FOSS4G Abstract Review

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An embarrassment of riches, and difficult cuts

Full disclosure, I write this blog not just as the FOSS4G Boston 2017 Conference Chairman and a member of our program committee but also as a member of two previous FOSS4G North America program committees and as someone who has had an abstract rejected from a FOSS4G event (and several others accepted). I also write this from my own perspective and I do not speak on behalf of the entire program committee.

There’s an old saying that goes “careful of what you wish for” and I think our Program Committee is feeling that strongly. On the Friday four days prior to the Call for Presentations deadline, our committee knew that 90 abstracts had been submitted, and we wished mightily for many more (knowing we had room for over 200 talks). Well our wish came true and over those last four days we received 336 more abstracts for a total of 416 (and we received several requests to consider abstracts from people who missed the deadline). This was great news, but the “careful what you wish for” part is being felt in two large ways:

  1. We have a lot more work to do. Spending 5 minutes per abstract 416 times adds up to over 34 hours for each reviewer. And, reading and scoring is just the start of the selection process.
  2. After reading just the first several dozen it was clear that the general quality of abstracts was very high. The number of rooms we have and the general program that has been laid out tell us that somewhere between 175 - 200 abstracts will need to be rejected.

As such, we anticipate that the decision making process is going to be arduous, complicated and emotionally difficult knowing that many papers won’t be accepted. We also know that a lot of work went into creating abstracts and that in some cases having an abstract accepted impacts one’s ability to attend the conference. Given these realities and in the spirit of free and open communication I thought it might be useful to share some of the things the program committee thought about in preparing our Call for Presentations and also how we are entering the deliberation phase of the process.

First, and most importantly, the Boston team has a vision for the kind of program that we believe will underpin a great event and attract the largest and widest audience to Boston in August. We also want an event that will help to strengthen the OSGeo community. We laid that vision out in our Call for Presentations (which has now been taken offline, but can be found here, and some of that outlook remains on the Program Page of the website.

The basics of what we are looking for:

  • A comprehensive program that is attractive to developers and users of Open Source. A program with content for both advanced, long-time users as well as novices and those just “checking out” FOSS4G software.
  • Content that represents the wide variety of uses of FOSS4G software from government to private industry; from transportation to economic development to emergency response.
  • A diversity of voices, from experienced FOSS4G presenters to those new to the community, and including a cross section of gender, geography, and ethnicity.
  • Representation from the emerging business ecosystem that surrounds the FOSS4G community. How are people creating businesses that employ or support FOSS4G?

Beyond finding content to help us realize our vision for the conference there are other important aspects that need to be considered in making the individual acceptance decisions.

  • Quality matters The writing and descriptions in the abstracts are extremely important in helping us imagine what the presentation will be like.
  • Managing fairness of quantity matters There are a large number of individuals and organizations who submitted more than one abstract (i.e., over 60 people submitted >1 abstract, and 16 organizations submitted four, or more abstracts). While there will undoubtedly be some individuals who have >1 abstract accepted we are mindful that it is challenging to reject someone’s single entry while accepting multiple entries from others.
  • Respecting community voting matters We have asked the OSGeo Community to vote for what you want to see. And, we will respect that and approximately 20% of the program will be chosen directly by the top community voting results. And, for all other decisions, the community vote will be considered as one of several important variables. That said, we are also mindful that the community vote is not necessarily a representative sample of those who will attend the conference.

In short, we have a fantastic group of Program Committee volunteers who are working extremely hard on this process and recognize the gravity of the decisions we are making. We are all human and fallible and we will do the best we possibly can. It is also fair to recognize that it will be easy to second guess our decisions and that invariably we may make some mistakes. We ask that this community be empathetic and patient with us and the task ahead.

Here is what comes next:

  1. Our committee has committed to trying to complete all first pass reviews of all 416 abstracts by Monday, April 10th (i.e., the same day as community voting closes).
  2. Our committee is working to make some early acceptance announcements, potentially before community voting closes as there is already some strong agreement on several abstracts. We believe this is helpful as it allows the authors of accepted abstracts the opportunity to begin their next level of planning to attend. And, at the same time it helps others get a better sense of the emerging program and have more information to base their own decisions on attending, and potentially making earlier travel arrangements and registration. Once the community voting is closed, we will try to make those early announcements quickly, and no later than Friday, April 14.
  3. We will then continue to make incremental acceptance announcements on a regular basis to continue revealing the program as early as we can.
  4. The last round of final announcements will be made on Monday, May 1.

Thanks to the entire FOSS4G community for your support.

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