How to start a grassroots group

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Contents

Credits

Based on the PyCon 2008 presentation "Running a successful usergroup" by Jeff Rush (CC-BY-SA).

Also see the /Advice section for notes from people who run current OLPC grassroots groups.

Steps to starting a grassroots group

Begin the group

  • Invent a name. (see Category:XO_User_Group or Category:Countries for examples)
  • Create a wiki page - the title is usually the name of your group. Examples: OLPC Austria, IMSA. See Wiki getting started if you're new to wikis. See comment on "OLPC xxx" namespace usage on the Talk page
  • Create a mailing list - get 10 members who would join the list, and send their emails to <insert email here>.
  • Add your group to the roster of all groups on Grassroots <insert actual link here>.

Figure out what the group will do

Build consensus on the mailing list for...

  • Meeting location, duration, and frequency (on IRC ? In person? Do you need to meet at all?)
  • Group focus and special interest. Sometimes this will be obvious; the Health group is interested in Health, but what is OLPC Chicago interested in?
  • A first project or kickoff date; something concrete to work towards for a short-term first success.

Figure out how the group will operate

If your group is going to meet regularly, you might want to choose a group "model" - don't worry, you can always change it later. (Actually, it should be clear to people that they can always suggest changes in how to do things.)

  • Pure lecture model
  • Study group model
  • Pilot school model
  • Sprint/team project model
  • Dinner/ social gathering model (for small groups or those that lack meeting facilities)

Tell people

  • Announce its creation to mailing lists. Grassroots, library, and devel are good general ones, depending on the area of focus of your group.
  • Your blog, local schools, local usergroups, and local universities are also good places to contact.
  • It's good to come up with frequent things to send announcements about at first - try to shoot for one message a week for the first month, but make sure you have something new to tell people each announcement!
  • Announce upcoming meetings on your mailing list consistently for several months. This is important. Consistency is key in getting people to believe you're here to stay and they should pay attention.
  • Circulate flyers at stores, schools, etc.
  • Post meeting summaries and notes to shared wiki/blog (or pod/screen casts, if you can get them). Publicize these afterwards - if people see you've done cool things at the last meeting, they're more likely to come to the next one.
  • co-announce at other related user groups and meetups (Python, Linux, education, user interface...)

Keep records

  • Take notes at meetings!
  • Post notes from meetings!
  • Tell people you have posted notes from meetings!
  • Did we mention to take notes publicly, preferably on the wiki so that other grassroots groups can see it, search the text, and learn from it?
  • List your meetings on some sort of calendar page/section. Google calendar works well.

Make fun stuff

  • Dinners! Fairs! Mini-hackathons! Unconferences!
  • Invite local kids to share their projects.
  • Make club tshirts when you reach critical mass - they're cheap, but the effect on team cohesion and morale is remarkable.

Resources

From OLPC

If you're starting up a grassroots group, OLPC can generally provide you with the following resources.

OLPC can generally not offer...

  • freebie laptop donations (however, you can put together a proposal for what you'd like to do and ask around the community for resources to make your plans happen).
  • funding/sponsorship
  • tax-deductible status for your group's activities

Potential meeting places

  • Corporate offices
  • Universities
  • Storefronts with back rooms, like bookstores
  • Churches
  • Restaurants or coffee shops with free wifi
  • Libraries with meeting rooms and/or free wifi

Potential sponsorships and partners

Most grassroots groups don't need an operating budget - on the rare occasions they do, passing around a hat at meetings can cover expenses like renting a projector or a meeting room (although you really ought to be able to get these on loan and donated for free if you ask around). However, if you absolutely find you need resources to make something happen, here are some places you can ask. Remember, you can also ask for donations of things, expertise, and time - things other than money.

  • Local businesses and nonprofits
  • Local related meetup groups (LUGs, Python meetups, school districts...)
  • Local schools
  • Non-local schools - long distance support and learning partnerships with children from another country. Be creative in finding other groups to pair with - maybe you already know someone abroad, maybe other groups on the grassroots mailing list are interested...
  • Private individuals

Making it work

What you can do at meetings

  • Project of the month
  • Code/lesson walkthrough
  • Lightning talks (especially cool when done by local kids)
  • Start a group project, like a sprint
  • Invite a guest speaker
  • Get ideas from the grassroots mailing list
  • Have multiple "roundtable" (or "squaretable") discussions, allowing larger gatherings to break into smaller groups with a starting question at each table

Key elements for success

  • consistent meetings and announcements
  • provide a way for others to find you at meetings - make an OLPC flag to put on tables, etc. so folks can easily find your group
  • prepare for meetings; bring a book, learn a module
  • summary reports of meetings
    • post to your mailing list for archiving
    • post to your wiki for public editing and cleanup
    • take them and post them in general
    • if you don't post them on the wiki, please explicitly release them under an open license (but please do post them on this wiki!)
  • Don't lock yourselves into a focus, (permanent)location, or primary project too early; your group will change and grow, and you need to stay flexible.
  • Mentoring / professional / personal development and growth opportunities. How can you help each other grow?

What not to do

  • inconsistent meeting times, location
  • giving up too soon
  • having one presenter again and again
  • not involving newcomers, kids, educators, non-technical people, developers (the idea is to bridge across traditional community silos)
  • lacking a strong leader
  • too many strong leaders
  • not balancing beginner and advanced
  • non-OLPC social gatherings (make sure you stay on track, and that non-OLPC events with members of your OLPC group happen outside the boundaries of the OLPC group - not on your wiki, mailing list, etc.)
  • lack of consistent attendance
    • One solution to lack of consistent attendance: "Charge" for tutorials by having attendees pay $X, but give them "free" materials worth $X. Offer scholarships so financial need won't keep people at bay.

What are you waiting for? Get started!

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