[ox-en] About the Oekonux conference
- From: Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>
- Date: Fri, 28 May 2004 22:36:49 +0200
Thanks to FranzN who gave a very interesting report from the
conference on the German list containing a number of ideas which IMHO
are very worthwhile to be considered in more depth.
I'd also like to give a few impressions from the conference. It was a
good experience to me as seemingly for anyone else. One of the good
things was to see so many Oekonuxis again or for the first time :-) .
To me it felt much more as an community event than the 2nd conference
In this mail, however, I'll concentrate mostly on the more
organizational things so people know widely what happened and what
worked and what did not - at least IMHO. I'd also hope this mail could
foster a wider participation of the project in the preparation of the
next conference. That's also the reason why I send this mail here
instead of [pox].
If I counted correctly we had 35 presentations this time (excluding
the opening and closing plena). From these there were 20 German
presentations in 15 talks and 3 panels and 15 English presentations in
5 talks and 5 panels. I.e. this time we had nearly ~43% English
presentations while at the 2nd conference we had ~33%. I didn't note
that increase during the preparation but I welcome it. Anyway to me
this conference felt more international than the last one. I think
this was also due to the fact that this time there were no explicit
English track but it was all mixed. In other words: This worked very
For the first time we had the concept of panels where two contributors
with related topics were combined into a BigSlot lasting three hours.
I think this worked very good. Because it saves us time in the time
table while at the same time does not cost us much of the important
discussion time we should do this again.
AFAIK we had one spontaneous session this time: The session on the
relationship between the German and the English part of the project.
I'll come back to its content later. Once more I find it worthwhile
mentioning that there are actually few spontaneous sessions. IIRC in
no conference we had more than two of them. Given the dense program I
can understand this. I don't know whether and if so what we should do
about this by organizational means. To me it looks like the concrete
wish for spontaneous sessions is far smaller than the abstract calls
for it which come up once in a while.
As Nicolas told me after the conference there were about 120 persons
who checked in at the conference bureau. However, he also said that
many of the Vienna people just bypassed the conference bureau and thus
are not listed. I saw a number of people which didn't wear there name
strips so I guess this is true. Also I'm not sure whether all speakers
are in the list. I think a number of 150 visitors is not too far
fetched. I'll check this more thoroughly when Günther sent me a copy
of the participant lists.
What basically not worked this time was the conference donation. We
asked for 10EUR in the conference folder and in the opening session
but obviously from the 150 participants only very few cared (AFAIK
~350EUR). This were quite different on the 2nd conference and I wonder
what happened this time. May be during the check-in people should have
been pointed to this with bigger emphasis. Since the financial
situation is not as bad as it looked like in the beginning - also
because of the donations from the speakers in terms of travel expenses
and accomodation - I guess this won't be a problem. But we need to
take this into account next time and care about it.
This conference was the first one where the Oekonux people worked
closely together with a local, non-Oekonux partner. So far the hosts
of the 1st and 2nd conference where rather passive (Berlin) or more or
less from Oekonux (Dortmund). There have been some frictions but I
think this is normal in such a situation. Partly I think they are
related to the cultural clash between the very virtual work style of
Oekonux and a more "earth-bound" style in Vienna. However, all in all
we worked very well together - and I guess still will in the
What I saw from the presentation helpers I think they did a good job.
We tried to have a helpers meeting for briefing everyone but this
didn't work :-( . I'd like to improve this next time. Also the
organization of the presentation helpers worked well this time.
There was always someone at the conference bureau. This is what I
think is needed in a conference bureau. Also this was really a meeting
point for the conference. For a meeting point the location in front of
the entry to the 3rd floor from the staircase was not optimal. Also to
be considered next time depending on the location.
The supply with drinking was by far not as good as it could have been.
After all there were some mineral water. With a little more effort a
better offer could have been made. I think because of the provisional
character of the drinks there were no much donations for this also.
IMHO a simple sign with a price could have helped a lot.
Food supply was what really crashed - at least as it has been planned.
It just did not happen :-( . This is mainly a result of not taking
responsibility :-( . The plans made were big and from the beginning I
wondered whether they will work out. From this crash I once more draw
the KISS conclusion: Keep It Simply Simple.
However, we were lucky. On Friday the refectory in the same building
was open and on Saturday Denise had been organized which served us a
very delicious meal on the conference site for a very reasonable
price. This was the way it worked on the 1st and 2nd conference and I
think we should always do it this way: Get a caterer and otherwise
forget about it. The only problem is to guess the number of portions.
This time we guaranteed to buy 40 portions and asked for 60 portions.
As far as I can see this worked out very good.
I don't know much about the mass accommodation but I consider this a
sign that it worked well. I noticed that it was very good to have it
at all. Thus I changed my mind about this: We should go for it next
There was a plan that people should pay 2EUR/night for the mass
accommodation but as far as I can see this has never really been
communicated. Accordingly this didn't work. No real problem, however,
as far as I can see now.
The presentations I visited were very interesting. I had wished to
listen to all of them but hope that the audios will give me a second
The panel with Christoph Spehr and me about OHA and the following
discussion was *very* interesting. It was possible to raise a number
of very interesting questions as well as to present some concepts
around this topic. The atmosphere of the discussion was absolutely
perfect. I'm now confident that we can take up this complicated and
rather emotional topic on the lists again and get a bit further with
When I talked to Alan later I mentioned that when thinking about this
topic I always think: "This must have been thought about a thousand
times before." His answer, however, may be just right: "Yes. But may
be nobody got the right answers so far." Good idea :-) .
