FemCamp: A Mortadella Party?

Saturday I attended the (first) FemCamp (a BarCamp) in Italy, at Bologna. The location was prime, inside a tech lab for women, TechneDonne.

I’ve heard some say that the easiest way to describe a BarCamp (in Italy) is chaos. They are totally correct. But I don’t see how having low expectations of anything will help it improve.

Some people are calling it a big success. I can’t say that I completely agree, but I have the eyes of an outsider and a newbie, so I don’t really know what it should be measured against, other than my own experience living and working in Silicon Valley. To speak negatively feels a bit like crashing a party and then complaining about it, but I thought about this quite a lot and I was quite depressed about what I felt ended up being not a waste of time, but a huge lost opportunity. My disappointment was really about frustration.

Frustration because I realize there are quite a few women out there that are doing interesting things, and I don’t even know who they are. The organizers of the event, and especially those from the Technedonne lab, appeared organized and relaxed. But I again had to practice guerilla-like behavior and approach those that I wanted to meet. I was only once approached by someone I didn’t know. I didn’t really see any curiosity in any of the faces I passed, and this is really a pity.

One thing I noticed is lots and lots of men. I would say from between 30-50% men. Which is a lot for a “women’s” event. Take a look at the FemCamp Flickr pool and tell me what you think the percentage was! Michelle aptly described the FemCamp as in danger of becoming a ” mortadella fest,” a Bologna version of a sausage fest. In the States, men have gotten over the curious stage and those that arrive at women’s events are there to contribute, to dialogue and build towards the scope of the event. It was more like curious spectators in a zoo, looking at all the animals. Maybe, if they were lucky, we’d take off our clothes and have a slumber party or pillow fight.

So maybe there’s a need to ask: Why have a women’s event in the first place? I think it is necessary – to build and strengthen a community, and perhaps discuss and start working on problems that concern women (only). To encourage mentoring, and participation! Where were the signup sheets for follow-up, for participation? I several times expressed my interest in doing something. In Silicon Valley, that would be enough to make you Vice President of some organization.

A few other Italian bloggers remarked that they never even entered into a session at FemCamp, and remained out in the courtyard or halls talking. In two of the three sessions I attended, men asked questions that in my opinion were not constructive to the topic or even to the theme of the day, but were more to show, “Yep, I’m a man, I’m here and I’m going to exercise my right to ask a question.”

For example: During the style.it (Glamour, Vogue, Vanity Fair) presentation about their online community, the first question, from a man was, “What about the men? Where are they?” A pretty useless question for the limited time we had. Maybe a better question to ask would have been, “As you continue to spotlight your community’s blog posts as content of the website along with bona fide journalists’ articles, will you also compensate them? Are you looking for new talent among their ranks, and what are you doing to keep them with style.it?”

Don’t you think?

In fact, the beauty of BarCamp is that everyone can have a voice. Especially if you get there early and get your post-it note on the board. But there are a few things that aren’t working. Here are my suggestions for a better BarCamp – and I mean suggestions because I want it to be a viable way to congregate and work together.

  • Stabilize a mix of set topics and free-form sessions.
    If “everyone’s” a presenter, don’t have presentations. Instead, have a moderator or “patron” of the session who is perhaps an expert in the topic lead people in discussions, using a few pre-prepared questions to steer discussion, brainstorming or solutions.
  • Have fewer sessions
    To really discuss something, change someone’s mind, do brainstorming or think of creative solutions, it’s really difficult to do that when the next session is starting in a few minutes. Make those sessions to 1-1.5 hours long.
  • Make sure there’s something that no one’s heard of before.
    There has to be some “wow” somewhere. In the digital age, I can spend 8 hours surfing the internet (for free) and find things that I never heard of before, that make me think, and that teach me something without leaving my house.
  • Have a call to action
    I wanted to leave every session with an answer to my favorite question, “Now what?” Talking is fine and grand, but things are happening in the world because people are taking action. There needs to be a call to action, be it personal or group. Continue the momentum from the discussion by channeling that energy into something else.
  • Set aside time for networking.
    People were constantly in the courtyard talking and laughing for several reasons, in my opinion. Yes, it was hot but the conversations outside were obviously more interesting than those inside. Make some time for networking as part of the day – if it’s lunchtime, give some incentive for people to go around and meet others. (which I’ll probably talk about in another post)
  • Make the materials available immediately.
    Unfortunately not everyone is interested in blogging about everything. Someone should be keeping a record of the sessions, what was discussed, and the materials available, and make them accessible immediately. Especially the call to action. Then people who didn’t have the chance to come can contribute after the fact, and if you missed a session because you had to go to another, you can see it later.

