Not much, actually. Which isn’t to belittle the thing; I’ve helped do it myself a few times.
A handful of planners took the first BarCamp from idea to executed event in six days.1 Since then, of course, many cities have managed to put together their own BarCamps on whatever budget they could manage, in whatever timeframe they found possible. Typically you only need a handful of people to see the thing through.
All you really need to do, when it gets right down to it, is find a space. Ideally, a space whose owners are willing to provide for free. Once you have a space, the rest is cake.
Well, preferably not (just) cake. You should try to feed people reasonably well. You might also provide some liquid refreshments. Might be nice to give people T-shirts too. Pretty soon you’ll find that having a sponsor or two (or three, or N) wouldn’t hurt.
So, in summary, putting together a successful BarCamp requires a space, some food, and some sponsors. This is all organizational stuff that can be handled by a few interested people beforehand.
Those interested people, your friendly neighborhood BarCamp planners, end up self-organizing along doöcratic lines. Which is to say, the guy who actually takes care of the food is in charge of the food, and the gal who wrangles up sponsor money ends up in charge of handling sponsorships.
Over time, planners will come and go. If you’re still playing the same role in your local BarCamp that you were several years ago, you’re probably doing it wrong. Go do something else and let the young’uns step in. But I digress.
Assuming you actually have multiple interested people (not just one interested person), you’ll probably encounter some basic, small-group governance issues. Well, you can probably get away with avoiding such things, at least until your first big disagreement. At that point, it’s nice to have some kind of final arbiter.
I’m talking about something much closer to a primus inter pares than to a BDFL. Essentially, you need one of your doöcrats to step up and do the (sometimes hard) work of keeping the planning team on the same page, working together instead of at cross-purposes. This should really be a part-time position—everyone, frankly, has better things to do. But sometimes personalities clash and people can’t see eye-to-eye. It’s handy to have somebody at hand to defuse such things.
So it was with BarCamp San Diego. For our first three and a half camps, Patrick was our fearless leader. He certainly didn’t seek the position out. In fact, I kind of threw him under the bus on that one. Nevertheless, in the run-up to our first BarCamp, Patrick took the reins and made sure that things actually happened.
San Diego’s first BarCamp planners, from left to right in the front of the room: Ryan Felton, Patrick Crowley, Dan Tentler, myself, Alex Kawas, Lisa Brewster, and Phelan Riessen. Not pictured: Billy Marsh, Lindsay LaShell, Enrique Gutierrez, and Matt Bosworth.
We had more than our fair share of organizational and interpersonal issues in the period leading up to planning our first BarCamp. We had too many cooks in the kitchen. Among the many initial enthusiasts were a few, shall we say, "strong personalities." People who, inexplicably, couldn’t or wouldn’t work with each other like adults. We had to work extra-hard to keep things moving forward. Eventually, all but one of these problematic volunteers dropped out.
Of course, life with one difficult organizer is more complicated than with zero, but it’s considerably easier than life with several (to which we had grown accustomed). I think we were all pretty relieved to be heading into the period between our first and second BarCamps with a considerably reduced workload in the "keeping-people-acting-like-adults" department.
So it came as some surprise that working with the one remaining antagonistic, immature planner was actually harder the second time around. Several of us ended up having to spend more and more of our limited volunteer time managing him instead of tending to our various other responsibilities.
This situation continued and worsened through several BarCamps, until it reached a critial point during the planning of our fourth camp. Burnout loomed. Several of us let Patrick know that we were unable to continue working with this guy, and he more than sympathized—he was at his wit’s end himself. After talking it over (for entirely too long, if you ask Erin), we decided that firing this co-planner would likely result in lots of public drama that could harm our local BarCamp community. Instead, most of the planners, including Patrick, resigned en masse.
Some others stayed on. Phelan Riessen, Billy Marsh, and Jonathan Shufelt have stuck it through, and I commend them for it. Seriously, those guys are rad. I don’t know how they put up with him.
The reason I’ve gone to the trouble of writing up this story
now, after all this time, is that Dan Tentler—the
impossible-to-work-with co-planner described above—has
recently repeatedly and publicly accused me of
one of a handful of people who tried to execute a coup de tas
[sic] against BarCamp San Diego a few years ago. [1, 2]. This claim is as bizarre and nonsensical
as it is false. I have trouble imagining how distorted his
experience of the world must be, to interpret what actually
happened in such a confused manner.
This will likely be the last thing I write on this subject; I fear I’ve already fed the troll more than enough.