Report from 2010 Community Leadership Summit

It’s hardly pertinent to summarize an unconference, because it’s all
over the map by (lack of) design. Anyway, you don’t need me to tell
you about the the topics at this year’s community leadership
summit
because you can view the wiki pages for the Saturday
and Sunday
sessions. What I like each year is the little space we all create for
ourselves at CLS in a forlorn corner of an overwhelming, cold
conference locale that makes it very hard to feel community.

This CLS is the third in a series, and the second to be presented
before O’Reilly’s Open Source
convention
, which is why it’s in a huge convention center. The one
in Portland, Oregon is one of the more pleasant convention centers
I’ve been in but it still makes me feel confined the moment I enter a
room and lost whenever I go into a hallway. Despite this, by the
second day of CLS we turned the center into our lounge. We even had a
little folk music jam.

The topics we covered were deep and serious: how to prod established
community members to leave room for new ones and encourage their
growth, how to involve women and minorities in technical projects, how
to raise funds and whom to accept funds from. The conference could
also get personal. Talks about fund-raising brought out a lot of
personal stories about screw-ups and taking on risk.

Like last year, we had well over a hundred people the first day,
substantially fewer on the second. An interesting influx of new people
provided new energy on the second day, but there was enough continuity
to produce the living-room feeling.

Most impressive, maybe, was the number of people who came long
distances just to spend the weekend here for this summit, without even
attending OSCon or staying for other activities in Portland.

Most of the topics concerned communities of all types, not just
technical communities. But open source definitely ran through the
conference. It kind of took over the session I led, Talking
to your government
.

It was an exciting session that attracted about twenty people over the
course of just half an hour, about four times as many as the similar
session I led last year. The eagerness to make a difference in
government policy was evident among the participants. And their
commitment has been stimulated, in turn, by recent initiatives in
government to release data and issue requests for free software using
that data.

I pitched the session in a basically non-technical context, as how to
get people to work together in groups so that they could respond
effectively to open government efforts. Developer communities are of
particular importance, I pointed out, because they are the ones
creating the new apps the governments want to promote participation.
But the same principles apply to everyone who can contribute to
policy.

The role of developer communities was the theme taken up with the most
gusto, and soon we were discussing all the barriers to having
government adopt open source software. I reminded the fifteen
attendees once that we were drifting away from the theme of community,
but I realized that the prospects of open source is what excited them
most, and while we lost a couple people, this topic met the needs of
the majority.

The size of this gathering was comfortable and the experience of the
attendees brought many insights, but we could still use a greater
diversity and more attendees. As a free conference, it should be
attracting a lot of people from communities that could benefit from a
better understanding of leadership, and could bring their
understanding to us. So let’s see even more people next year.

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