Organising FEN 2020

In 2018, we were asked a simple question: would we be interested in organising Front End North? None of us had organised an event of this size, and our only real experience together was a handful of monthly meetings for the Front End Sheffield user group.

We said ‘yes’.

Soon after, in January 2019, we met for an all-day workshop we defined some key goals:

A low-risk endeavour

As first-time conference organisers we were very aware of the risk of failure, especially financial loss. While we were excited at the prospect of making Front End North our own we decided to be conservative with our plans to reduce risk at our 2020 event.

The words ‘grassroots’, ‘no-frills’, and ‘MVP’ have guided our planning over the past year. What was essential to a good conference and what was not? For this reason we have chosen not to provide a catered lunch (check out our venue page for some local recommendations, and have made a decision not to order conference-branded items to give away.

A set of great talks

Our primary goal was to present talks from great speakers from a variety of backgrounds.

We all agreed an open Call for Proposals process was our preferred way of finding the best talks and we decided to select half of our talks using this system. In addition, we invited four speakers that had delivered great talks at other conferences as headliners to ensure we started with some great content and to attract speakers to apply for the CFP. Our CFP used an anonymised process and we received over 80 applications.

An accessible event

It is very important to us to try and remove barriers that would prevent people from attending.

Easy access and proximity to transportation were major factors in choosing our venue: the Crucible has step-free access and is a ten-minute walk from Sheffield station. Additionally, we set our ticket prices as low as possible to be accessible to as many people as we could manage – £50! Students, freelancers, and people new to the industry, we're thinking of you.

An inclusive event

As with our Front End Sheffield monthly meetings, it is essential that we aim to provide a safe and inclusive space for all attendees.

Some ways we are making Front End North inclusive:

  • We have a Code of Conduct that applies to all attendees, plus all our organisers and volunteers are required to undergo Code of Conduct training.
  • We have a dedicated quiet room at The Crucible for those who need some time away from others.
  • Our evening social will be at nearby Kommune. There is food for all tastes and dietary needs for purchase, plus bar drinks and soft drinks as you prefer.

And other things…

While not one of our primary goals, we prioritised reaching out to our local tech community. We’re proud of being located in Sheffield, in Yorkshire, and in The North. We have made a point of seeking local groups for sponsorship and have worked closely with Sheffield Digital to promote our event. Thank you to our sponsors and Sheffield Digital for your support!

Also, we've made some conscious decisions to reduce our environmental impact where we can: we’ve opted for wristbands instead of lanyards and have opted not to give out conference-branded things (there may be stickers!). We also encourage you to bring your own reusable bottle or cup for refreshments if you can.

Finally, we hope to achieve some transparency in our conference planning. We have stood on the shoulders of giants and have benefitted from the generous advice from other experienced conference organisers. We hope we can provide the same support for other organisers in the future, and plan to publish our finances after the conference is over as JSConf EU has previously.

Future goals

Our wishlist was long, and we could not commit to everything we wrote down on that workshop day in 2019. Here’s a list of some things that we did not manage this time around:

  • Diversity scholarships
    Fitting with both our ‘accessible’ and ‘inclusive’ goals, conferences with diversity scholarships are becoming more common and are a fantastic addition to any conference.
  • Childcare
    Providing childcare at conferences allows working parents to attend that otherwise may not have been able to. It also reduces the cost of attending for these parents who otherwise would have paid for childcare elsewhere.
  • Live captioning
    One of our favourite features of tech conferences lately, live captioning is useful to everyone watching a talk, not just people with hearing loss.
  • Professional photography and videography
    This fell out of our nice-to-have list when we were keeping to our no-frills budget. While seemingly essential to many conferences, we’re hoping to get some imagery from our kind conference attendees to share.

We have achieved and learned many things in the past 12 months and this post provides insight into what we were trying to achieve and why. We look forward to it all coming together on 7 February. Hope to see you there!

Tickets are still available

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