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Proviamo in italiano…..scusate gli errori…e pazienza.

Sabato sono andata al FemCamp a Bologna, il posto era ben addatta alla tema, dentro il labratorio tecnologico per donne, il TechneDonne.

Ho sentito che il miglior modo di spiegare un BarCamp e’ il caos. Hanno completamente ragione. Pero’ non capisco come avendo aspettativi bassi puo’ aiutare una cosa di migliorare.

Alcuni dicono che e’ stato un successo. Non posso dire che sono completamente d’accordo, pero’ sto guardando e osservando con gli occhi di un outsider e una novellina, quindi non so esattamente contro che cosa dovrebbe essere misurato oltre alle esperienze mie lavorando e abitando nel Silicon Valley. Parlando negativo mi sembra un po’ come una persona che viene ad una festa dove non e’ stato invitato e poi si lamenta, pero’ ci ho pensato molto e ero un po’ delusa di quello che ho classificato non come spreco di tempo, pero’ sicuramente una perdita’ di opportunita’. La mia delusione era concentrato nella frustrazione.

Frustrazione perche’ e’ chiaro ci sono tante donne [in Italia] che stanno facendo cose interesante, e non so neanche chi siano. Le organizzatrici, sopratutto quelli da Technedonne, apparevono organizzati e rilassati. Pero’ di nuovo mi sono trovata di dover fare esercizi guerilla per incontrare chiunque che volevo conoscere. Solo una volta qualcuno mi e’ avvincinato per presentarsi. Non ho visto la curiosita’ sulle facce presenti, e questo e’ davvero grave.

Una cosa che ho notato che c’erano tanti uomini. Tanti. Direi dal 30-50%. Per, e’ tanto per un’evento “tutte donne.” Guardate le foto su Flickr e ditemi il percentuale! Michelle giustamente ha dichiarato l’evento come una “mortadella fest”, una versione bolognese del “sausage fest.” Negli States, ormai gli uomini hanno superato il periodo dei curiosi che vengono agli eventi per le donne, e quelli che vengono sono la’ per contribuire, dialogare, e construire attraverso qualcosa (o almeno la tema del evento). Mi sembrava che alcuni erano la’ per guardare gli animali nello zoo, magari a certo punto ci spogliavamo e sarebbe stato un slumber party se fossero fortunati.

Magari, c’e’ bisogno di chiedere, perche’ avere un evento solo per le donne? Ci tengo che e’ necessario – per construire e crescere una comunita’, per discutere, fare brainstorming e cominciare a risolvere problemi che forse ci tengono solo le donne. Per incoraggiare mentoring e partecipazione! Dov’erano le organizazzioni per fare recruiting??

Alcuni blogger hanno detto che non sono neanche entrati a sentire gli interventi a FemCamp, e sono rimasti fuori dentro il cortile a discutere e chiacchierare. Due su tre interventi che ho visto, gli uomini hanno fatto domande che, secondo me, avevano poco da fare con l’intervento e sopratutto con la tema del giorno, e si mostravano come “Eccomi, uomo, qua, anch’io voglio chiedere qualcosa per mostrare la mia presenza.”

Per esempio, durante l’intervento di style.it (Glamour, Vogue, Vanity Fair) del loro comunita’ online, la prima domanda (da un uomo) e’ stato: “E gli uomini? Dove sono?” Una domanda cosi’ e’ poco utile nel tempo che c’era. Magari una domanda migliore sarebbe stato, “Visto che gli articoli/post dei vostri blogger vengono messi affianco quelli di giornalisti professionali come contenuto del sito, avete una programma per premiare/pagarli? Stai cercando talenta nuovo? Che farai per tenerli dentro style.it visto che e’ un mondo libero sul Internet?”

Non pensate?

