2015-02-23

Why we’re changing our CFP process

We recognize the open CFP on GitHub is a big change from our submission process of the past two years, and a change from the "norm" of blind reviews and community voting. It’s important for us to be transparent about our reasons for changing, and our process going forward.

It isn’t that blind review processes don’t work at all, but it didn’t work for us. In 2014, we fully anonymized our submissions—any references to gender, online work, employer, etc, were removed from the abstracts. The speaker team reviewed and selected 1/3 of the talks. Those then were voted on by a community review board comprised of active Sass community members who had not submitted talks or were not attending the conference, as well as past speakers and community members. Results from the community board vote were tallied. The rankings were not the sole determinate factor, but they did play a part in our final selection.

Then we uncovered the names… and were utterly confused.

We thought this process was supposed to help us lead to a more diverse selection. Instead, we had only three women and no (visible) racial diversity in our talk lineup.

Our diversity problem wasn’t with the blind reviews: it was with the submission pool. Of the total submissions, less than 5% were from women. If you don’t have a diverse pool of proposals to select from, it is impossible to expect a diverse lineup. (Side note: women aren’t the only measure of diversity, but it’s the only quantitative data we have from 2014. Another goal for 2015 is to have more data on the SassConf community to share.)

It was a clear moment for us. This meant more than just putting out a CFP, offering office hours, and getting some retweets from people championing for opportunities for diversity.

After some conversations with conference organizers such as Dan Denney and Karolina Szczur, both of whom are doing an exemplary job at balanced submissions events, we knew we needed to do more. We especially loved Karolina’s explanation of her outreach efforts:

“I’m not giving priority to [diverse speakers] although I go out of my way to encourage them to submit.” — Karolina Szczur, CSSConf Oakland

In 2015 we are going to do much more outreach—for diversity of speakers, as well as getting new speakers and new types of content. We want the pool of available talks to be as varied as possible.

We mentioned that last year we had a community review board. It worked well for us last year, but we don’t believe those long surveys really get the job done. How many of you go through those surveys and carefully vote on every single proposal? How many of you give up after a page or two—and how badly does that skew the voting? Not to mention, it doesn’t solve our problem with the submission pool.

Instead, for 2015 we’re making submissions fully open on GitHub. We hope this will allow the same “voting” mechanism to take place, since attendees can—and should—give a big (thumbsup) to proposals that they want to see. Asking questions and letting us know what you think of the submissions is absolutely encouraged! If you’ve seen the person speak and enjoyed their work, let us know. We are listening, and we will be actively involved in that conversation throughout the open CFP. (I can hear you asking, “but what about nasty comments!?” Trust us, we’ll be moderating to make sure no rude or offensive comments get left on your talk proposal. We hope the SassConf community minds its internet manners!)

Since submissions are open, this also means they’ll be editable as long as the CFP is open. No more realizing you made a typo after you submitted. This time you get to update, edit, and refine until you’re totally happy with it, and the SassConf speaker team and mentors will be there to answer your questions the whole time.

We know this is a big change, and we want to be open as we go through this year’s CFP. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out, either on Twitter or by emailing the SassConf speaker team at info[at]sassconf[dot]com or elyse[at]sassconf[dot]com. Thanks!