Changing future Flocks to have fewer presentations?

I read a very interesting article about remote gatherings earlier this week and it got me thinking about how we’ve done Flock in the past. From my perspective, we’ve treated Flock a lot like a conference: days filled with sessions and some social activities in the evening. But what if we treated it more like a (good) company meeting?

Conferences are often for people who do similar things (technology or job function) for different organizations. Company meetings are for people who do different things for the same organization. The latter sounds a lot more like Fedora to me.

So what might it look like if we reduced the number of presentations in order to allow for more social and unstructured time? Could we shift some/most of the presentations to remote events (either a release party or a slimmed-down Nest[1] in order to accommodate more planning/social/unstructured time? What would the mix look like? I don’t think the breakdown in the article works directly. But maybe something like 20% hackfests, 50% planning and social, 30% sessions? Maybe something else entirely?

We’ve learned over the last 2+ years that we can do presentations very well (and more inclusively!) online. So when we hopefully start being able to have in-person events, are presentations the best use of our limited time?

  1. I fully acknowledge that keeping a smaller Nest along with a return of Flock would be an additional burden that would likely fall to the FCAIC. Marie was rightfully hesitant about this. While Justin is not Marie, I would not be surprised if he came to the same conclusion, particularly once he gets more settled into the tremendous amount of work we ask of our FCAICs. If we’re going to do this, we’ll have to figure out a way to share the workload sustainably. ↩︎


Thanks for opening this conversation Ben. This is a good opportunity to get ideas and thoughts out into the open about what a Flock 2023 would actually look like.

I agree that we should not jump back in by doing the same thing we always did. While I am traveling home from All Things Open today, it surprised me at first that it was way more taxing than I remembered larger events and conferences being. This line in the article resonated especially:

“Our social skills are like a muscle that has atrophied, and we need to provide everyone with the space to ease back into these events. People should leave retreats feeling refreshed and energized, not exhausted.”


First, I want to point out that isn’t a new idea for Flock. We integrated hackfests into Flock programming in a more intentional way for the first time at Flock 2017 in Cape Cod. While scheduling still included many presentations, we made steps away from unidirectional content (i.e. speaker presenting to audience) and more bidirectional content (i.e. facilitator threading conversations between a core team or multiple teams).

I mention this because I think this shift worked well for Flock. Looking back at the article, one major difference with Fedora is that we also haven’t done small team “mini-retreats” (i.e. hackfests / FADs) in a while now either. So, Flock would likely be a significant convergence of many teams who also have not had the benefit of face-to-face interaction in a long time either. I don’t want to carve away too much of that time because I do think it is valuable, and I particularly value opportunities for teams that don’t normally get to collaborate or be in the same room at the same time to do that at Flock.

That said, my preference would be to reduce unidirectional content (i.e. presentations) in favor of more bidirectional or interactive sessions (i.e. half-day or full-day hackfests, or workshops). Since the pandemic, release parties took off in a way they did since my time in Fedora began. Release parties are an effective medium for unidirectional, informational content. They fill a gap that was previously only filled by Flock.

So, I don’t think reducing presentations from Flock programming is controversial. Additionally, it could actually be a boon for organizing efforts around release parties.

I was thinking recently about what Flock might look like if the programming was made to be more thematic around how each day was spent. Assuming we continue a 3.5 day format (Thursday to Sunday afternoon), what do you think of something like this?

