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Scheherazade in Blue Jeans
freelance alchemist
hahaha oh shit; also, sausage-making 
15th-Oct-2012 01:13 pm
I am a victim of my own success as a track manager.

Today is the last day to sign up for Arisia panels! And I'm looking over who's interested in what and hahaha oh shit guys I am going to have to make a lot of really hard decisions.

We have a lot of people interested in my panels. And most of them are totally awesome and super-qualified. When I first took over the literature track, this was easy; I pared down the unqualified people, assigned the qualified people, and boom! There were panels! But now I have, in some cases, twenty people interested in a panel and all of them are amazing. They have degrees in the topic, they wrote bestselling books on the topic, they wrote me a paragraph detailing a bunch of really cool things they'd discuss on the panel.

Every year we get an influx of new prospective panelists, and for the past few years? They have all been super high-quality.

This is going to be really hard.

On the flipside of that, we do have a few panels that I really want to run that are still understaffed. If you are an Arisia panelist, please check out the list beneath the cut tag; if you see a panel with under 5 people on it that you're interested in, sign up for it!

Here is some "how the sausage is made" from the perspective of a track manager.

Where we are right now: today is the deadline for signing up for panels. Today I am looking at the list and going "UM WOW" and "UH OH" but not actually doing anything yet.

The next steps are assigning people to panels and assigning panels to times, then begging the Head of Programming for overflow space. Each track at Arisia is assigned to one room, but some of the tracks are sufficiently small that they don't need all of the program hours in their room - so after they've done their assignments, those slots will be opened to the bigger tracks like Literature and Media. So what I have to do is narrow my list down to a core set of panels that Absolutely Must Run and assigning them to the prime hours in my assigned room, then putting my second tier of panels in the less-prime hours, then putting everything else I can in other tracks' rooms.

Assigning people to panels is hard. It gets even harder in the next step, but I'll get to that. As I said above, we have a lot of highly-qualified people, and only five openings. So I do my best to get the absolute best combination of people on that panel.

Some things I look at:

* Will the people on this panel work well together? Or will this devolve into a screaming match? Hard to tell with the newer prospective panelists, but there are people who we know need very strong moderation or should not be on panels with certain topics or with certain other people. (This is why it's important to tell concom or me directly when someone is a horrible panelist or moderator - we really do listen! There are people I won't put on my panels at all, and there are people I'll only put on panels with people who will balance them and moderate them hard - and with those people, I check with the mod first to make sure they're cool with it.)

* If this is a panel about a marginalized or oppressed group, are you a member of that group? If I have a panel about PoC representation and I have eight PoC interested and 5 white people, I am prioritizing the PoC. I do not doubt that you are a wonderful ally, but I would rather have the voices of the people actually affected by the issues under discussion. Also, I will never had a white moderator on a panel about PoC or a straight moderator on a panel about queer people or a cis moderator on a panel about trans* people. That just makes my brain itch. There are great cis straight white male moderators out there - my husband is one of them! - but there's a time and a place.

* What do you want to discuss? This is your reminder that if you didn't fill out that text box, I will not select you. If you don't tell me why you'd be great on this panel, I do not know why you'd be great on this panel, so obviously I'm going to prioritize the people who have told me! Good things to tell me: if you're a member of the group under discussion or a related group, if you have a degree or have written a book on the topic, if you're an editor of a magazine or anthology that's addressed the topic, if you work in the field under discussion, et cetera.
Some great specific excerpts:
* "Special interest in discussing speech patterns and representing bilingual characters suitably."
* "Dissection changed my life and how I live it."
* "I'm interested in changes that would have occurred due to differences in legal history -- court decisions decided the other way, legislation added & avoided, things like that. "
* "I am a medical health professional with experience working with geriatrics."
* " I've been writing on intellectual property and new business models for the past 13 years. I've seen a lot of anti-innovation and I think that the legal system (both in the US and internationally) has a good deal to do with the underlying reasons why we seem to be having innovation starvation. "
* "Additionally, much of the work I do as a newspaper editor is uncover, expose and educate about stereotypes"
And I'm going to stop scrolling through and picking out interesting tidbits, because I'd be here all day! But you see what I mean - these people have given me reasons. They have interesting things to say, and I want to hear what they bring to the table. In some cases, their professions give them an unusual perspective, and I want to hear about that. Sometimes people totally disagree with the topic, and sometimes I want to hear about that, too - if it's "I think this idea is incorrect and want to discuss newer research on it," not if it's "Lovecraft was awesome and he was a product of his time so you can't call him racist, goddamn PC Police."

