The Open Source Toolbox: common problems, uncommon solutions

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Let’s look at some typical examples of challenges that community organizers frequently run into, and how some solutions are more in line with open source methodology than other solutions.

The Gridlock Problem

Gotham is a large town with really terrible traffic, and the group’s one monthly meetup event is organized in the north of town on Wednesday nights, because it’s convenient for the main organizers and also they have a free venue up north. There are lots of WP enthusiasts who can’t make it to this meeting, though, and lots of people are complaining.

Closed Source Solution:

1. Encourage the complainers to start their own group. Result: Community grows fragmented, one group eventually dies out leaving the same effect.
2. Move the event south a couple times a year or organize a second event in the south with the same (north-living) organizers. Result: eventually burned out organizers, westerners and easterners start complaining too.

Open Source Solution:

Invite anyone who complains about not being able to drive south to organize an event series of their own in a location and/or time/day more convenient to them. Add them as a co-organizer on the group, get them oriented, work less and have more community events. #winning

The Can’t Find A Venue Problem

The Gotham City organizing team has been looking for a venue for 3 months now, and can’t find anything that isn’t a) under constructions or b) really expensive. People in the meetup group keep asking, “when are we having WordCamp?” and the organizers just reply “when we find a venue” and change the subject.

The Closed Source Solution:

The organizing team finally goes with the cheapest convention center they could find, but the cost is so high that they can’t afford to spend money on swag, lunch, or parties; attendees are disappointed and organizers are exhausted by fundraising.

The Open Source Solution:

The team determines what their list of venue requirements is and publish it to the meetup group, along with a ballpark date (April or May) and the amount they think they can afford to pay. Meetup group members are able to suggest venue options and even help out by finding a university or company that might be able to give the space for free, through the meetup’s network of personal connections.

The “No Designers” Problem

The WordCamp organizing team in Sunnydale is full of great folks — they’ve got a few developers, some bloggers, a social media/PR expert, and even a local accountant! There’s only one problem: they can’t recruit a designer. The developers know just enough CSS to be dangerous and everyone else is strictly “no code” WordPress user.

The Closed Source Solution:

Someone on the Sunnydale org team has a designer friend in Cleveland who is willing to help out. After all, it’s not like she has to be *in* Sunnydale to design a cool California concept for the theme and event collateral.

The Open Source Solution:

The team posts to the event blog and to the local meetup, expressing a serious need for a designer (or three) on the WordCamp organizing team. A few people step forward, and while they’re mostly too busy to do anything much this year, they’ll excited about helping out next year. The team gives up on its hope for fancy badges and a stylish theme — they use “hello my name is” stickers and use a basic cloned theme from another WordCamp that they can customize just a little bit — and continue to announce at every meetup event and at the WordCamp how the team could really use more design help, and it’s obvious that they really do. The next year, 3 of the 6 people who said they could help in the future are available, and the WordCamp gets a sassy design but also features a lot more designers speaking at the event.

Your turn!

In the following quiz, we’ll provide you with some other common problems that face community organizers, and we’ll ask you to propose solutions using our open source tool kit.

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