  1. Day 1: Engineering Day.
    • This day focuses on all topics related to engineering and development in Fedora. This could be release engineering, Fedora Infrastructure, FESCo, websites & apps, packaging, Fedora Spins & Labs, Mentored Project intern presentations, or anything else that could be rolled up into “the bits and bytes” of Fedora.
  2. Day 2: Mindshare Day.
    • This day focuses on all topics related to non-engineering and Mindshare in Fedora. This could be design, marketing, CommOps, Mindshare Committee, localization & translation, mentored projects, documentation, Fedora Join, etc.
  3. Day 3: Community Day.
    • This would fit better with the idea offered in the article for unstructured social time. This could be planned social activities (e.g. physical/adventure, cerebral/cultural, health/wellness) as well as self-organized social time. We could reserve the venue space for spontaneous “unconference”-style sessions that might emerge as a result of conversations in the previous two days. Ideally, this is the day for the community to unwind, enjoy the journey, and get that valuable social time that many of us have missed since the last Flock.
  4. Day 4: Read-outs and wrap-up.
    • This remains similar to how we have done it at previous Flocks. Session organizers and speakers present read-outs of what happened at Flock, key takeaways and actions, and what comes next. I prefer to reserve this day to be transferring the outcomes of Flock back into the usual workstreams that we have across the project.

Other than ending with read-outs, I’m not committed to this specific order.

My intention of having an Engineering and a Mindshare day would be to encourage better overlap of these two different groups. One struggle for me at previous Flocks is that opportunities to grow in new areas was harder to come by. I wanted to attend session X about CoreOS and container infrastructure in Fedora, but I actually needed to attend session Y withthe Fedora Badges team that ran at the same time. For me, I often stayed within my comfort zone or in my lane at Flock, and it was harder for me to “reach” across the Project into areas where I had less visibility.

So, I feel like splitting the content into these two buckets might allow people the chance to break into a part of Fedora that they might not otherwise get to explore. Would it make scheduling easier or harder? I’m not too sure.

One potential downside is that this would segregate our contributors, and lead to an “othering” of other parts of Fedora. Which is the exact opposite of the outcome I would want. For example, I’d want to encourage Engineering folks to be present in the Mindshare Day and Mindshare folks to be present in the Engineering Day.

To be frank, I could not sustain both a Flock and a Nest in the same year. I have enough prior context to know how much work organizing each of these events is. Even if someone else organized one or the other, I would still have to be tied closely to both by the nature of the FCAIC role. Maybe I could be convinced otherwise, but I really want to mind my burnout clock and I think running both in the same year is too much on me.

However, to counter, I really love our virtual release parties. I think this was an unexpected success that emerged in the last two years. The release party model could also work well with autonomous, locally-organized events (which is something I would like to encourage more of).

To be perfectly clear, I am not dictating that this is how it is going to be, but as the fulcrum for a lot of our events now, this is my gut feeling for what I’d like to do:

  1. START: In-person Flocks.
  2. STOP: Virtual Nests.
  3. CONTINUE: Virtual and local in-person Release Parties.

Hi there,

I resonate with the thought of reducing presentations, as I see most of them as being interactions open to be driven from only one side. It would be much better if we could replace those with interactive events like workshops, brainstorming, games etc. and I can say that we did have a great deal of success with the workshop and hackfest sessions, @lilyx and @thunderbirdtr helped conduct for the Websites and Apps Team and the translation sessions ran by @riecatnor, @sumantrom and @marianab. People are likely to feel more involved and included in these sessions, which is a good thing.

There are, of course, caveats in this as it can be a great challenge to run interactive sessions in a virtual setting. Having so many folks in a virtual meeting room can get messy and moderation can be a tiring job too. Personally, I like to think of conferences as if they were a downtime from the actual work but they do not feel like it, being constantly pinned to the screen. Virtual conference fatigue is real and people start feeling progressively less involved as time passes by, if they don’t have stakes or participation in the event. An in-person event, like @jflory7 mentioned, can help alleviate all these struggles.

But for now, while we are bound to virtual conferences (and please note - I like to think that we should continue having Fedora Linux Release Parties virtually on a global level, as a lot of Fedora Linux users (with little to no involvement within the community) can join these in a matter of clicks), having more interactive events with a lower threshold of involvement (which itself can pose a balance challenge and might lead to the interactions to become shallow in quality content) and lesser one-sided presentations/talks, like @bcotton mentioned, seems like the right way forward.

