Planning for DojoCon 2014

As you may know there is a call for submissions for DojoCon 2014.  As CoderDojo Drogheda were the main organisers of DojoCon2013 I was asked by Eugene of the Hello World Foundation to put some thoughts down that will hopefully help in planning for 2014.  One of the most difficult thing may be to get a handle on costs so as the group submitting knows what may be required/involved.  I hope this post helps…

Every DojoCon is and will be different and in 2013 we had a  a very unique event being that we did two things differently to the original & hugely successful DojoCon in Limerick i.e.:

  1. We held the event over 2 days – a very successful evening pre-conference meet up on Friday 12th April in Bru Bar, Drogheda and Saturday 13th April for the conference proper
  2. We held the main conference in an unusual but special venue – These things thus required a team and budget that was different to a standard hotel approach to a conference.

    DojoCon 2013 Funders*

    <a data-mce-="" data-cke-saved-href="http://www.slanecastle.ie/" href="http://www.slanecastle.ie/" font-weight:="" inherit;="" line-height:="" 1.625;"="" target="_blank" title="Slane Castle – the host venue near Drogheda for DojoCon 2013">*Note: This does not include the HUGE amount of in kind support we got from all of those listed on our thank you page.  On top of that many of the costs above were discounted or reduced from published rates or additional services offered at no costs by our suppliers.

    From Amount
    Hello World Foundation € 5,000.00
    DkIT € 1,500.00
    PiPiper € 1,000.00
    CoderDojo Drogheda € 500.00
    RTE Digital € 3,000.00
    LCEB/Louth Economic Forum € 4,000.00
    GitHub € 1,000.00
    Enterprise Ireland € 2,500.00
    Fitz Scientific € 300.00
    Boyne Valley Tourism (Meath Co Co) € 1,000.00
    Coca Cola Drogheda € 150.00
    Intact Software € 250.00
    Total € 20,200.00

     Tickets

    We did charge for tickets and this was debated in great detail in advance of DojoCon 2013.  The details of tickets are here and we wrote a post about our thinking on tickets here.  As a result we decided that all revenue from the ticket sales went directly to our nominated charity partner ABACAS Drogheda.

    My own personal opinion is that the pressure to raise this type of money in the future may be unreasonable or put off some groups from entering a proposal to host DojoCon – thus I think it reasonable that a small ticket charge is used to help fund the costs of food & beverages, venue costs, etc.

    Numbers and Guests

    The venue decision meant we were restricted to 200 tickets for DojoCon 2014 – we were inundated with calls for guests, friends, extra tickets, etc.   We tried to prioritise existing mentors over new comers, politicians, academics, corporate supporters, etc.  This is the 'Global Mentor Conference' after all.   It was a full time job and a very sensitive one as we had to venue restrictions and issues of fairness to be balanced against calls from Bill, James, HWF and many supporters of CoderDojo that came after we sold out!  In the end we had more than 200 guests but we managed to squeeze in and although some were disappointed we feel we called it as best we could.

    The general feeling is that a larger venue – perhaps at 300/350 may be more appropriate for DojoCon 2014 but be warned that will increase the costs on the organising committee.

    Words of Wisdom..

    Some things that really saved our bacon (in no particular order)!

    • Start early and meet often – our planning started 6 months out form DojoCon and  met weekly in person or via Google Hangouts as there is so much to do
    • A great team – we had a core team of 6/7 and an extended team as we approached the date of about 20 – all volunteers from CoderDojo in Drogheda, Dundalk, Dublin Science Gallery and Navan.
    • A Theme and Speakers – we put a huge amount of effort into the structure (multiple streams, key notes, etc) and speakers (a big shout out to Michelle Graham, James Crook, Paul Browne and Stephen Howell who worked tirelessly with me on this).  It takes a very long time to agree a structure, ensure the timetable is realistic and then to seek out and secure speakers.  You also need to reconfirm them and arrange travel and accommodation as well as having a contact point for them on the day.  We also need to thank all of the speakers from Ireland, USA, Spain and the UK – thank you guys!   (As an side we are proud that we achieved an almost perfect gender balance without having to force it or compromise – we just made that a part of our planning and set the tine with the fabulous Una Fox as MC – simples :).
    • Finance & a plan is key – be realistic in your expectations and planning – you will have costs you can't even imagine.  Fundraising can be difficult and people do not always – even with best intentions – deliver on their commitments.  You will need lots of friends and referrals to others to get the help you need.
    • Cashflow – we were lucky that MOR Solutions offered to cash-flow the event as many costs are up front and grants are paid as much as 30 to 90 days after the expenditure (they also take time to get all of the paperwork together before a claim can be made).   Ideally in the future perhaps a local Credit Union, bank or other community funder could help with this.
    • Clear roles – there will be tensions and stresses – this is a huge international event with visitors from 20 countries in 2014.  Ensure you clearly identify roles and also have a very open communications.  Have 1 leader – as stress mounts one person needs to call things and have the support of all others to do so.
    • Communications – I'm taking about internal communications within the team, with sponsors, speakers and delegates.  This takes a huge effort – from getting the word out to Dojos (harder than you might think as central lists were non existent at the time!), clarifications, ticket enquiries and questions, confirming speakers, thank yous to sponsors, the partner / expo areas we setup, etc.  On top of that accommodation queries and requests for information and last minute help also took up a huge amount of time.
    • PR – we had fantasitc support from Silicon Republic in particular but getting the message out by radio, TV, national press and other channels was difficult despite the huge effort put in by Denise of Achieve Marketing.   More support should come from Hello World Foundation in the future and from Bill & James.
    • And Finally … Time Commitment … there was a huge number of person days (many, many 100s) put in voluntarily but the DojoCon2013 team.  Don't underestimate the scale and size of this task.   You can be sure the month before and 2 weeks after will be intense – perhaps taking 3-4 days a week from the main organisers on top of months of fundraising, planning and preparation.  Be ready to use up all of your holidays, weekends and evenings on this for many months!
    But .. it was great craic!  We made new friends, helped we hope to give something back to the delegates – those of us that volunteer week in, week out throughout the year as mentors – and we hope also raised the profile and added to the success that is CoderDojo.
     

    Best of luck – you'll have our support in 2014

    Best of luck to all of those Dojos putting in a proposal to host DojoCon 2014 – it was hard work but also an incredible honour and great fun for everyone involved.  We got huge support and advice from CoderDojo Limerick as the previous year hosts as well as form the Hello World Foundation team.  We will return that good will to the 2014 team and will be delighted to help in any way we can.

    Regards
    Graham

    This is a contributed post by Graham ORouke from CoderDojo Drogheda – Coding on the Boyne!

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