EuroPython 2014 finally over - some notes on the EuroPython Society
EuroPython 2014 is finally over and it was a great success. We counted 1226 attendees which is an increase of more than 40 percent of the EuroPython 2013 in Florence. We received lots of positive and overwhelming feedback for organizing a full week with Python related stuff. I personally worked as head of communications since fall 2013 on EuroPython 2014. I wrote dozens of blog entries on blog.europython.eu, I was the public @europython voice on Twitter, most of the incoming helpdesk issues (more than 1200 JIRA tickets) went through my fingers and finally I worked together with Stefania Trabucchi on the automatic PDF generation for parts of the EuroPython 2014 brochure (generation of talks, speakers and schedule) and handled the setup of the EuroPython Guidebook application. I am personally very happy with the outcome of our work over the last nine months. This was really hard work with a small team, lots of ups and downs, lots of new experiences working many new people, many new challenges like dealing with upcoming shitstorm discussions (e.g. the diversity discussion around April on social media)...I learned a lot, I had fun, I had frustration but in the end we all had the same common goal: a EuroPython 2014 that would rock - and EuroPython 2014 rocked!!!
Organizing such a big conference is a huge undertaking. Several people worked partly full-time on this project (beside their usual job and business). A not so perfect role during the organization process played the EuroPython Society (EPS). The EPS is a non-profit society under Swedish law and is the holder of the „EuroPython“ trademark. The EPS holds this trademark since some weeks.
The goals of the EPS are according to their bylaws:
2. The society is a non-profit society (ideel förening) under Swedish law. The purpose of the EP is to organise conferences centered around the programming language Python
This is in general a very honorable goal but goals and reality are two different things. The first public discussion about problems between the Berlin organizers and the EPS popped up early 2014 with an email (https://mail.python.org/pipermail/europython/2014-January/008250.html, https://mail.python.org/pipermail/europython/2014-January/008252.html) of a former EPS member which basically brought the complete situation with the EPS to the point. Although I was not directly involved with the communication between EPS and the Berlin organizers I can only summarize the behavior of the EPS as only-demanding, an arrogant top-down attitude and a conduct that is far away from being acceptable for an open-source community. Speaking of „the EPS“ as an organization is perhaps not valid because there are always persons connected with an association - approachable persons, non-approachable persons and silent persons.
Some weeks ago I became an official member of EPS and had the pleasure to participate in the general assembly of the EPS held during the EuroPython 2014 conference in Berlin. The first weird thing was that there was a total of 30 minutes planned for the general assembly which includes reports of the chairman, the treasurer, discharge of the board, voting of the new board and especially discussions. How strange I thought from the beginning. A typical general assembly of comparable organizations hardly take under 90 minutes, usually even longer.
EPS counted 68 members at the time of the general assembly where about 30 members joined the EPS shortly before general assembly. Out of these 68 members only 14 members appeared to the general assembly including two of the five EPS board members (Fabio Pliger, Marc-André Lemburg).
This one hour general assembly appears in the retrospective like a bad theater piece of a provincial theater. The board was not able to give a reasonable report over the last year and always stressed out about mistakes made in the past. For example there are no records and protocols available of board meetings and general assemblies available for the last years - either lack of transparency or just a complete unorganized society.
Marc-André Lemburg was not able to give a reasonable and acceptable financial report (the slides really contained „XX Euro“). He could just give a vague estimate on the money that EPS has in the bank - not very much money as it turned out. Dear EPS, every rabbit breeders association is better organized.
They have five persons on the board and their only day business is to meta-organize a EuroPython conference and dealing with EuroPython trademark issues. The real organization work is always carried out by the local organizers.
What are these people doing? Especially when the trademark issue was the only major operation carried out over the last 12 months?
Then the voting for the board…too make it short: old board = new board. All members of the old board became elected as new board members. Both Fabio and Marc-André had been involved (in a good and bad way) with the Berlin organizers over the last year. All other board members (Jacob, Anton, Vicky) are not very well known in the European Python community and had been elected in absence - legal and covered by the bylaws but a slightly absurd election. I felt a bit like in the 80s with the election processes of the politbureau in communist or socialist states.
One might argue why I did not run myself for the board? Answer: lack of information about the EPS and their current inner state in advance, lack of knowledge about all candidates and especially where was no significant possibility for changing the power within the EPS at this point.