La bellezza di un BarCamp e’ che tutti possono avere un modo di espremersi. Sopratutto se siete arrivati presto e avete messo il vostro Post-It sulla bacheca. Pero’ ci sono cose che potrebbero andare meglio. Ecco i miei suggerimenti per un BarCamp migliore – e dico suggerimenti perche’ voglio vedere il BarCamp funziona come metodo di congregare e communicare.

  • Stabilire un misto tra interventi/discorsi fissi e interventi di free-form.
    Se tutti sono partecipanti e presentatori, non avere presentazioni! Invece, nomina qualcuno come moderatore o “patrone” del intervento (magari anche un’esperto sul oggetto) e aiutare un discorso, fare brainstorming or trovare soluzioni usando alcuni domande preparati prima.
  • Usare meno interventi.
    Per veramente discutere qualcosa, cambiare idea, fare brainstorming o trovare soluzioni creativi, e’ molto difficile farlo quando una presentazione e’ 20 minuti di un periodo di 30 minuti. Stabilire invece periodi di 1-1.5 ore.
  • Presentare qualcosa nuova, pazza o sconosciuta.
    Dev’essere il momento quando qualcuno dice “uau.” Nel mondo dell’informazione, posso passare 8 ore navigando l’internet (gratis) e trovare cose che non ho mai sentito, che mi fanno pensare, e che mi insengano qualcosa senza lasciare casa.
  • Proporre un “call to action”
    Volevo uscire da ogni intervento con una risposta alla (mia) domanda, “E adesso?” Parlando e’ buono e bello, pero’ le cose stanno succedendo nel mondo perche’ le persone realizzano e ci lavorano sopra! Deve essere qualcosa che richiede ogni partecipante di fare, in gruppo, da solo, sul internet, con amici. Continuare questa energia dal discorso e guidarla al prossimo passo.
  • Mettere a parte tempo per fare networking.
    C’era sempre gente nel cortile parlando e ridendo per alcuni motivi. Certo, faceva caldo dentro pero’ ovviamente i discorsi fuori erano almeno quanto interessante di quelli dentro. Dovrebbe essere una parte del giorno per fare networking e anche un incentivo di farlo (che magari, discutero’ in un’altro post).
  • Mettere i materiali del BarCamp online, subito
    Sfortunatamente, i blogger non parlerano di tutto dopo un BarCamp. Qualcuno deve essere responsabile di tenere traccia di ogni intervento, il discorso e i materiali, per metterli online subito. E sopratutto il call to action. Cosi’ quelli che non potevano venire possono anche contribuire dopo. E se hai perso un intervento perche’ sei andata ad un altro, puoi vederlo dopo.

Manca qualcosa??

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Comments

  1. says

    This is what I call constructive criticism! I’m happy I didn’t go, maybe next year if they listen to what you have to say!

  2. says

    Yes, this is very constructive. And, yes, it did seem like some of those men were waiting for us to start mud wrestling or something. The pillow fight is a funny image. A very quick read through some of the Italian blogs did mention how many men were there, but it didn’t seem too many people had a problem with it. Someone even wrote “Great to see so many women among the men this time…” Uh, duh, it was a women’s event. I do hope they heed your advice.

  3. says

    Others I chatted with also had this impression. There were quite a few of us I think. Nice job expressing it constructively.

    Did you hear Dierdre’s talk? It was quite inspiring, and exactly what I would have liked to hear more of – solid advice, real world examples (her life) and a clear call to action (“Speak up ladies”).

    Cheers,
    Tara

  4. says

    Sara – Okay, you’re president. I propose “SarCamp” in late September / early October, following your structure, maybe trying to get a few really stellar speakers. Even big names will likely come to Italy for a ticket and accomodation, so we could probably do something interesting with a minimum of sponsorship.

    Tara – Aw, thanks. I’m very pleased because that’s exactly what I was aiming for.

