I want to help your event.

Crowd management may be the most important utterly ignored area of event planning. Too often it, and especially line management, are treated purely as security concerns if they're even considered at all. A lot of events stick their heads in the sand and hope nothing bad will happen. A lot of the time they're right, but when they're not things can get awful really fast. Regardless, line management isn't a security issue, it's a customer service issue. The staff in charge of the lines needs to be trained in how to handle them, how to handle ADA requests, and where to put the lines if things begin to get out of control. Naturally, most larger events need security of some type to be present, but as long as the line management staff can reach the security staff quickly then they shouldn't be 'in charge' of the line.

This is apparently a radical idea, and one that gets a lot of push back from various quarters (especially security staff).

One problem with having security in charge of the lines at an event is that the security staff is looking out for the best interests of the event, not necessarily the best interests of the people in the line. Now, if the lines are fairly short in duration, under half an hour, this isn't a large problem but it is still problematic. For one, study after study has shown that if you give someone a uniform and call them a guard they will treat the people they are guarding rather less well than they would have otherwise. For another, security guards are looking out to solve problem people, they are not looking to solve problems for people, and lines are full of people with problems.

In America, we have a law called the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other nations may have similar laws, but the ADA here requires that we give 'reasonable accomodations' to people with disabilities. Just exactly how disability is defined can vary, but it is the best customer service move to treat it rather broadly and include invisible disabilities. One such example is a person who doesn't need a cane to walk, but cannot stand still without enduring a great deal of pain. If the line is unexpectedly long it will hurt them to stand in it. There are two complementary ways to solve this, and an event that cares about its attendees should employ both.

The first strategy is the easiest one to implement. It's simply to have someone standing at the entrance to the line or, if there's no set entrance, standing at the end of the line. Give them a sign on a tall stick that says 'End Of Line' or 'Line Forms Here' so that people can see at a glance where they're supposed to go. For people with an accessibility need this gives them someone readily identifiable to talk to and find out what accommodations are available.

The second strategy is to have people walking up and down the line and quietly checking on groups of people. Asking, "Is everyone okay over here?" not only helps people feel like they're being paid attention to, which goes a very long way towards making them hate the line slightly less, but it will draw out people with invisible disabilities. The person who was wrong about being able to muscle through their disability and stand in line might be too embarrassed to call somebody over but they will answer a question.

Having someone to check up on people standing in line also helps keep an eye out for people who are having a diabetic attack, or heat stroke, or need to go to the restroom and are afraid of losing their place in line. In that last case, the line staffer can act as an intermediary between that person and the people around them.

Another frequently overlooked strategy for customer service in a line is just keeping people informed about what is going on. There are ways to figure out how long the line will last, which will be covered in another post, and communicating that information lets people know what's going on. Disney World has large, light-up signs that tell park goers how long the line will last. If it's an event in a theater or stage letting people know when the doors are expected to open can go a long way towards keeping them happy. Another good strategy for rooms with limited seating is to keep a running tally of the number of people in the line and having the end-of-line person be able to tell people whether or not they'll be able to get a seat. Nobody likes to wait in a line only to be denied a seat and people will often not stand in a line if it looks like the theater will be full.

Hopefully this is a helpful first pass at lines as customer service. The next post will be about different ways of handling accommodations for accessibility and after that will be our preferred line management structure. Oh, and reviews of lines at various places.
Okay, everybody, it's Silmarian's Highly Editorialized Story Time!

Today, it's a quick precis of the history of CONvergence.

Once upon a time there was a convention called Minicon. It was a big convention, the only one of its size for many a mile, but a bunch of big meanies wished it was the way it was when they were kids.

Or, at least, less old.

So these ogres of fandom gnashed their teeth and narrowed their squinty eyes and put forth a thing called the "High Resolution" bid. Most conventions are run on a "bid" system, where a couple of people get together and convince some ruling council to let them run the kingdom for a year.

So these High Resolution ogres went to the kingmakers of MinnSTFF and pled their case, and were successful in getting the keys to the kingdom. They could replace all of the department heads if they chose. In fact, they had total dictatorial power over the convention.

But that convention was still a year away. First they wanted to announce their evil perfidy to the world. So they held meetings, including at the convention, and announced "Lo, we hate all costumers and movies are for stupid poo-poo heads."