Let us talk about the „EuroPython“ trademark. The EPS claimed from the beginning of the EP14 organization that they would hold the „EuroPython“ trademark. However EPS could never provide any evidence. In fact the trademark was granted to EPS some weeks before the conference. But EPS urged the Berlin organizers multiple times to include the trademark claim in press releases and on EuroPython 2014 related information The conference was organized by officially under the hood of the Python Software Verband e.V. - a society under German law. And according to German law we could not support this trademark claim. However EPS always insisted on their point of view. The organizers had to comply with German law and not with Swedish law in this case.
Speaking of legal issues: EPS tried for the first time to regulate the relation between EPS and the local organizers with a contract. To our knowledge there had been never contracts for former EuroPython conferences in the past. To make it short: the draft of this contract had to be rejected by the organizers because it was completely one-sided. These kind of contracts can be made between businesses but not between entities of an open-source community. The cumulation of insolence was the requirement that a conference profit should be split 50:50 between EPS and local organizers but a conference loss should be carried by the organizers themselves with a maximum involvement of the EPS limited to 7.500 Euro. You could read the draft as: we do nothing and get half of the money but it is your risk if there is a loss. Fortunately EPS showed some insight during the general assembly that this contract was a mistake.
The new EPS approach: EPS want to take more control over the EuroPython conference organization, EPS wants to be the main contracting partner and it want the organization to be taken over by permanent teams. This is approach will never ever work out. Like with all projects: a small amount of people will be doing the major work and these people will be local organizers. It is not imaginable that other EPS member will and can spend a significant amount their personal time in leading positions dealing with local organization issues. The programm committee of EuroPython 2014 as an example was already internationally distributed organized. It did not solve the problem that the programme chair had the burden with organizing the programme. It is unlikely that the chair of EP14 would take over the responsibility for a theoratical EP15 that would not take place in Berlin. The key position of conference organization teams are time-consuming and exhausing and you do it for one or two years - especially when you take into account that many of the organizers run their own businesses. No, the workgroup approach is a nice idea but it is going to fail. There are too many local aspects in a conference organization that can not be handled by EPS or EPS workgroups. Yes, EPS wants, wants a lot...but theses are only visions and dreams that will not become reality. Life is different, EPS never organized a conference, EPS just contributed the name.
Talking of EPS persons: Fabio Pliger worked with the Berlin organizers in a goal-oriented and constructive way while others glazed by non-visibility or through their unacceptable arrogant attitude. My respect to Fabio for his support.
The EPS is a poorly organized society with little backing by the community and not much assets. The trademark on „EuroPython“ is the only thing that the EPS has in their hands - apart from little money in the bank. EuroPython was an overwhelming success - by numbers and by feedback received by attendees. The experience with EPS tells us that nobody really needs the EPS for organizing a big Python conference in Europe. The only thing that the EPS can provide: the name „EuroPython“. But wait: did you notice our branding „EP14“. Would it be a problem for you visiting a „EP15“ conference instead of „EuroPython 2015“? Or could a similar conference be named „PyCON Europe 2015“ or „Python Europe 2015“ or something like that? You see the problem…the EPS is constructed solely around the name and their trademark „EuroPython“.
So their are obviously the following options for the future
- Forget EPS and let the local communities do their own thing. EPS can only give the name „EuroPython“ but they are not able to put more effort into controlling and directing the organization of such a big conference nor they have the financial or personal resources for backing a conference themselves. The proposed workgroup model for organizing further conferences is not well thought and will never work in reality for various reasons.
- Let us send the current EPS board (except Fabio) into the desert and install persons as board members that are interested in one thing: organizing further great conferences with local organizers in a constructive way instead of defending their only poor assets. There is no reason why the EPS needs a big board of 5 persons. Reduce it to three board members where one member could represent the „old“ EPS and their interests, a treasurer and person representing the local organizers of the upcoming conference…something like that…I admit that this is only a rough thought…
For the rescue of the EPS: it seems that the EPS got the notice and took their lessons from that what happened over the last year. The European Python community is about people and not about exercising power build on top of a trademarks and a poor standing within the community. The board mentioned that they want to held a new general assembly soon in order to fix the problems. The EPS wants to be more open and transparent. I appreciate these goals but time will tell how this will work out in reality.