After the panel a number of English speaking people asked me whether
the discussion will be available to them (panel was in German). Well,
I could translate my slides but when the audios are available somebody
could to a transcript of the discussion which then can be translated
to English. I think it would be worthwhile.
The introduction to Oekonux has been done by StefanMz, FranzN and me.
Different to the 2nd conference this time we took a normal slot (2
hours) and managed to have about three quarter hours of discussion . I
think this worked good this time and we should definitely repeat this.
However, we gave it in German (because of no time to prepare myself
for speaking English on my side :-( ). We had the (complete)
introduction in the conference folder so I think it was possible to
follow. Next time we should go for an English introduction session.
When looking at the project itself the spontaneous session on the
"Relationship between the German and English / international part of
Project Oekonux" was by far the most important thing - besides seeing
each other of course :-) . The discussion was a bit rambling but there
was one thing which we decided: We want to have a discussion about how
this project is lead, what are the structures, who makes decisions,
how they are made and so on. This was also a reflection of the recent
crash on the English list.
Personally I welcome this. When I took over the maintainer role I said
I will do it until we found something better. I still think this way
and I'd welcome if we can come up with something better. In particular
I'd welcome if more people get involved in the day to day work. Since
we are also currently planning a complete reorganization of the
technical infrastructure this would be a good time for this.
While I'm at the German / English thing: If I listen to my feelings I
note one important shift: Since the conference I definitely feel
Oekonux as an international project. In this session in the beginning
I said that the English part to me always felt like an add-on to the
German part. I definitely changed my mind on this. From now on I
consider Oekonux an international project which a strong German
speaking part - instead of a German project with a weak international
part. May be the conference could be seen as the point where the
international Oekonux really took off.
One more point about German / English: I don't know whether there were
whispering translation but in the closing session this has been
reported as missing. Next time we definitely need to pay more
attention to this issue. This time I think we could have had it rather
cheap but in the end we made the final decisions too late so the
offers were withdrawn meanwhile.
I find it also worthwhile mentioning that we were *very* good with
time management. On Saturday we shifted the whole program half an hour
into the evening because of a communication problem on our side the
lunch was late for half an hour. Otherwise everything was fully in
time. Well, I'm used to this from Oekonux conferences but since it is
not standard on "alternative" conferences this is probably worth
Also I noticed the layout of the time table this time was far more
reasonable. For the former conferences we had mixed BigSlots and
normal slots. This time basically all slots started and ended at the
same time. So people had a much easier choice because they had to
decide exactly against two other options and not four as it has been
with the mixed layout.
This conference was put to a "long" weekend where the Thursday was a
(Christian) holiday at least in Germany and in Austria. Though this
gave us a lot of time with very reasonable time for travelling it also
gave us a number of problems. Weekends like this are attractive to
many people organizing such events. Thus we will always had a lot of
"competitors". Also such a weekend competes with weekend short trips
which not every family father (any mothers with this problem? ;-) )
can combine with attending a conference.
In addition in a city like Vienna a weekend like this is a major
tourist weekend which leads to higher accomodation prices, early full
booking of flights (I were lucky to get one of the last flights with
reasonable start times and prices...) and hotels and so on.
For all these reasons I think next time we should do it in a "normal"
This time the deadline for proposing contributions was definitely too
close to the conference time. Next time we need to give us and our
invited guests more time. This also applies to the invitation. This
also means we need to put out the Call for Contribution earlier and in
general should start earlier with conference preparation.
I just checked my private conference mail folder and found this time
we started in August '03. This means we had about ten months of
preparation time. If we are a bit faster and also give us some more
time then a year of preparation time seems reasonable.
As you may have noted above I often said "next time". Actually in the
closing plenum considerations about a possible next conference and
about it's format came up and later were an explicit topic. Personally
I think we should organize the 4th Oekonux conference and when we keep
the 1 1/2 year rythm then it would happen somewhere in autumn next
Also I feel it was at least close to a consensus that the next
conference should take place in a non-German-speaking country - but I
think still in Europe. (Actually this matches my secret plans ;-) .)
At this the conference languages will be (at least) English and German
- and not the other way round ;-) .
In a chat with SheenL he suggested Switzerland or the Scandinavian
countries - for instance Kopenhagen - because these countries still
have relatively rich universities. For instance about the UK a number
of people voiced concerns because since Thatcher the universities are
really poor and probably would not even be able to donate the rooms
for an Oekonux conference. Well, this is a somewhat complicated issue
and of course it depends on where we find local cooperation partners.
Personally I had favored London for the next time but the concerns
above seem valid.
In the closing session also the format of the conference has been
discussed. A number of arguments have been repeated which came up
during the decision between Hallein / Vienna. However, there was one
point I think was new: A not too big event like the Oekonux
conferences with 150 persons is much better for the personal contact
of the participants. I wholeheartedly agree with this and because
Oekonux is otherwise such a virtual project I consider it important to
see the conference also as a place where the Oekonux community
materializes and we all have the chance to see at least some of the
faces behind all the e-mail addresses. Therefore I'd even stronger
argue for a conference in the size we had a so far which is not
coupled with a 1000+ persons event.
On the other hand I liked it that the Creative Commons license for
Austria has been presented on the Oekonux conference. Things like this
are something I'd welcome.
Mit Freien Grüßen
Organization: projekt oekonux.de