I like that idea as a first pass. We might want to not have them be single days but spread things out a bit, but that’s more of an implementation detail to work out later…

I totally respect the burnout issue. I’d really like to see an FCAIC stick around for like…four years (wow!). What you suggest is a good approach. Ideally, what I’d like to see is the FCAIC (with support, of course) run Nest and Flock and let not-the-FCAIC run the virtual Release Parties. Of course, that’s asking volunteers to take on a lot of work because it’s unlikely that Red Hat will invest additional headcount for this.

My dreams may not be feasible, but if we can find a way to make it work, I think that’s best. If we can’t make it happen, I wonder if we can maybe add a third day to release parties or reallocate the time so that some of the content is more contributor-focused?

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Each day could also be split 50/50, e.g. Engineering in the morning and Mindshare in the afternoon, and vice versa the following day.

Also, it is worth noting that a decision made now can always be reevaluated each year. Going one direction over another isn’t saying we will always do that way forever, but it can be the approach we try right now for next year, based on what we know about the current situation.

I like where this is going, but I also really think having at least some expectation of formal, prepared content has been helpful for Flock. The very first FUDCons were organized conference-style, with calls-for-papers and invited talks. But that was a lot of work, so we tried out the “barcamp”-style approach. And that’s part of what wasn’t working — too much chaos on the ground in the end.

I’ve been to a couple of conferences that have run formal talks in the morning — all as plenary sessions[1] — and then workshops, breakouts, and/or barcamp or lean coffee sessions in the afternoons. Maybe we could consider that?

I’m also a big fan of short talks — possibly an attention-span thing, or maybe part of my “I’m trying to keep up with everything” role in the project. But I think it’s more useful to get ten dense minutes about six things than a full hour of one thing while five others happen at the same time. (That length also makes for better online videos!)

  1. That is, only one track ↩︎

Oh, another thing: one problem we’ve had in the past is with employers (including different departments across Red Hat, even) being many times more likely to approve travel attendance (and even more so, funding that travel) for invited speakers. De-emphasizing formal talks may mean we leave more people out — or need to find more general travel funding sources.

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Yeah, that’s my big concern with this. It may be one of those “people are allowed to be wrong” scenarios that I’m trying very hard to learn to accept.

As you suggested, doing “thunder talks” (~10-15 minutes, so longer than a lightning talk) for part of the time might be a good compromise. Not only does it help with your attention span, but I think it makes the very act of speaking more approachable. We can still have some longer talks for the content that needs it, but I think for most people it’s easier to come up with 10-15 minutes worth of stuff to talk about than it is 25-50.


More thoughts as the come to me!

I really liked the ending read-out we did at several of the in-person Flocks, where after the workshops and hackfests, we had each team present an outcome. Was that just me, or did others find that valuable too?

I’m also thinking that it would be even more useful for someone to take notes on these read-outs — maybe even post them real-time-ish to Community Blog or to somewhere here.

As someone who is more likely than not to only be able to attend the virtual events, I’m ok with the release parties replacing the virtual conference sessions in favor of letting Flock maximize for in-person interactions. As others have said, running a Flock and Nest may be too much.

Also, if you try to have less speakers then you have less talks to try to ‘simulcast’ to a virtual version of the event, assuming we try to do some kind of streaming. So that’s a plus.

I don’t want to say it, but It kind of seems like Nest may not fit the new paradigm. Release parties are for virtual connections. Flocks are for in-person connections. Nest would be nice to do, but it seems like the other events may have higher priority? Just my opinion.

We could experiment by having one day (e.g. the third day) as unstructured time for teams and groups to self-organize for work or leisure.

This resemble how PyCon U.S. runs Development Sprints as a part of PyCon. we could suggest options for how people would self-organize in a flexible day of the conference. If a hot topic emerges from the two previous days, the conference could request a room and amentities in the venue for small groups. Ideally, this includes power access, whiteboards or large drawing pads, and other basic amentities.

Thinking back to what originally Ben, we could provide both conference-organized and suggested options for this hypothetical flex day. We could organize or facilitate one of each type of activity like was suggested in the article (physical/adventure, cerebral/cultural, health/wellness).

