How ProductCamp Vancouver Coordinates a Crowd-Sourced Conference

How to: Unconference

An unconference, much like Lewis Carroll’s unbirthday, is everybody’s conference.

ProductCamp in particular is an unconference series that runs worldwide, and is a space for product managers and interested professionals to share ideas and connect with one another.

In Vancouver, it’s a successful annual conference that has been running since 2011. The root of its popularity is that it prioritizes the lessons and stories of anyone who wishes to share them. It’s a collaborative space where participants—not “attendees”—are all encouraged to lead and contribute to sessions.

For weeks leading up to the event, participants are encouraged to submit session ideas online, and to vote on the submitted ideas. The best-received ones are brought to the venue, where participants can vote again using coloured stickers. The votes are counted during the opening keynote, and the winning sessions will run during the unconference.

Participants standing in front of the voting board at PCV17.
Participants voted on-site for the sessions they were most interested in attending.

To pull off a crowd-sourced, collaborative conference of this style, the organizers of ProductCamp Vancouver have to communicate flawlessly with hundreds of attendees at every point.

This year, for the first time, they used an event app to help to streamline that process.


How to: Set-Up

As a crowd-sourced event, ProductCamp Vancouver relies on flawless communication with participants in order to run a successful conference.

“Coming in to it on day one, there’s no agenda,” organizer Stewart Rogers said in our interview, “We basically know we’re going to do twenty sessions through the day, but until we set the schedule at 9am, we don’t know what those sessions are. The biggest pain point to date is still morning registrations.”

After the sessions are decided on, the organizers have to immediately make sure that participants are able to access the new schedule. It’s posted physically on bulletin boards, updated on the website, and, this year, updated in the event app.

“We still do update the website,” Stewart said, “Somebody logs into our wordpress account, text loads in the schedule, and hits save! I’m not sure if anybody looked at that today,” he added, “You’re either looking outside [at the bulletin boards] or you’re looking at the app. That whole dynamic has changed for us.”

The audience at the opening keynote of PCV17.
During the opening keynote, ProductCamp organizers quickly tallied the votes and finalized the schedule.


How to: Communicate

ProductCamp saw an estimated 90-95% app adoption rate, and the addition of the app changed the way that participants communicated—with one another, as well as with the conference itself.

Participants could easily connect with one another, by quickly exchanging contact information through the app. “I can’t be the only one who didn’t bring in any business cards today!” Stewart said. “It’s becoming more normal now. People don’t bring business cards with them, so this is a good way for people to connect. We’re seeing good response to it.”

A group of PVC17 participants pose together after a session.
Various aspects of the app encouraged people to interact and connect in new ways.

In a separate interview, Haig Sakouyan, another event organizer, talked about a different example of participant interaction: through Twitter. “It seems like there’s a lot more conversations on Twitter,” Haig said, “It might be because the app facilitates it, and because you can earn points to do it, which is great.”

Tweeting capabilities were another feature of the ProductCamp app. Participants could tweet without leaving the app, and each tweet counted towards points in a game that lasted the duration of the event. By default, those tweets included the official hashtag, #PCV17—which quickly trended in Vancouver.

“This year, it spiked really quickly,” Stewart said, “I think there’s a good bunch of that which came from the app. I think even the gamification piece helped that kind of spike, where people are playing with the app, saying, ‘there’s different things I can do, I’ll look at the schedule, I’ll send a tweet and get points for it’.”

“To be honest, at first I was a little bit sceptical [about having an event app],” Haig said, “But there’s a lot of things that I hadn’t thought about. Gamifying the event, awarding points, encouraging networking: all these things are very interesting. I feel like it’s been a lot smoother of an event, and a lot more interactive because of the app.”


How to: Improve

Event apps provide various ways for organizers to access and encourage audience feedback. At ProductCamp, in-app surveys allowed participants to anonymously leave their impressions of individual sessions, as well as on the event itself.

A speaker stands in front of his audience at PCV17.
Feedback features allowed speakers and organizers to learn more about their audiences.

“The nice thing about the app is that we can ask people for their opinions at the event, and capture more feedback just because we’re making it easier,” Haig said, “Overall I feel like the feedback mechanism is stronger now with the app. I’m excited about that, I think it’ll be good feedback.”

The ProductCamp Vancouver surveys received 488 fill-outs—not bad for an estimated 330 attendees. The feedback was provided to speakers after the event, and has allowed both speakers and ProductCamp organizers to begin to plan for the next unconference.

“Someone suggested that it would be great if [they] could’ve voted for the sessions in the app,” Stewart recalled—a potential solution that, next year, might ease the morning voting rush.


ProductCamp Vancouver 2017 took place on February 18th. If you have any thoughts or comments to share, leave a reply below or tweet us @QuickMobile.