’s Delicious, where I keep my links (rather than storing bookmarks in the browser.)

Now on for the highlights:

  • Ben Myers (Faith and Theology) quotes Rowan Williams, in a way that makes him sound universalist. Worth a look at the source, and a reminder that he was a brilliant theologian before being such a disappointing Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • Church Marketing Sucks lauds a church for abandoning its weekly bulletin. (But I can’t help think how generations managed with hymnals and hymn boards, plus announcements.)
  • Treehugger reports how Western e-waste — ostensibly second-hand electronics — ends up dumped in Ghana, causing ecological mayhem. Another reason to carefully consider that upgrade, and to reconsider repurposing old electronics. Or at the very least to dispose of electronics through your local collection procedures, so their hazardous materials may be recovered.
  • Oh, and the August 10 front page of Anglicans Online — one of the few Anglican/Episcopalian resources I can manage any more — argues for stewardship (“thrift even!”) in our nonlocal meetings. Gives us Unitarian Universalists room to think before the next round of district meetings and General Assembly.

And two blogs you should read:

  1. Love libraries (librarians?) media and data? See Jessamyn West’s
  2. Love under-appreciated design. Then Dinosaurs and Robots.