We strongly encourage conference organizers to utilize a representative organizing committee in planning a meeting to provide feedback and guidance to conference organizers throughout the planning process. The specific activities and level of involvement of the organizing committee will depend on the conference. At OpenCon, for example, the organizing committee convenes via conference call on a monthly basis, and is consulted on key decisions such as: the application process, attendee selection, speakers, and session topics.
The makeup of an organizing committee reflects itself in the design of a conference. We recognize the need to select an OpenCon Organizing Committee that is as diverse as the meeting in geography, racial background, and gender identity. This ensures that different geographical, cultural, and social perspectives are integrated into the planning process—rather than relying on the perspective of just one individual or organization.
We recognize that although the Open movements are global in nature, privileged voices tend to be overrepresented at conferences because of access to travel funding and other means, while underrepresented perspectives are overlooked—or absent altogether—from the conversation. Each year, the OpenCon Organizing Committee does its best to invite a balance of attendees across geography, racial background, and gender identity, as well as minimizing financial barriers to attending the meeting. To assess how diverse their event is, conference organizers can include a demographic section in their registration form that collects information about gender identity, racial background, and region. When collecting information on participant gender identity and racial background, we recommend giving people the option to specify their own category (if it wasn’t included as one of the options) and to opt out of answering the question (e.g. “prefer not to say”). Avoid using terms like "other".
To minimize barriers to attending OpenCon for those outside the region where OpenCon is held (Northern America in 2014 and 2016, Europe in 2015 and 2017), we ask that speakers and attendees who have the nancial means to fund their own travel to do so, in order to provide more funding for those who cannot. For instance, a large portion of general scholarship funds in 2016 were allocated to those residing outside of Northern America and Europe. Applicants are also asked to indicate in their application if they are able to self-fund their travel and registration costs.
Asking scholarship recipients to pay for the cost of flights or travel upfront (which can often be over $1,000 USD) can create a significant financial and personal burden. Even if reimbursement is certain, having to find funds to use—even temporarily—can create a very stressful situation for the recipient and deter potential scholarship applicants from applying altogether.
To ensure that OpenCon is as accessible as possible, we book travel on behalf of all of our travel scholarship recipients. Working with a travel agent, each booking costs $50/person, and we believe this process provides a net decrease in overall travel cost, as we’re able to more closely control the travel expenses incurred.
Meaningful diversity extends beyond who is in the room. The organizing committee must ask themselves: Who is on stage? Which perspectives are given a platform? Do people whose perspectives are often neglected by mainstream work get a chance to participate and present their work? Who is granted the most visibility? Are new voices prioritized?
Advancements in open research and education are led by advocates across vast geographical contexts. To ensure that different perspectives are shared, we believe it is important to select a diverse set of speakers to share their perspectives at OpenCon. Speaker gender, racial and geographic background is considered both when inviting panelists and speakers, as well as when reviewing submitted project presentation proposals. We encourage conference organizers to be mindful about speaker diversity at all stages of the agenda planning process; and not simply as an afterthought to hit a diversity ‘quota’. We also encourage conference organizers to be careful about ‘tokenizing’ voices (for example, having one person of color on the program or panel to speak on behalf of all people of color, or to cross off having “diverse speakers” on a checklist).
Building Diversity, Equity, Inclusion into the Agenda