As notifications for the first round NN12 panel selection have trickled out over the past few weeks, we’ve gotten questions about how the whole process of selecting panels actually works.
Hi, I’m Nolan and I manage the process and I’m here to explain it to you, as best I can.
The deadline for panel submissions was January 31, 2012. We realize this is a long time before NN12 opens on June 7, 2012, but it literally takes that long to get through it all and still release an agenda a decent amount of time before NN. We expect to be making final notifications next week (the week of April 2) and we’ll be posting those panels on our website the following week (the week of April 9).
But Nolan, how can it possibly take that long to read through and select panels? Well, it does. Let me tell you about it…..
On January 31 we had over 400 panel submissions and over 75 training submissions (we also had over 40 screening series submissions and 89 ‘single speaker submissions’ – people who had ideas for speakers, but not a full panel – but I’m going to focus on the panels, since those are most relevant to most people). This sets a new record for us and across the board the quality was exceptionally high, there were very few half-baked panels submitted.
But prior to January 31, we had reached out to several dozen thought leaders in the netroots to be a part of our panel selection committees. We’ve published the list of folks who made up all of these committees in the program the last two years, but here it is:
Abel Collins, Abel Habtegeorgis, Adam Bonin, Adam Green, Adam Mordecai, Adam Quinn, Alex Moore, Amanda Marcotte, Anat Shenker, Aniello Alioto, Austen Levihn-Coon, Barry Kendall, Benjamin Lennett, Charles Lenchner, Charlie Chamberlain, Chris Massicotte, Christie George, Christina Hollenbeck, Christine Pelosi, Chuck Rocha, Cindy Kang, Cynthia Liu, Dan Ancona, Dave Johnson, David Dayen, David Nir, David Segal, David Waldman, Dawn Euer, Denise Oliver-Velez, Digby, Elana Levin, Elijah Zarlin, Emilie Aries, Greg Basta, Jackie Mahendra, Jason Rosenbaum, Jen Ancona, Joan McCarter, Joe Sudbay, John Neurohr, Josh Harkinson, Josh Nelson, Josh Orton, Julia Rosen, Julielyn Gibbons, Kaili Joy Gray, Karl Frisch, Karoli Kuns, Kate Brock, Kate Sheppard, Keith Kamisugi, Kelly Rand, Larry Huynh, Laura Clawson, Lauren Wolfe, Lisa Hayes, Liz Havstad, Lynne Lupien, Mahwish Khan, Marce Gutierrez, Marcy Wheeler, Mary Rickles, Matt Browner-Hamlin, Matt Ewing, Matt Ortega, Melissa Ryan, Mike Lux, Mike Moschella, Mike Rogers, Mudcat Arnold, Murshed Zaheed, Natasha Chart, Nathan Henderson-James, Nathaniel Charny, Nick Berning, Nirmal Mankani, Nolan Treadway, Rachel LaBruyere, Raven Brooks, Richard Graves, Richard Smith, RL Miller, Robert Cruickshank, Sabrina Stevens Shupe, Sarah Granger, Sunny Hundal, Tim Tagaris, Timothy Karr, Tina Lee, Tracy Van Slyke, Whit Jones, Will Coley, Will Neville, Zahra Billoo, Zerlina MaxwellWe also wrote diaries about getting folks to submit (do we have a number of DK diaries?), advertised on Daily Kos, and for the first time we also conducted online, on-camera Spreecasts, which allowed us to walk submitters through the process ahead of time and also answer questions directly. (spreecast #1 and spreecast #2)
And of course if you're on our email list then you got a few messages here as well.
Working with the submissions
As soon as we’ve got our panel submissions in, I go through and batch them by category and topic. From there we send them out to the committees with a scorecard that asks them to grade the panels on 3 criteria, and also gives a space for as many written comments as the scorer would like to provide. The 3 criteria/questions are:
- Is this a session we should have? Is the idea creative, interesting and relevant? (0-10 pts)
- Does it engage an under represented community? Is it a unique mix of panelists? (0-5 pts)
- Does it give people tools or allow for action beyond NN? (0-5 pts)
It’s important to note here that the score serves as a guide, but is not the final determining factor. Every panel is discussed and reviewed individually. How and where is it discussed, you ask? Well, let’s look at the next steps…..
After all the scorecards are back to me, I combine them into one master scorecard for each committee which has the average score for each panel and displays everyone’s free-form comments right next to it. I send those combined scorecards back out to each committee.
From there, we get on a conference call with each committee and discuss every panel. NN staff sat on over 36 hours of calls over 3 weeks in March to make these decisions. These calls are time consuming, but we feel it’s important to look at every panel that people took the time to submit, so that’s what we do.
The discussions range from issues of policy positions and perspective to just plain “is anyone going to attend this panel?” We really look at diversity of the panels, making sure that panels aren’t “all white dudes” (as we’ve grown to call them, or #awd for short). Sometimes we see panels that lack diversity but there is another panel that we can combine into it to bring that diversity, and we do that. Other times we see 3 or 4 panels that have great perspectives on an issue, and we’ll combine all of them.
And we get a lot of duplicative submissions, probably because we’re all progressives and we have lots of the same things on our minds. If a panel gets declined, it’s frequently because there was a better panel on that topic, not because that topic won’t be covered.
For example, we had a lot of voter suppression/protection panel submissions this year. Part of that is because it's an election year and the question of voting access is always closer to the surface in election years, but also because the GOP has been rolling back voting rights in every state that they captured in 2010. (thanks for that, Alec. fuckers.) And in this instance we got submissions dealing with the suppression of from many angles: the suppression of Latino, African-American and Native American voters. Some of these panels dealt with ways to protect those groups, other submissions documented how we got to where we are. In the end, we decided to combine those submissions into one panel that deals with all those groups, and what is being done about it. (there will probably also be a panel on the coordinated way the GOP created these awful laws throughout the country)
There was a great deal of concern expressed earlier this week about the fact that we had declined Navajo and Meteor Blades panel dealing with Native American voter suppression and voting access. We did this in the process described above, and with the knowledge that the Native American perspective would be represented on the panel. We've reached out to them this week and we're hopeful we'll be able to include one of their proposed panelists, but even if it's not a Native American from that list, we are committed to including that important voice in our panel on voter suppression.
And that’s how we decide what makes it out of the first round to the final committee. At this point we notify those panel organizers whose panels didn’t make it to the final round and those who’s did. This point in the NN12 process came the week of March 12.
So after all that, we do it over with the final committee. Which is made up of Mary, Raven and Nolan from NN staff and some members of our c3 and c4 boards. This time what we do is ask our final committee members to select the 70 panels they would like to see at NN12, keeping in mind the need for an agenda that covers a wide range of topics and both established and new voices.Then we get on another series of calls and discuss them, combine them and comment on them. However long it takes, we get down to the 70 panels we’ll see in Providence in June.
We're planning to announce the panels on our line up, right here, sometime in the first week or two of April. Stay tuned!
Now, I’m sure after you all read that you’re thinking there are ways to improve this process, and I’m sure there are. We improve it every year since we started taking public panel submissions with NN08. If you’ve got questions on things I didn’t cover, please leave them in the comments. [But I do want to explain the tools I’ve got at my disposal for this: Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word – for mail merge – and Google docs. I searched around quite a bit last fall for an out-of-the-box online tool that would manage these submissions, scores, results, etc, but everything was way out of our budget. I found all of one that wasn’t over $5000, and that one had other issues. Despite them being a royal pain for me, Excel and Google Docs are nearly free, and that’s how we roll.]