(They did in fact, quite literally, stand on stage and say "If you dress in costume, we don't want you here. Many of them will deny this, but I was in the audience and heard Steven Brust say those words.)

So the other fans banded together in their basements and living rooms, putting aside the Cheetos and D&D games long enough to decide to form their own kingdoms. Thus were the kingdoms of MarsCon, CONvergence, and Anime Detour born.

Now, the new kings and queens of CONvergence wanted to be sure that their land would forever be free of the scourge of the High Resolution committee, so they set up a system where the board of directors- I mean, kings and queens were directly responsible for running the convention.

They arranged it so they would face the withering scorn of their subjects every other year in a political bloodbath called an "election".
(Much of the angst between 2002 when I got involved and 2006 when I left for Seattle was on the part of the board because they could never get anyone to run against them. They wanted people to. Not that they necessarily wanted to lose their jobs, but it was a good indicator of health in the organization if other people were willing to step up.)

The kings and queens of CONvergence decided they didn't just want to throw an awesome party, they wanted their organization to be about more. Also, another convention had gotten royally reamed by the Dark Lords of the IRS recently and they wanted to make sure the mystical scroll of protection, the 501c(3), would keep them safe. So they founded MISFITS, the Minnesota Society For Interest In Science Fiction and Fantasy. It works somehow, just roll with it.

MISFITS and CONvergence had a long and contentious relationship. One would accuse the other of perfidy, then it would go back. And forth. And back. Many things were tried to fix this relationship, but nothing worked. Things may have improved for a short time, but eventually the kings and queens and lords and ladies would be sharpening their knives. Originally, the land of the MISFITS had rulers appointed by the kings and queens of CONvergence, but over time they, too, were made kings and queens and given seats upon the Board of Directors. But, sadly, this did not pour oil upon the waters of the relationship. No, it turns out it was fire that they poured the oil upon.

One would think the kings and queens could tell the difference between water and fire, but they would be wrong.

So at one point, the kings and queens decided to split their kingdoms in twain. CONvergence would retain the kick ass party, and MISFITS would do all the drudge work of keeping a year-round community going. CONvergence agreed to fund MISFITS for some period, accounts differ on how much or for how long. But, alas, the kings and queens of CONvergence have forgotten that without the work of the MISFITS, or now the Land of GPS, the community suffers.

Oh, and Minicon? It's still there, but it is a much smaller kingdom now.

Thus ends the story.
This started as a reply to http://wrdnrd.dreamwidth.org/230143.html.

Long-term, cons tend to ossify and start defining themselves by what they are against rather than what they are for. A convention that starts as a literary SF con becomes a convention that excludes media, or a media con becomes on that doesn't invite authors, or an all-inclusive con becomes one that doesn't turn anyone away (which is a real problem if when it comes time to ban a bad actor). It's a semantic difference, but words are thought and "we are this" is more inclusive than "we aren't that." When a con's organized around concepts like feminism or social justice, where the definitions change generationally (or faster - this ain't your parent's feminism) as victories are assimilated, I think that a positive definition is extra important. It allows more flexibility of thought and behavior***.

One way I can see to minimize ossification is to keep new blood coming into the convention. I don't think anyone should, generally speaking, run a department for more than 5 or 6 years. Whether the department head moves to another department or steps down to some other position (or entirely) doesn't matter as much. The point is to force people out of their comfort zone and give them a strong incentive to recruit new people. It brings new eyes and a fresh perspective to a department which can reveal problems that were previously overlooked and bring new ways of doing things. Term limits would also, I think, help prevent the conrunners from forgetting that their convention exists for their attendees, not themselves and not for its own sake. New department staff/subhead/heads also bring with them new social networks which means, hey presto! New volunteers. It also, if we're talking about a con rooted in feminism/SJ, actively bringing in new blood helps keep the definitions used by the concom current. **

Another step, and I'm stealing from the Convergence playbook here, is to have a board of directors with a staggered election cycle that's elected by the concom (half one year, half the next, or 1/3 every year, or whatever). It helps prevent having someone new come in and make unilateral changes to the con that can happen with a singular, appointed con chair. It also provides a check on the board, if the concom feels that they're causing the convention to stray from its core values they have a way to effect changes at the top themselves. More to the point, it's an established way to bring changes to the top with no ad-hoc votes of no confidence required*.