We should be careful to not disincentivize content contributions. The success of Flock also depends on the sessions and experiences that our contributors organize for the conference. We want people to bring their best ideas and feel encouraged to organize a session. So, there should be recognition and incentive for preparing content to share at Flock.

Instead, the emphasis would shift away from talks and hackfests as exclusively what happens at Flocks. It would shift toward multiple streams of input, including talks but also a wider range of possible sessions.

Coming back to the idea of splitting a day’s sessions by Engineering and Mindshare sessions, we could also experiment with durations. Day 1 of Flock could be longer-format sessions and hackfests, and Day 2 could be shorter, lightning/thunder talk sessions.

Or is this overengineering the conference?


Just as a side note, one of the things that has made Flock possible for many people (including myself) was the availability of travel support and sponsorship for speakers and contributors. I would like us to continue offering that support for the next Flock, but it will take some time to work out the details.

Also, to reiterate, this shouldn’t be interpreted as Nest will never happen again. With more resources or organizing capacity, we could run both events at some point in the future. But probably not in 2023.

Based on conversation earlier in the thread, here is a hypothetical breakdown of how the next Flock could be structured:

Please yell at me if i do too much “welll, we tried that once…” here. :classic_smiley: We had team-work-hackfest-days at the end before, and a lot of people booked their travel as if that weren’t a real day — taking away their opportunity to change their mind and participate. What if we put the unstructured day in the middle?

I don’t know about overengineering, but I think I have a preference for mixing it up.

Is the middle considered the second or the third day? :slightly_smiling_face: In my proposal, I put it as the third day while leaving the fourth day for final plenaries and the conference wrap-up.

Yeah, I definitely wouldn’t want people to do that. I am wondering if having a mix of conference-organized activities and allowing teams the room to improvise would be good. This way, there is programming and things built into that day if you show up without any plans, but if you want to improvise something on the fly, there are spaces and resources for a team to do that. Ideally, I’d like to encourage more preemptive requests before the event instead of fully ad-hoc, but I wouldn’t want to exclude that as an option either.

When we moved from FUDCon to Flock, we were actively addressing the flaws in the “ad-hoc” conference model, which were:

  1. Lack of predictability - “I want to go, but I don’t know if it will be useful”
  2. Lack of professionalism - “This looks more like a riot than a conference”
  3. Difficult to sponsor - “I would like to sponsor, but you don’t know what will be happening”
  4. Repetitive material - “I know I brought this idea up at the last two FUDCons, but hear me out”
  5. Lack of quality control - “I don’t actually know anything about init systems, but I was hoping someone did, so I put this topic out there.”
  6. Difficult to have the right people in the room - “If I had known that Spot was going to be talking about TeXLive, I would have come”

I would encourage you to consider those challenges as you incorporate “ad hoc” content into Flock going forward.

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Designer here.

If you have eng stuff in the morning and mindshare stuff in the afternoon… mindshare peeps might sleep in (or nap in the back if the content is too detailed / irrelevant for them), eng peeps might go grab space somewhere else around the venue to hack based on conversations had in their morning sessions / they’re not sure how to participate in mindshare stuff.

Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but… I don’t think labeling one time for everyone to do X topic and another time for everyone to do Y topic is going to result in everyone collaborating on that topic.

I think crossing that particular “divide” (not really a divide, we’re all friends lol) is an awesome goal and I think we could do amazing things if we could figure out how…

Like rather than focusing the sessions on two sides of a divide… focus the sessions on shared project wide goals / initatives both sides can bring insight / perspective to? (I’d suggest maybe focusing on project objectives as the half day chunk themes??) When you propose a talk you choose what theme it aligns with and suggest how your talk will help get us closer to goal. (I have definitely seen CFP require a statement of what attendees will take away. This is a modification - what will we all collectively take away / how will Fedora apply this?

Or here is a wacky idea. Talks have to be given in pairs, one eng speaker one mindshare discipline speaker.

Or another weird one: mindshare reviewers select the eng talks, eng reviewers select the mindshare talks?

