aimee Explains What Makes Great Interactive Events

[an occasional series of community members giving their views on our world]

I’ve been part of Wellington’s tech scene since very shortly after I arrived a little under 8 years ago. At the time, I was employed as a professional science communicator, and all it took was one introduction to have me firmly in love with the scene and the warmth of the people in it.

As one might imagine, over the years I’ve been to, been part of, helped organise or founded a number of events in our fair city (and further afield). They’re a remarkable opportunity to meet or stay connected with people, learn new skills or knowledge, build stronger support networks and communities and, of course, have heaps of fun.

And I’ve had some remarkable opportunities to see what works, and what doesn’t.

There are two key components to the success of an event, and in particular an interactive one like a meetup, unconference or hackathon.

The first is, of course, the people there. Generosity of spirit and attention – and a willingness to both share and learn (including shutting up and listening!) – are vital and, fortunately, in abundant supply here.

The second is the support scaffolding behind the event. I don’t mean the food or bevvies – although of course that’s hugely important – but the extent to which the event has been well and thoughtfully structured. Good organisation means that attendees know what they’re there to do, know where and how to ask for help, and how it all fits together. 

Saturday (4th March) Open Data Day Wellington was a lovely case in point: people came along – including some from Hawke’s Bay and Whanganui! – united by the common goal of using open data to address environmental challenges and questions, and the day yielded some brilliant projects, including a working water quality app prototype*. When we asked who’d come to a similar event in future, a forest of hands shot up immediately.

Where I’ve seen events fail – or fail to kick ass – is where the day’s goals, structure and outcomes aren’t clear. Then it’s simply a random talkfest, and one likely to damage the event’s reputation or, even worse, turn people off similar events in future. 

Of course, there are other highly influential components to the success of any event (and again, I’m especially talking interactive events). 

The one consistently at the top of my mind is diversity. Not only because strong diversity is a highly desirable end in itself. For those not convinced by that: diversity is key because it brings a wider range of perspectives, skills and potential solutions to any challenge set. 

It’s certainly a tricky issue. At GovHack NZ, we’re looking to pilot three lead-in events this year aimed at improving underrepresented groups’ comfort with (and hopefully attendance at) events like GovHack. And we’re doing it by going to those groups – women, youth and Māori/Pasifika – and having that conversation in a way that works for them, rather than expecting them to come to us.

Of course, there’s still plenty to do. But there’s already some great work happening in Wellington, and elsewhere in NZ. Stronger, more connected, more resilient communities are a common goal of all these groups, and we’d love you to join us in the fun!

Stay in touch with aimee

aimee is National Lead for GovHack NZ, founder of Wellington civic technology group OpenCiv (aka Flaxroots), co-founder of GovWorks NZ and founder of Nerd Nite Wellington. She also does other stuff, often to do with the intersection of government, civil society and tech, and can generally be seen floating around Wellington’s tech-and-related scenes, nature trails and craft beer bars.