So the next step, once I've lovingly assembled the perfect panel and a shaft of light parts the clouds and angels sing, is where it all falls apart. Hopefully temporarily.

Because then I have to assign panels to times and rooms. And that's where scheduling comes into play.

Say I have five perfect panelists. One of them will only be here Saturday. Two of them won't do panels before noon. One of them won't be here Saturday. Augh. So I try to find the perfect time for as many of the panelists as possible. Invariably this means I can't use one or more of my original choices, so I swap people in as needed until I have a good panel at a time that works for people.

And then I have to do that about 60 more times.

And while I'm doing it, other track managers are doing it - so panelists can end up double-booked or overbooked, in which case we have to reshuffle again and agan and again.

And then we send the preliminary schedules out to the panelists, who'll request changes. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And at the end, no matter the agita on the way, I generally end up with a lot of really great panels with fantastic panelists. I have a few panelists I didn't necessarily want to schedule, but after the schedule follies, they're all I had left! But I have enough really good people that I can usually have a great slate of programming.

To answer a frequently asked question, here are some reasons a panel might not make it to the final schedule.

* It didn't have enough panelist interest. If you click the cut tag, you'll see a bunch of panels that don't have enough interest. We need three panelists in order to run a panel, but it's generally safer to go in with more than five, because of the aforementioned scheduling difficulties; a 3-person panel gets knocked out if only one panelist can't be scheduled.

* It was too similar to another panel. I have limited space and time; if I have two similar panels and not enough slots, I'll pick one.

* It ran last year. I'll be prioritizing newer topics or topics that haven't been discussed in the past few years.

I am off to a doctor's appointment. But if you have any questions, leave them here and I'l answer them when I get back!

Number of panels with fewer than 5 people interested: 21
5-10: 24
11-15: 13
16-20: 5
21-25: 3
More than 25: 1

