PASS Update #51-Summit Site Selection

In November/December HQ requested that the Board to send in suggestions for possible sites for the 2013 PASS Summit. I sent in a few, and at the recent Board meeting we then reviewed the preliminary research by HQ to narrow it to a list of serious candidate cities. I was so excited at the start of this that we were beginning to consider a new site that I didn’t think it through, we don’t have a good set of criteria for selecting the site. The rest of this post is about what I think should go into that decision and where I stand on some of the issues.

Let’s start by looking at some of the criteria I think we should use in the decision:

  • Ease, cost, and time of travel
  • Cost of meeting space and nearby hotel rooms (and making sure there are enough rooms)
  • Availability of after hours options, ideally with walking distance, or at least via low cost public transit
  • Things for family to do in the area and family friendly (safe, secure, fun)
  • Weather
  • Risk of natural disasters
  • Layout of meeting space (we prefer that everything be clustered so that walking time between room is minimized)
  • Microsoft presence
  • Additional expense/risk required for HQ to manage an event at a new location
  • Visiting various areas of the US to give our members who can’t afford the time and/or travel a chance to head our best event

None of these is simple. Is it always the cheapest location? Do we rule out anywhere on the Eastern seaboard (and New Orleans, etc) because there might be a hurricane? And that might not be all the criteria, just the ones that I think are at least worth getting into the discussion. In our Board discussion we covered some of these, but the problem is that even with the Board we weight these things differently. For some, any type of risk is unapproachable. For others any reduced Microsoft presence is a deal breaker. It is, to put it mildly, complicated. I think we erred in not having this conversation first, and fighting our way to better guidance that might have given us a different set of candidate cities, and then we would be re-applying that to the list as we narrow it down. It’s not quite too late for that, but we won’t meet again in person until May and that means it will just be a phone discussion, never as deep and never as satisfying, because we expect to decide in March. I’ll also say it’s not always as simple as a scorecard, though it’s worth the effort to score the options. Intangibles are hard to score.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about whether we should move the Summit. Some are on the East coast and won’t go because of the time/cost. Others don’t care about time/cost. Some like having it the same place, comfortable as old pair of shoes. Others don’t like that. Some people don’t care about after hours, or family, or ….whatever.

How do I, as a Board member, decide what to do? I’ve heard some on the Board suggest that it’s only a noisy few who want it moved, that we don’t hear from the many that are happy with the current location. Do I listen to the the squeaky wheel? Launch a poll? If I do that, who are the “right” people to respond? The ones that want change? Those that don’t? As an elected representative I try hard to understand the various views, but I can’t decide based on polls. I’ve got to decide based on what I think is fair and good for the members as well as a sound business decision for PASS. I think it’s possible to balance those.

Within the Board, and among those I talk to, most see it through a filter. Part of what I hope to get you to think about as you read this post is that we don’t all value the same things in the same amount. Just because you don’t mind the cost, the time, the weather, or whatever, others do. I may not agree with someone who cares about those things, but I can’t disregard it either.

It’s not a simple decision. Lots of reasons to do this, or do that. To change, or to not change. No way to know what is the right answer from a business perspective until after the event, and maybe not even then.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and then some more. My position is still that I support moving in 2013, preferably to the East coast but something in the Central time zone is also possible. I also support going back to Seattle in 2014, winding up with a strategy much like we had in earlier years, rotating from Seattle to one or two other cities. Maybe it should be the same one or two cities (easier, less risk), or maybe we should make it different ones, a good discussion to have in itself. I’m confident that we can move the event, maintain the quality, and grow attendance, in large part because of our HQ staff – I know they will get it done.

As it stands I hope we’ll move in 2013, but that is by no means a done deal. As I said earlier, I’m trying to decide based on what is far and good for our members and that is a sound business decision for PASS.

Finally, we listen to the people that care enough to engage. We may not decide the way you want, but we listen. Make your case for moving, or for a particular city. Blog it, or email any or all of us on the Board. Make a logical argument, tell us how you weight various factors, and before you hit send, ask yourself – are you considering what’s good for the one, or for the many?

0 thoughts on “PASS Update #51-Summit Site Selection”

  1. Andy,

    You speak as though PASS hasn’t already done several surveys on this topic. I know that there was a survey asking these exact questions… And that the responses were largely ignored. Perhaps I’m missing something here?

  2. I’m always curious about that “noisy few” perspective. If people won’t speak out, then how can anyone be sure what they really want? Is there a TON of discussion going on with the Board members where people say things like “I love the Summit as it is, but I’m afraid to say so publicly, and please don’t tell anyone”? If not, then it would seem that the people who are most passionate about PASS are asking for something else, why would we not want to listen to them?

    As Eric pointed out, seems like the survey results should be the measuring stick, not anything else. Those “noisy few” will always be sure to respond, anyone else will have the same opportunity without having to be “noisy” about it, and the answer should be based on that.

  3. Aaron – I’m not saying I agree with the noisy few, but maybe that’s only because I tend to side with them. Hard to see the world as clearly as I’d like some days.

    Eric, I should have mentioned something on that instead of just alluding. The results are somewhere on the PASS site from last year, and while I thought the results clearly indicated we should move, not all appraised the results the same way. In hindsight the questions could have been been written better, but I think were still useful.

    Jon, no, no cases I know of for secret support. Definitely some that speak out for keeping it in Seattle. I think there’s a difference between a survey that a management uses to assess opinion and a vote, if we’re going to be bound by the results than it should be a true vote, and maybe we look at that. In fact it’s what I hope happens with SQLRally. Assuming we get more than one candidate city, we’ll narrow it down to a list of 3-4 cities and then the community will vote (not survey) to pick the winner.

  4. Well, you know my thoughts on the issue. I personally think that the right place to start is to look at the demographics of those attending the Summit and see if it is skewed to the pacific and mountain time zones. I’d be really interested in seeing those numbers as well. I’ve been to almost all the SQLSaturday locations in FL, SQLSaturday’s in Atlanta and Denver, and user groups on the east coast. In those events and groups I’ve spoken in front of a couple hundred SQL Server professionals and talked with countless others, and, with the exception of Denver, less than 10% (non-scientific study) have attended the Summit, most because of location. How is PASS going to grow the Summit when a large majority of the “membership” won’t travel to Seattle?

    I think all the things on your list have merit and should be considered.

    I’m actually quite shocked that, after last year’s survey, that it is even still under discussion.

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