The Committee Process

At Droidcon Turin 2019, we value transparency. That’s why we’re writing this post: we want everyone to understand how the lineup for the event will be selected, and the process the CfP committee is following.

Firstly, we expect that the schedule will follow the same general outline as last year. This means we have 3 keynote slots, 6 two-hour workshop slots, and 42 regular talk slots. Depending on the submissions we get, we may tweak the contents to have some shorter sessions, or vary the workshops/talks ratio.

The main role of the Call for Papers committee (CfP from now on) is to collect, vote on, and compose the lineup of sessions that will fill these slots, define the tracks the content is distributed across, and schedule each selected session in the best possible slot, taking into considerations logistical needs, minimising tracks overlap, besides speakers’ needs, and other factors.

The Call for Papers is going to close on the 10th of January 2019, at which point the Committee will evaluate sessions and define the schedule. We expect that phase to be completed by the end of January, with the first wave of selected speakers contacted in private about a week after the CfP closes, and everyone receiving a yay/nay message by the end of the month.

Last year we’ve had more than 210 submissions, from a diverse crowd. Of those, ~10% were from people self-identifying as part of a minority/under-represented group. Last year we shared our CfP with several minority groups to include as much of a diverse speakers pool as we could, but we want to see this number grow. We’re planning to donate a number of tickets to organisations like Women Who Code like we did last year, but details are still being worked out at the time of writing.

Beside our renewed efforts, we are encouraging people to share this CfP amongst their local and global communities and help us to welcome ever more diverse speakers and attendees.

So what are the next steps? The CfP committee members are going through every single submission and each one of them is assigning a vote from 1 to 10. How are the sessions voted at this stage? Well, it’s a series of factors. Judges’ interests are the first and foremost criteria.

Judges cannot see each other’s votes, but they can see the average for each talk, besides the public’s +1s and -1s:

If you have submitted a session in the previous years, you’ll find that we have added a few more questions to our submission form, to find out who requires assistance with their travel, and some other information about speakers for practical and statistical relevance.

Why do we collect information on travel assistance needs? The reason is that the conference has a limited budget for travel, and it’s not enough to cover every speaker’s costs. When composing the schedule the committee needs to also be able to work with the rest of the organisers to make sure all the speakers who require assistance can receive it, and put things in motion as quickly as possible once a draft lineup is selected, without waiting for the final schedule to be published.

Immediately after the CfP closes, the committee will be picking a few “hot” topics and speakers that they feel are required to be in the conference. Who the speaker is for a certain submission has a relative weight; obviously the most important thing is the topic and how it’s presented. That said, if an expert speaker wants to talk about something they likely know better than anyone else, and it makes sense in the context of the lineup, that’s a factor to consider. The diversity of points of view is also something we treasure and will make our best to pick what we feel is the best compromise between talks, speakers diversity, and perceived quality of submissions. We are not aiming at specific quotas, but we do want to know we’ve done the best we could to offer everyone a fair chance to go on stage.

We do prefer new content over repeats of sessions that have already been presented and are already available online as a recording. We believe this gives our audience the best value.

There are a few constraints to composing the lineup that are not dictated by the CfP committee; first and foremost, sponsored talks. While the aim is to have the fewest sponsored talks possible, we have to recognise the reality that we need sponsors to be able to run a conference. The organisers don’t normally make a profit off of Droidcon Italy, but they struggle not to take a loss either, so they can prolong it by another year.

We work closely with our great sponsors to make sure that they don’t bring about talks which would not be received well by our audience. We strongly believe we have great content sponsors at this year’s Droidcon Italy too, and that the talks they have proposed to us so far are relevant and interesting for our audience. This way we can turn sponsorships into a situation in which everyone wins: attendees get quality content, organisers get to pay the bills, and sponsors get interested audience members.

Another “out-of-band” source of content is the list of speakers that are invited to speak at the conference. We have some really big names that we’re extremely pleased to have with us in 2019 and we’re sure you’ll love the lineup of this droidcon, but we need y’all to pitch in with your talks and ideas to make this the best droidcon Italy yet!

Once the tentative lineup is selected with all those constraints in mind, the committee starts trying to place the selected talks in a big spreadsheet. The tricky part is keeping consistency amongst tracks (trying to have all their talks in the same room), and making sure there’s enough content for all of them, without having overlaps of related talks in the same slot. And it will also be hard deciding what not to include — we only have 42 available slots for over 200 submissions, plus sponsored talks and invited speakers.