How to start a grassroots group/Advice


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The current section is written by Mike Lee of OLPC Learning Club DC. If you want to add your own thoughts, please create subpages and make this into an index page for advice from various grassroots groups.


How did you find the XO afficianados in your area?

It helps a lot to know some of your questions. We had a running start because Wayan Vota lives in DC and had built OLPC News into the preeminent independant blog about OLPC (counting the tabloid style reporting and trolls). Anyone who Googled OLPC and DC would get to his site and see that meet-ups were happening. When G1G1 hit, people could see that we were already having small meetings, and we got a great turnout during the week the G1G1 laptops first arrived. Wayan and I realized we could grab a following by offering interesting guest speakers. He also set up the groups area on the OLPC News Forums, a blog and email list, which he then asked me to maintain them, which I did. I also agreed to help manage the meetings starting in 2008.

How did you make contact?

I think the best vehicle we have is our opted-in e-mail list which has grown steadily to 135 people. I email meeting announcements once a month 2-3 weeks before the meeting. We also attracted some educators early on who brought groups of students.

How did you choose a location for your meeting?

I mulled over that quite a bit. But basically I took the best offer that came along after my request at the December meeting. A kind G1G1 owner helped me reach out to DC Cares, a foundation in downtown DC that has nice corporate sponsored meetings rooms and is right by a Metro stop. We got a huge turnout of about 50 at January's meeting, all of whom took Metro. We moved on to other donated locations which were not as close to Metro. I really think we would have even higher attendance if we were by a subway stop. The other locations were offered to me and I went with them. I can't say enough about the hard work that Jeff Elkner of the Arlington Career Center, Kevin Cole of Gallaudet University, Michael Connet of Nortel and Curtis Cannon of DC Cares put into setting up their respective meeting rooms and AV equipment. There are random glitches with one thing or another at every meeting and we all stay positive and roll with the punches.

How did you advertise?

See above. We also posted to the official OLPC message boards. We also have Mini Moo Cards and stickers, which I have distributed at neetings to have attendees help spread the word. One attendee told the county newspaper about us, and an article was published. You can also read an arhive of my email announcements here:

How often do you meet?

Once a month on the 4th Saturday.

Did you choose a weeknight or sometime on the weekend?

We have settled on 10am-1pm on Saturdays, which seem to work best all around favoring families who bring young children.

Other notes

  • Be hyper-inclusive and work hard to make the non-techies feel comfortable. Even still, we have people who would be challenged by a normal computer trying to learn the XO. They still think we talk over their heads sometimes, and have also asked for introductory classes to be held.
  • Attendees love the free raffles. It makes the meeting memorable and fun. I personally invested about $20-30 per meeting to round up (or make) some small prizes such as the clip-on viewfinder, power adapters and the USB-ethernet adapter.
  • Endorsement helps. I think it helped that attendees perceived we had a connection with OLPC, when in reality, even though I could travel to Cambridge and have met NN and Walter, they were crushed with work during G1G1 and not returning emails. I'm happy that OLPC began to visibily reach out to the grassroots community in the spring.
  • Take lots of photos and video! They are very useful for future blog posts, and to build the perception that meetings are fun. I'm not as good about writing up summaries.
  • Try to find a few local experts who know one facet of the XO or another (software, hardware, etc). We are very fortunate to have a person who teaches Scratch, the Chief Learning Officer of Nortel (a financial sponsor of OLPC), and some people very active in the local open source community. It helps to have SuperFriends at meetings.
  • I had thought it would become a challenge to sustain the group into the fall, but with another G1G1 likely, there will be another spike of interest.
  • In addition to being inclusive, we didn't try to become one specific kind of group. We could easily have just made it a geekfest for the hardcore XO fans (maybe 20 of us), but we'd turn away the others.
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