A major downside to the "Convergence model" is that it requires patience to remove somebody (unless they engage in impeachable behavior or can be persuaded to resign) and to effect change across the whole convention. Stability can be a two-edged sword, preventing minor (or major) revolutions at the top also slows down changes that people feel are required. Being that the board is elected, however, they have an incentive to listen to the concom.*

In a model where a parent organization elects/appoints the board or chair, it is not necessarily the people running the convention picking the people who are at the top. That distance brings with it a new set of pluses and minuses. There is a certain perspective gained by not being in the trenches of the convention, but on the other hand they can be more insulated from the con. They almost certainly have the best interests of the convention at heart, and I don't doubt that they want to convention to succeed but, personally, I feel that it really helps to have the people working the con choosing the people at the board/chair level. If nothing else, it gives the concom a feeling of buy-in. "The board may be jerks, but we (not some nebulous "they") can vote them out."

Dealing with volunteers is more tricky. I've fired volunteers on occasion when they're not able to do the job, but usually you can find something that someone who wants to work can do. Case in point, I had an autistic individual who desperately wanted to earn his hours but couldn't be put into a position of dealing with people, so we found some behind-the-scenes work for him to do. It didn't really need doing just then, but it kept him happy.

Toxic volunteers with a pattern of problems, even if good at their jobs, usually aren't worth it. Even if they're not in public-facing positions, they effect the cohesion and morale of the rest of the department. It's important to give people a second chance, though. We had a volunteer, an older gentleman, who didn't realize that how he was doing his job could be considered harassing or, at least, mildly dangerous. Once we told him that he was mortified, and from them on wasn't a problem. He was actually a good volunteer.

Is everyone trainable? No, but if we fired everyone after their first complaint against them there would be damn few people left to run the con. There are times when someone needs to be fired right away with no second chance, but usually the behavior is correctable. It may be 'come back tomorrow when you're not in costume' or moving them behind-the-scenes, but there's usually an option.

How does stuff get done while staying true to principles? Day-to-day, if the con has enough staff (and an elected board, IMO) they should be able to tend both. Partial compartmentalization - be aware of what's going on in other departments, and mention if you see problems, but let them work it out. Odds are even if it goes poorly it'll go poorly in a manageable way. It's when things melt down when that lovely little theory stops working. That's where planning for the most outrageous thing that could happen in your sphere-of-influence so that when something melts down you can at least set things in motion and document.

Document everything. Keep it in the cloud, or on a server owned by the convention (not a volunteer). Document everything you do to address the problem. Even if you fuck up, at least you can reconstruct what you did, which helps not lose the trust of your community. If you do it right you, or your successors, will have a good starting point for next time. A lot of what I've seen of the Wiscon/Frankel debacle wasn't just the outcomes (all, what, 3 of them?) but that it was opaque, they issued contradictory statements, had conflicts of interest, and they lost documentation.

(This brings to mind that I want to write about a semi-judicial model for dealing with bad actors. Another day.)

*** Nope, not even "don't be a dick" or "don't be an asshole" because, sometimes you have to do things that people will interpret as you being a dick. Have to ban a harasser? Their friends will call you a dick. Have to cancel a panel? You can be as nice as possible about it, and people will still call you an asshole.

** If your convention can't find people to help run it, ask yourself why that is. People want to help if they feel like they're part of a community. Are you making for volunteers feel welcome? Are you giving them a chance to be more than badgers or line minders? Are you keeping an eye out for prospective talent and actively recruiting them? No, seriously, that person who's working on the line at your con, notice how they picked it up quickly and are friendly with the attendees? Talk to them, get to know them, see if they want more responsibility. Not a lot more, but a little - mind working this, slightly more complicated, part of the line? How about taking over as a line boss for this other line? Step-by-step, if you're willing to engage with even the lowest-level volunteers, you'll find yourself building up more staff. Maybe they don't want to be staff now but if you give them the chance, if you're encouraging and friendly when they do have free time they'll be far more willing to step up. Even if they never want to move up in the department, they will remember that you were nice to them and took care of them which will bring them back. Also, if they want to work in another department send them along with your compliments. Don't try to hoard volunteers - they'll leave anyway and won't come back.

* Yes, I know I'm being optimistic here about the power of voting in a new board. There's always situations where it won't work, or where someone intimidates others from running against them. Also, in the Convergence model, each director has an area of responsibility/a number of departments that they oversee.



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