LinuxSA Leadership Considerations

Arjen Lentz arjen at
Thu May 23 10:17:29 CST 2013

Hi all

Just a few notes from a non-SA resident.
I am subscribed to a number of LUG lists, and at various times I've visited and sometimes done talks (including LinuxSA). So I can compare how different LUGs operate, and what approach might be effective.

I don't think a change in leadership structure, particularly a more formal one, helps. What you'd introduce is more overhead. What makes a local group happening is actual activity. That is, meetings, events, chatter on this list, but also just someone talking to someone else about a topic because they'd met them through LinuxSA. That's all part of it.

Most LUGs are generally short on speakers. This is because....

 1) the experienced people have become more experienced, and have already talked about their main stuff and might feel awkward suggesting yet another talk by them. Well, please let them talk again anyway. There'll be something new. Think sideways more than deeper, but deeper can also be good sometimes.

 2) People who haven't done talks before might feel apprehensive about giving it a go. Let them have a go and be gracious and explicitly encouraging. Don't do a geek nit-pick on them, otherwise it might scare them right off from speaking or even from LinuxSA altogether (same applies for newbies on the list, really). Even if it's not a good talk, they've gained experience and heck not having a meeting because there are no talks is not good either.

 2b) Having two shorter talks rather than one big one in a meeting is also an option. It reduces the stress on an individual speaker in terms of talk duration and being the only person to carry a meeting.

 3) People who aren't experienced might feel they have little to contribute although they too have valuable experience - there will be other quiet people who can benefit from seeing that experience shared.

LUV in Melbourne have their ups and downs, but overall they are very successful. The numbers at meetings are generally considerable, and they attract new people. They regularly do install fests as well as tutorials on a variety of basic stuff to specific apps (learning about Inkscape, or perhaps simply how to navigate bits of Linux).

Installing Linux is fairly easy these days, but finding your way after that can feel hard.
Any reply or instruction that starts with "just do ..." or "simply ..." is BAD (see any of Lana Brindley's talks on that topic, very insightful).

Maintaining and growing your group is about being welcoming to people, specifically those who feel they know less. They may or may not actually know less, but personal perception is important. Everybody has plenty to learn.
The point is, hanging a "welcome" sign on the door is not what makes a group welcoming. It's about what happens when a new person peeks around the corner for the first time, and timidly steps into the room. What happens in those first few moments is a key indicator of how welcoming a group is.
Mind you, I've seen HUMBUG (Brisbane) fail dismally at this particular aspect.

My practical suggestions:

Let people step up for doing a talk. Schedule them in twos for upcoming meetings, as long as the topic is in the scope of Linux, free/open software, and even free/open hardware.
If there's abundance, give one new speaker priority of an old hand so that you have an experienced and a new speaker at one meeting. (By experienced I mean speaker experience, not topic experience.)
Let the new speaker go first, if they're ok with that.

Organise lightning talks. Short tidbits of about 4-5 minutes, again almost anything goes. This again encourages non-speakers to give the stage a first go. It tends to be very fruitful both in topical insights as well as finding brilliant new speakers. So some meetings, have one speaker and then a block of 6 lightning talks.

Do special gigs and make them truly accessible/welcoming for non-geeks.
  "Bring your Linux laptop, and there'll be person N showing you around the CUPS printer system."
  "Bring your Windows games, and we'll try to help you make them work under Wine."
  "Learn how to manage your photos with <ShotWell or this week's flavour> and edit them using GIMP."
  "Managing your audio and video with various tools for ripping, burning, compressing, transcoding, editing."
  "Make your own instructional videos using RecordMyDesktop, Pitivi video editor, etc."
  "How do quickly create awesome stopmotion videos using the StopMotion app."
  "Proper version control for any developer. Teaching good habits. Branch/merge at will. Git or bzr, whatever."
  "Bash scripting for beginners."

I just made these up based on questions I've heard in recent times.
There's really no shortage of topics, nor of people who would be able to talk or tutor on it.
What you regard as simple/obvious is the new scary unknown for someone else. Share your experience!

Most of all, be open and accessible. Fests/tutorials are probably best done on a weekend, regular meetings on a weekday evening. Be inclusive. Initially, just start doing these things. Then, when it's grooving but small, get a local paper to drop by and write an item. (the reason you don't do that earlier is again the first impression, and you won't get another chance.)

You may have some events with only a few attendees... so what. Make it good for them, learn what can be done better. But don't make it too complicated as it's really not.

I hope to visit Adelaide again some time in the not-to-distant future!

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