The long evolution of the PASS Program Committee
It all had to begin somewhere
I joined the Program Committee in late 2006; I spent the first 2 years working on the DBA track teams selecting abstracts. I have spent a good deal of time working on the technology (vendors) of the Summit (the software we use to manage speakers, room assignments, itinerary planner, etc.). After going through several demo’s and actually attempting to use two different software packages, I started pushing for PASS to build our own software. We are paying a (small) fortune for what we use now, the only reason I can figure is that its much more robust than what we need for PASS. Last year I worked with PASSHQ to put together a project plan for PASS to build a new technology platform to manage the Summit. This year David with PASS HQ has started delivering on parts of the software. Once this is in place and we’re not changing software every year/other year, we should be able to focus more on the process, and less on the new software.
Prior to last year, Pre/post conference sessions (AKA precons) and Spotlight sessions were 100% invite only, and the guidelines for who was allowed to present these sessions was never published outside of the committee. Beginning with last year, we worked to publish guidelines for who was eligible to present precon sessions. In publishing the requirements list for who could present an all day precon session we opened up the call for precons to include anyone who met the requirements. At the same time we opened up spotlight invitations to competition, where we invited more speakers than we had slots for in hopes of raising the caliber of these sessions. We also began using an easy to understand formula for who gets invited to present spotlight sessions.
In this same time frame we reached out to many experts and asked for help developing a speaker resource page. Prior to this there was no real information on PASS’s website documenting what it takes to write good abstracts, or get selected as a speaker. We have pulled together quite a few resources to help develop speakers, including webcasts and sample abstracts, etc.
Growing bigger better speakers
I have blogged quite a bit about growing the pool of speakers and we have made some very good steps in the right direction in this space. There were two fundamental changes I worked into the program committee. The first was adding a “speaker bureau” option to the speakers contract. This will allow PASS (where the speakers agreed) to hand off speaker info and abstracts to the local chapters that the speakers are near, which will hopefully facilitate some interaction between the chapter leaders and some local aspiring speakers they may not know about. There is still work to do to build and enrich the process around this sharing of information back out to the chapters but the first (most important) step has been taken. I also worked it into the summit speaker contracts that we would release aggregate scores to the other speakers presenting so they could know where they stood compared to their peers. This was decided as a good first step in open conversations generated by the discussion in this post
Lots of internal Changes
This year a few things changed internally within the program committee, I separated the BI tracks review teams to match the fact that we now have 2 BI tracks, I also added an extra person to the DBA track team because, well, their workload increases every year and they could use some additional help. I created a true team of 3 to review precons and spotlights instead of the mgmt group doing that work. But, by far for me the largest change was getting Lori Edwards involved in the leadership of the program committee. Initially the idea was for her to get a team of task based volunteers who could work on some of the extra technology that the Program committee needed in order to work more effectively. The first thing I handed her was to take the monstrosity of an excel spreadsheet I had containing every speakers session evaluation since 2005 (when I first got a copy) and make it into a proper database, and get some reporting from it. After some discussions, we decided to build this as a system to hold ALL speaker evals for PASS or SQL Saturday, or actually ANY SQL presentation, the idea is when its finished if you have a speaker at any SQL event you can accept online evaluations and the speakers will get better feedback in one place. In addition, the organizers of PASS events will have better information as well. This task is still in process, but the first deliverable was a standard report of speakers and their evaluation scores and this was available for this years Program committee. Somewhere along the way, Lori became more and more involved with all of the bits and pieces of what it takes to run the program committee. Her involvement in these things has enabled me to reach out and not just do the same old thing for the Summit this year.
This year I continued to push to evolve the program committee in several ways. One of the changes most visible to PASS membership was the Community Choice Sessions. Like all great ideas I’m not exactly sure where this idea was born, but I worked with people across the PASS organization to get this done. I wrote about the process a couple of times as it was coming into being. After involving over 1100 members, I would say this was a great success for PASS, myself and the Program group.
We are planning on taking the evaluation system that Lori and her team are working on and put it into use for the first time at this years Summit. In doing so we have planned to offer a new type of session that I’ve written about before. This will be what we’re tentatively calling “best of sessions” where we take the session with the highest evaluation on Tuesday and ask that speaker to present the same session on Wednesday, repeating the same process for those who speak on Wednesday, asking them to present the same session again on Thursday. This should allow the BEST content at the summit to be seen by the most attendees.
It hasn’t been all fun and games
This evolution and opening of the program process hasn’t been all BACON and index seeks, there has been more than one change on this list that have caused many questions, and in some cases very involved discussions. We haven’t always gotten everything right, but heck I’m happy that I can say I think we got it mostly right. There is always room for improvement and more to do to continue to evolve these processes,
If you believe in these changes and you like how I communicate them, consider voting for me. I’m running for the PASS Board of Directors, and I need your help to make a difference. Click here to read about why I’m running.