Fully-Virtual DrupalCon Global Connects Six Continents to Advance the Discussion About the Future of the Open Web

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The Drupal Association sets the bar for virtual technology conferences with the first-ever DrupalCon Global—bringing together attendees from six continents to move forward not only Drupal's roadmap, but to advance the discussion about the future of the open web, and the way we build community in open source.

Tanisha Kalia takes a selfie in front of her laptop computer. On the screen is the logo for DrupalCon Global.

Tanisha Kalia attends the virtual DrupalCon Global conference from India.

For the last 15 years, DrupalCon has served as a platform for forward-thinking open source discussion, which in today’s current climate, seemed too important to shy away from.

The Drupal Association held its first-ever fully virtual DrupalCon for over 2000 attendees from July 14 - 17, 2020. Originally planned as an in-person event for April 2020 in Minneapolis, MN, the Association pivoted to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, and jumped at the opportunity to use a virtual event to expand the breadth of speakers and attendees in a brand new way.

“The Drupal Association and our DrupalCon events strive to fuel the Drupal Project and the community of open source as a whole,” said Heather Rocker, Drupal Association’s Executive Director. “For the last 15 years, DrupalCon has served as a platform for forward-thinking open source discussion, which in today’s current climate, seemed too important to shy away from. It was important for us to face the challenge of building a virtual community-driven experience that so many of our attendees look to participate in, and use its capability to broaden our audience and reach under-represented communities in ways that we’re unable to with an in-person event.”

162 Scholarships Awarded; Virtual Results in increased Representation from Underrepresented Communities

Committed to growing the participation of underrepresented communities in tech and the Drupal community, the Drupal Association used the transition to virtual to expand scholarship opportunities to DrupalCon by five times. Ticket holders to the Minneapolis event were given the option to donate all or a portion of their refund to the scholarship fund. The funds donated, in addition to lower costs associated with hosting scholarship recipients at a virtual event, resulted in 162 scholarships being granted through partnerships with 29 Drupal local associations around the world, as well as Drupal Diversity & Inclusion, TechUpWomen, SheCodeAfrica, WomenTech Network, Semicolon, Pehia, Proga{m}aria, WoMakersCode, WitU, FOSSASIA, AfriLabs, OSCAfrica, and Black Women in STEM 2.0. Forty percent of DrupalCon Global attendees identify as part of an underrepresented community within tech.

Ethics, Diversity & Inclusion, COVID-19 Lead Featured Programming

Taking place in the middle of a global pandemic, and amidst increasing awareness surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion, DrupalCon Global organizers took advantage of the additional time gained in the move to a virtual event, broadening the landscape of experts, and adding sessions and speakers to drive the discussion forward around Open Source.

  • Mitchell Baker, CEO of Mozilla, presented her thoughts on the future of open source and the importance of balancing ethics in moving forward.
  • Ayodele Odubela of SambaSafety spoke on Combating Bias in Machine Learning.
  • Digital Equity Advocate & Software Engineer Jacqueline Gibson, of Microsoft, drove the discussion Addressing Digital Equity for the Black Community.
  • COVID-19 was a hot topic as well, with a panel discussion discussing how Drupal software and its community are building solutions to help combat the effect of COVID-19, and Grace Francisco of MongoDB delivered a talk on the importance of fostering community in the time of coronavirus.

The Right Virtual Event Technology: Maintaining Connection and Networking Under Isolation

Like any other event organizer today, the Drupal Association faced the daunting task of creating connection and community in a 100% virtual space. Finding the right partner to enable the community-driven aspects of the event was a key task in the early stages of planning.

“There was a lot of discussion surrounding the must-have vs. nice to have elements of the event in adapting to the virtual environment. Aside from captivating content, what brings people to our event year after year? Time and time again, the conversation kept coming back to networking and community engagement. A big part of our focus became finding creative solutions and the right platform to give our attendees outlets to replace in-person roundtable discussions, BoFs - Birds of a Feather, networking opportunities, in DrupalCon lingo, ‘The Hallway Track’, and Social events,” said Rocker.

DrupalCon Global offered a way for attendees to meet old friends and welcome new faces in a way that was different, but no less valuable than an in-person conference. By leveraging technology partners like Hopin and OpenSocial, the Drupal Association was able to take the homecoming of the community online.

“With Hopin, we were able to facilitate our plenary and standard sessions, exhibit hall, roundtable discussions, and offer the Hallway track experience with their 1:1 Networking. Participants were randomly matched with other active participants for 4 minutes at a time, with the option to continue contact/discussion,” said Tim Lehnen, Drupal Association CTO. “These features, plus global channels for informal interaction between attendees enabled us to provide the key pillars of interactivity and community. More than 80% of those surveyed felt that interaction between speakers and attendees was enhanced by the platform, compared to an in-person event.”

The OpenSocial platform created virtual contribution spaces so that the community could begin to execute on the new initiatives for Drupal that were announced by Drupal founder Dries Buytaert during the event. OpenSocial, a distribution built on Drupal, enabled the community to rapidly organize around virtual contribution topics, ensuring that attendees could come together to help advance the project.

Lessons learned, and an eye to the future of events in Tech

More DrupalCon events are always on the horizon for the Drupal Association. For years in advance, DrupalCon Europe 2020 has been planned to be held in Barcelona. The next North American event would be DrupalCon Boston, with planning currently underway for April 2021. Consideration of the role of virtual events in the future is at the forefront of organizers’ minds coming off of the huge success of DrupalCon Global.

“At the moment, the intent to hold in-person events is still a primary focus of the Association in championing our efforts to provide human connection and a vibrant community around open source. Though the pandemic challenged us to translate the in-person event to a virtual experience, the transition to virtual resulted in significant gains made toward our goals as an association, and we’d be remiss as organizers to turn away from an expanded global audience and farther reach to underrepresented communities moving forward,” said Rocker. “Whether it be by adding additional virtual events to our calendar year, or hybridization of our in-person events moving forward, we won’t be ignoring the potential that going virtual has for our association.”

ABOUT DRUPAL AND THE DRUPAL ASSOCIATION

Drupal is the most powerful enterprise open source content management software used by millions of people and organizations around the world, made possible by a community of 100,000-plus contributors and enabling more than 1.3 million users on Drupal.org. The Drupal Association is the non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating the Drupal software project, fostering the community, and supporting its growth.

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For more information contact Heather Rocker, heather@association.drupal.org

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Heather Rocker
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