Sure some of this is not feasible or silly but silly ideas are good brain food :yum:

Disregard this all of course if it’s a non-goal to get the different disciplined folks to mix better at in-person events :sweat_smile:

But I do note sometimes it feels we keep the “stuff all the different teams are working on” a bit vague and hand-wavy - and sure no one can be on every team and understand what it is exactly they’re working on and their long-term goals… could we not get more specific about that up front, have a roll call, then do a bit of an affinity map exercise (all before the event mind you) to figure out the major high level themes? So we can note stuff like [rando example] oh the the design and marketing and mindshare teams are all either just after a gitlab migration or in the process, there’s eng teams that maybe have been there longer, could a theme be better organization of how we work and how we take on new contribs that could lead to a nice thematic thread of talks across disciplines? Or hey the websites team is working on a new website structure (the only active objective i see right now), and we have some teams releasing new editions, lets get all the editions, spins, community, and infra folks together to talk through the new website from each of their perspectives… eg cloud edition / core os edition folks, give your presos on what youre up to / future roadmap / your teams, then maybe we have a workshop from the designers and web teams to translate those presentations into requirements / iterations / improvements to the respective edition websites…

I guess it’s not enough to have an objective or theme but ideally some explicit thought as to how x, y, and z teams could work on something together?


The TLDR; of this post: let’s be more intentional with how we structure events - we tend to be handwavy (even in the non barcamp flock model) and should try for a cross-project themed structure that naturally brings folks to collaborate on shared goals (ad gets them off the well worn track they always run)


I’m afraid that will appear to many people as:

  • Real day #1
  • Real day #2
  • Not sure what this / hard to explain to my boss
  • Buncha stuff I can skip

I like this idea a lot. I think it could bring both the engineering and non-engineering sides together on similar topics with forcing it as “engineering and mindshare.”

This kind of lead work would be useful going into the CFP stages. I think it would be doable. With proper messaging to go along with the CFP and announcement, I think we could probably wrangle session proposals in this way. This could be part of the CFP review committee’s duties.

I’m curious whether there is an appetite for the unstructured “retreat-style” approach that @bcotton advocated for in the original post, or whether it would make more sense to keep firmly structured content on all three days.

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Re: appetite for unstructured time… I think longer 90 min- 2h blocks for mini hackfest would probably accomplish the same thing more effectively because there could be coordination ahead of the event to make sure folks who could help the focus of the hacking succeed by being present.

I do think social time is important tho! But I dont consider that unstructured necessarily!

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Hi - sorry if this is not allowed, I’m not a contributor but stumbled upon the link to this forum from the Fedora Reddit and was interested in this topic as I was part of teams coordinating conferences and working sessions in several of my previous jobs.

For what it’s worth, based on what I saw in those jobs, people really seemed to get a lot out of it when time was structured as ‘receiving’ information (ex. presentations), then a period of time to break, refuel and socialize - and for the brain to synthesize - and then a period of time to ‘use’ information / develop new ideas.

That ordering - in the examples I remember, roughly corresponding to ~9A-12P sessions, 12P-2P lunch and socials, 2P-5P working time - seemed to give folks the opportunity to walk away from a day having learned new things on a topic, and having made tangible progress on implementing something related to that topic, while not requiring folks choose between extending their conference day into the evening in order to get any social time, or sacrificing other work or life responsibilities (e.g. I and several others I knew would always have time set aside in the evenings for video calls to the family back home - obviously easier in nearby time zones - but I know many also have some day-to-day work that can’t be put aside or at least needs triaged).

Again just hoping that might be helpful to the discussion as y’all think and plan, and I apologize / please delete if this is inappropriate for the forum.



Welcome, John! We welcome input from the entire Fedora community on these discussions. If anything, we’re not getting enough of it. Thanks for your input.

I agree that having some time to “digest” is really important. Years ago, I was a conference blogger for the USENIX LISA conference. That meant for six days I was basically in sessions all day and writing summaries at night. I retained almost none of it because I didn’t have any time to let it sit.

We can change that if you’re interested :smiley: