Organizer experience and learnings from State of the Map (SotM) 2021

Posted by arnalielsewhere on 6 August 2021 in English (English). Last updated on 16 August 2021.

Note: This post has been translated and available in Spanish! Thanks to Cyberjuan! (Nota: Este post ha sido traducido y disponible en español! ¡Gracias a Cyberjuan!)

At State of the Map 2018, I was lucky to be selected as one of the conference scholars (my reflections here). This year, I took the chance to be part of the SotM 2021 WG to organize SotM 2021 online conference.

I mainly worked in the Communications team. I am sharing in this diary my experience and learnings as an organizer as this might help organizers in planning their online events, among others.

Long post ahead!

1. Recruiting volunteers for SotM WG (view Call for Volunteers invitation via mailing list)

Because of the pandemic, SotM became online. Since there is no community bidding involved, SotM Chairperson invited OSM community members to join the SotM WG. She promoted this via the mailing list, and was shared by community members via social media and other community channels.

Takeaway: Clearly lay out structure of the WG (sub-wg/sub-teams), its functions and who’s leading the teams, and how to join (as simple as sending an email).

2. Organizing team structure / workflow (sync and async communication)

As seen in the invitation, there were small groups/sub-wg’s within the SotM WG for a more organized coordination.


  1. Coordination: Creation of sub-teams and sub-wgs, with a way to have asynchronous communication (no-meeting required coordination) for those who could not make it to the live meetings

  2. Decision-making: We arrived at decisions by building a group consensus - this have encourage more active participation from the volunteers

3. Conference Format (3 days, online)

SotM 2021 followed a 3day-format just like a physical event.

Cons: I don’t recommend the 3 consecutive days format as this is too exhaustive in the part of the organizing team (for an online event).

Recommendation: What I really commend is the 3day-format of Pista ng Mapa 2020 online, they hosted the 3days conference for 3 Fridays in November 2020. Allowing the organizing team to recharge for the next day of the conference (for a week!). #shamelessplug Pista ng Mapa 2021 Call for Proposals is now open!

4. Conference Platforms - Venueless & BBB


  1. Conference platform’s interface, Venueless, is simple and user friendly. It looks like slack with videos.
  2. The number of channels or rooms were minimal and just enough for participants to be familiar.
  3. Videos allowed lite/listen only mode
  4. Some participants had reported that they simultaneously listen to both Talks in the main stage and workshops&panels.


  1. For very low bandwidth participants, BBB (live sessions) usually crashed.
  2. If you’re an organizer who want an all-in-1 platform, Venueless might not be right for you since you will need separate service for content management (SotM 2021 used pretalx), ticket management (pretaix), and translations (Mumble).

Recommendation: We should’ve hosted testing sessions about the platform with speakers so they can familiarize themselves and to avoid confusion during the conference

5. Increasing accessibility while ensuring a safe space

a. Live language translations and subtitling

SotM 2021 organizing team had an experiment on live language translations and subtitling.

The tech side is simple, translators and listeners connect to the HOT Server in Mumble. Go to the language channel of their choosing. Translators watch the livestream and simultaneously provide live interpretations in the channel, they are the only ones who can speak in the channel.


  • SotM opened call for volunteer translators in the community
  • we received a couple, but only half of those who volunteered actually made it
  • Only pre-recored talks were offered live translations. Translators were given access link to the precorded talks so they can make notes/prepare their translation
  • we tested Mumble with the volunteer translators
  • there is a translation schedule in the osm wiki with guide on using mumble for listeners/audience


  • We asked the Translators to record themselves so their contributions won’t be lost and we can add an audio translation or text subtitle to the talks later for the conference
  • Comms team actively promoted the translation schedule (in the conference platform and twitter to reach those who did not have tickets)
  • I noticed that only the Russian channel had listeners (most popular channel)
  • Mumble support admins made sure translators record their talks, and were on lookout/helpdesk in case there are questions from listeners/speakers regarding the use of Mumble


  • we shared a link to translators where they can upload their recorded audio
  • language translation and subtitling still a work in progress :)


  1. Mumble allowed us to see if there are listeners - offer is higher than the demand. We focused more on getting volunteer translators (offer) than assessing which language are most preferred by the participants
  2. We should’ve promoted this feature more before the conference

b. Enforcement of Code of Conduct

There is a SotM 2021 Code of Conduct. We made sure that this is in place now that we allow more interactions within participants. I believe we relied more on passive / report-based moderation.

Recommendation: What I would recommend for CoC to be strictly enforced is to have an active moderation where there is a CoC person for each room/channel. The Post-talk room had very high traffic but I wasn’t sure if there’s a CoC person in the room. We did not receive any reports though.

6. Comms strategy before/during/after SotM 2021


  • actively posting in ALL community channels, social media, mailing list
  • Provided updates at least once a week for the last month before the event to build momentum and excitement
  • we were invited to speak for a podcast to discuss about the event
  • There was a designated visual /poster designer, and written communicator /promoter


  • Comms wg have access in the twitter account via tweetdeck
  • Tweetdeck is great! we took advantage of the tweet scheduler!

On twitter (Schedule tweets):

  1. for talks with live translation: schedule a tweet 10mins before the session start
  2. per session, schedule a tweet 30mins before the session start
  3. Schedule a Tweet at the time of the session break and what time we will be back
  4. In the conference platform, send a message in Talks chat and global text-based chat, when:
  • there is an upcoming session with live translations
  • there is an upcoming panel discussion session (Workshops & Panels channel + time)
  • there is an upcoming BoF session (and what channel + time) + promote that they can still sign up for a BoF


  • active posting in ALL community channels, social media, mailing list
7. Feedback and post-conference

Rather than a survey form, SotM has the habit of documenting feedback through the osm wiki. We set up a feedback page with link to a pad for feedback, and links for post-conference blogposts.

Takeaway: OSM Wiki allows for a collaborative feedback-reporting


Shoutout to the amazing volunteers of SotM 2021 (see Twitter thread)!

If you have feedback on the conference, please add them to the Conference Feedback Wikipage.

If you were a volunteer during the event, please feel free to share your learnings and takeaways too! Thanks! :)

Note: This post has been translated and available in Spanish! Thanks to Cyberjuan! (Nota: Este post ha sido traducido y disponible en español! ¡Gracias a Cyberjuan!)

Location: Arapahoe Station, Denver, Colorado, United States

Comment from Mateusz Konieczny on 15 August 2021 at 09:42

For me as a speaker making prerecorded video (hopefully it qualifies as “if you were a volunteer during the event”)…

I was doing something like that for the first time, and I was surprised how time consuming was to produce prerecorded video that was not of a terrible quality.

So big thanks for early deadline for making test video and relatively early deadline for a final video. This way, despite multiple unexpected issues I still managed to produce something before conference.

Comment from Mateusz Konieczny on 15 August 2021 at 09:42

And big thanks for organizing it!

Comment from qeef on 15 August 2021 at 14:29

This is just an idea – what about letting translators translate videos in advance, too? And maybe also add subtitles? Participants then could just switch sound channel of the video and switch on/off the subtitles.

Comment from InsertUser on 15 August 2021 at 19:16

There has been quite a bit of talk about how so many of the talks were pre-recorded, but videos don’t seem to be ready for release any quicker than previous years. Is there a deliberate delay on access for those who didn’t attend?

Comment from ke9tv on 15 August 2021 at 23:43

I know that I and several others were surprised that an online-only event can sell out. Advance publicity ought to have indicated more clearly that seats were limited.The seccondary, read-only video sharing worked well, though.

Comment from arnalielsewhere on 16 August 2021 at 21:11

@Mateusz Konieczny I agree with you! It really takes a lot of time to pre-record a video. But I think it totally pays off! Pre-recorded videos help prevent tech difficulties (e.g. speaker’s mic/screen sharing is not working,etc), allows lite video mode (live usually takes a lot of bandwidth) and provides better time management compared to a live presentation :)

Comment from arnalielsewhere on 16 August 2021 at 21:18

@qeef something we can do next year (if SotM 2022 will still be online)! It might require some kind of programming though, esp for livestreams where you can have that option. Right now, we are trying to embed the audio translation to the talks/videos - also the main reason for the delay, @InsertUser, but will be up soon, please bear with us! :)

Comment from arnalielsewhere on 16 August 2021 at 21:20

@ke9tv Thanks for the feedback! Is it fine to add this in the SotM 2021 Feedback Pad: :)

Comment from Mateusz Konieczny on 17 August 2021 at 09:52

It really takes a lot of time to pre-record a video. But I think it totally pays off! Pre-recorded videos

And I am glad that this option was existing! I would definitely not take part with live video. Possibility of pronunciation mistake turning out to have some political implications is scary.

And recording allowed me to redo until some version was acceptable.

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