  5. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    Uh oh…what did I sign up for :P Just kidding. Not sure if I told you, Deidrè, when I organized the first Women in Business conference for SCU, Sun was a sponsor. :)

  6. says

    uh-oh, hope I’m not and intruder here… just 2 cents

    actually, for how it has begun, I did not understood it as an event “for” women, but “about”. I may sound silly, but in many other Barcamps women were just a few, so many started blogging “where are the women”. and, as I remember it, Femcamp was born *also* for this: simply as a meeting in order to have a better understanding of what’s going on

    yes it was a little (?) messy. all these barcamps in italy are growing in participation (even if they are also growing in numbers), so more and more often you meet a growing number of people you know. and this takes time from presentations and for meeting people you don’t know

    it’s pretty an UN-conference: you start it and don’t know exactly what happens

    so, sorry if we exchanged only two words, and not very interesting for my fault. I’ll try to fix it up. but from my part I learned something new and I got back home with some new business cards of (very) interesting people, so my balance is positive…

  7. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    I think BarCamp is an “un-conference” not because it becomes chaos, but because there are no presenters and no attendees because of the separation of thought and interaction. But some other people mentioned a “caste” existing (at FemCamp and perhaps other BarCamps) and I have to agree I found that to be true as well – I didn’t sense a true spirit of collaboration that I imagine was what happened at the first BarCamp in Palo Alto – sleeping bags, computers, wifi, and open minds.

  8. says

    Sorry I wasn’t there, but I feel like a deja vu in your description, as is similar to my impression on the LitCamp in Turin…
    Tonight at the Pandecena you tell me everything!!!

  9. says

    Well, you’re definitely qualified, then.

    One thing I’ve been mulling over about these camps is the lack of corporate presence – everybody there except me and now Lele is some sort of independent consultant. “Normal employees” should also be taking advantage of events like this, and sharing the corporate POV.

    I’ll see what I can do to contact some Sun people for the next one. I don’t actually have any leads into the local Sun offices yet, but I can try to fix that…

  10. says

    non sono d’accordo con questa tua frase: “Mi sembrava che alcuni erano la’ per guardare gli animali nello zoo, magari a certo punto ci spogliavamo e sarebbe stato un slumber party se fossero fortunati…” mi auguro vivamente che non ci hai inquadrato come dei teenager vogliosi. Se abbiamo partecipato a questo barcamp è che ci sembrava interessante incontrare blogger femminili, dato che il 99% delle volte ci sono presenze maschili a questi eventi.
    Di certo ti posso confermare che conoscendo i blogger maschi uno ad uno, nessuno è venuto lì per accoppiarsi oppure per organizzare un sex-party.
    Sono venuto al FemCamp per incontrare, conoscere e dialogare con maschi e femmine, se nelle mie intenzioni c’erano altri scopi forse sarebbe stato l’ideale un’agenzia matrimoniale, non i barcamp. un abbraccio.

  11. says

    I am quite perplexed after having read some posts on femcamp and what sprang to my mind was a question like “Is it worth a travel?”. I suppose the answer can be yes on the personal side but I do wonder about the professional side.
    @Deirdre: I am consultant (mobile projects) at a big mobile corps and my employer is one of the main italian consulting firm. I can go and tell them “This is an interesting event, may I represent you ?” but I have to go back and tell them what I learnt and which new ideas came out and what network opportunity came out.
    On the other side I can go and tell “Can we propose a session on how an international mobile 2.0 project works ?” but then it takes its time before any answers arrives (flows, y’know :)
    This takes me back to the first question: does it worth the effort on the professional side and for those that could sponsor me ?
    If it is something that interest me as personal interest, I would be there as me not in corps name. (Sorry for the mistakes)

  12. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    @Deidre – corporate sponsorship would be interesting but it would still be nice just to reach those corporate employees more than anything…who are they? They seem pretty distant from the blogging world in Italy.
    @Luca – il tuo commento su questo post e’ molto diverso da quello sull’altro post riguardo FemCamp. Spero che il tuo sentimento espresso qua e’ quello piu’ vicino ai tuoi sentimenti veri (e credo che hai ragione).
    @Annarella – I would have to say there wasn’t much for the professional side at FemCamp but I wasn’t going for that anyway.
    @mafe – I guess I was still trying to figure the method/spirit/tone of FemCamp to ask. And of course, more ideas came to me later. Plus, in the BarCamp spirit, I don’t think it would have been appropriate since I didn’t want to attack anyone – maybe asking if they were going to make their (community) platform available to non-profit (ONLUS) organizations, or donate profits from their community would have been better.

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