NEXT Berlin is over. Two days of magic (and little sleep) that concluded months of work, and I couldn’t be happier about the way it turned out.
There were about 1.500 participants and about 150 speakers. As big events go, if you’re involved in the organization you don’t get to see much of the program throughout the day. But as a curator of course I have the privilege of knowing in advance what’s going to happen – at least to some degree – and I get to poke my head into sessions and talks here and there, or participate in some of them. Mostly, though, I soak up how things are working from the overall atmosphere and the feedback I get from participants and speakers throughout the day: Is everyone happy, did they have inspiring conversations and see inspiring talks? Do faces show exhaustion or are they full of energy? Do people stick around to chat with speakers and fellow attendees, or rush off right away? Are they going to dinner in groups, or dispersing? These are the kind of things that tell me if the event was a success, and if our program contributed as much to the success as it possibly could.
behind the scenes
And don’t be fooled, it’s not all about the program. Behind the scenes, there’s a team of super dedicated folks that work tirelessly for weeks and weeks leading up to the event to sort out logistics, travel, catering, design, etc etc etc. As it’s all behind the scenes, they’re most successful the less visible they are – in fact, only if things fail do people pay any attention to many things like wifi, snacks, tech and many others. (As a game, next time you’re at a conference, try to pay attention to all the things that don’t fail – you might be amazed by how many things you can come up with that could have failed, but haven’t! Also, if you see team members and volunteers, thank them – they deserve it.) That team deserves a huge, huge thank you and all our respect. Thank you!
There were a few things, though, that I did manage to see, and that I’ll remember as highlights. Harper Reed‘s enthusiasm and experience were fantastic. Bruce Sterling called our peer group out as the brain and nerve center of the machine that erodes the global middle class. I’d have loved to see him speak longer. The moment just a few minutes before, when he tried out Google Glass and just dryly noted: it’s cute, very 80s. The moment Stephen Wolfram answered a question about the difference between Wolfram Alpha and Google and just noted that Sergej Brin was an intern in his company long before founding Google. When candidate for chancellor Peer Steinbrück talked about Germany’s role in the fourth industrial revolution and pushed heavily for 3D printing as a driving force in this. Many moments like that. But also to see friends and collaborators like Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsinso, Martin Spindler, David Bausola, Louisa Heinrich and all the others on stage, which I always enjoy a lot.
And then there are of course the dozens of conversations behind the stage, before the talks, and on the side lines. Of course much too short, always. (And I apologize to all of you I talked to if I had to run away in the middle of our conversation.)
what can be better
There are of course also things that can be better. Sometimes this includes organizational aspects: Wifi, even though overall it worked pretty well I think. Easier-to-read wifi access codes. Faster registration in the morning. But all of these are in my view really minor incremental improvements. The one big thing that we’ll all have to work on with every ounce of energy we have in us is to further increase diversity amongst speakers and participants. We’ve worked hard on this, and everyone on the team is hyper aware of the challenge.
Sue Reindke did the math: 97 men and 32 women, so roughly 75% male speakers. I’m not sure which numbers she used (program or actual appearances, including workshops or not, etc.), but it’s certainly close enough. This is something that I’m not proud of.
But take it from me – it’s incredibly hard to get a really diverse line-up on stage (in this industry, in Europe, with this topical focus). After all, it somehow is a snapshot of this industry – which is no excuse, just a note by way of explaning. My fellow program director Monique van Dusseldorp and I tried everything we could to find a good balance between (amongst many other axes) male/female; US/European/Global South; “big names”/most interesting; “hands on”/inspiring; etc, etc, etc.
So this will be something to keep working on, and hard. And we will, and every year will be a step in the right direction.
To cut a long story short: I’m as happy as I could be with the way these two days turned out.
So I took it slow today. Tomorrow I’ll get back into the swing of things to prepare for UIKonf next week.
Image by nextconference (CC by). Full disclosure, SinnerSchrader/NEXT Berlin is a client.