Literature 156 What SF/F Series Should I Begin With? 11
Literature 157 Asexuality and Asexual Characters in SF 6
Literature 159 Vampires: Fear of the Other, Fear of the Body 15
Literature 161 Erasure is Not Equality 8
Literature 164 Queer SF/F 8
Literature 165 Islam and SF/F 1
Literature 169 Race and Identity in SF/F 9
Literature 170 Trans* and Gender Variant SF 3
Literature 171 Facing the Prejudice of Giants 14
Literature 172 Avoiding Culturefail 12
Literature 173 Hoodoo, Voodoo & the Bullshit That Authors Do 5
Literature 174 Sex, SF/F, & Racial Stereotypes 8
Literature 175 Morally Ambiguous Characters 22
Literature 184 YA You Want to Read 7
Literature 185 The Body of the Future 11
Literature 186 Greatest History Never Altered 20
Literature 189 Ray Bradbury: A Retrospective 10
Literature 190 Growing Old in an Adventure-Filled World 18
Literature 191 Healthcare in Speculative Fiction 6
Literature 201 Parasitic Experimentation in Fantasy Literature 2
Literature 207 A Hero Like Me 21
Literature 208 The Perils of Near-Future Science Fiction 17
Literature 220 Alternate Peacetime 8
Literature 222 Discworld at 30 12
Literature 228 Future Fantasy 16
Literature 229 The Arisia Book Club: Reading the Hugos 6
Literature 230 Innovation Starvation? 10
Literature 236 Steampunk and Colonialism 5
Literature 319 Unreliable Narrators in Speculative Fiction 16
Literature 367 Displacement in Literature 14
Literature 368 Dark Matter, a Decade Later 4
Literature 369 The Future of Mars 4
Literature 370 How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things 10
Literature 371 Alien vs. Alien 2
Literature 372 From Papi Chulo to Papi Cthulhu 3
Literature 373 Hey, Comadre, Are You Invisible? 3
Literature 377 Urban Fantasy & First-Person Narrators 15
Literature 378 We Know Dick 3
Literature 379 Speculative Poetry is Awesome 6
Literature 380 Speculative Poetry Reading 14
Literature 381 Beyond Our Horizons: Non-English SF & Fantasy 2
Literature 382 Demographics, World Change, and the Future 1
Literature 383 The Fantasy Meritocracy 3
Literature 384 The Grand Quest 8
Literature 385 SF, Fantasy, and Horror—The Year in Review 3
Literature 386 Um, It's Complicated: Relationships in SF/F 5
Literature 387 How Do We Pay for the Future? 10
Literature 388 Fashionpunk 5
Literature 389 SFnal Non-Western Cities 1
Literature 390 When Faith and Science Meet 13
Literature 391 YA Books for Adult Readers 14
Literature 392 Short Fiction: Why Is It So Awesome? 11
Literature 393 Disabilities in Science Fiction 4
Literature 395 Influences on the Genre 2
Literature 397 Changing Face of Fiction: Diversity and Backlash 10
Literature 398 Faeries of Color: Tales of the Fae Beyond Europe 6
Literature 399 Beyond Binary: Exploring Gender Via SF/Fantasy 9
Literature 400 Free to Squee You & Me 3
Literature 401 Best of the Small Press 4
Literature 402 So, What's New? 5
Literature 403 Strong Stories with Strong Parents 12
Literature 404 Caught in the Slipstream: Fiction Between Genres 9
Literature 406 More than One Way to Traumatize a Character 27
Literature 407 The Arisia Book Club: 50 Books by POC 1
Literature 408 The Last Dangerous Visions 2
Literature 487 The Wheel of Time 1
Literature 675 Speculative Fiction on Stage 5
Literature 693 Fairy Tales and Folklore in Modern Literature 17
Literature 694 Contemporary Fantasy Outside the City Limits 8
Literature 707 The Horror of Our Youth 5
Literature 708 Cultural Appropriation in Literature 6
Literature 709 Orientalism in Victorian & Steampunk Literature 5
15th-Oct-2012 05:27 pm (UTC)
With the exception of Poly 201, my panel selections are from Media. I'd figured that the rules are the same.
15th-Oct-2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
As far as assigning people to panels and panels to rooms; I don't know what Dan's criteria for panelist selection are!
15th-Oct-2012 06:04 pm (UTC)
OMGWOW! I had no idea that that much went into setting up a program track. (Unlike some people, I actually like seeing how sausage is made.)

I hope the doctor has good news for you.
15th-Oct-2012 07:52 pm (UTC)
And this is *after*

- getting panel ideas from the community
- getting rid of the terrible and duplicate ideas
- adding additional panels to cover topics that weren't covered
- editing panel descriptions and putting in notes for prospective panelists
- opening signups to participants

It's a lot. Judah's running the brand-new Maker Track, which is less work because it's much smaller (fewer panels and fewer prospective participants, since it deals with more specialized knowledge; I have a broader base because everyone reads!), and Adam's eyeing another track that the manager has said he may retire from soon, so we may be an all-staff family in the near future.

As far as the doctor, painful but necessary procedure, and I'll almost certainly be fine soon. (And yes, I owe you e-mail!)
15th-Oct-2012 10:07 pm (UTC)
A Maker Track? And just when I thought Arisia couldn't get any more awesome! And your family's going to end up running the whole thing! :-D

I guess the news from the doctor is fairly good, though I think doctor news can always be better. Take care of yourself.

Looking forward to hearing from you whenever you have a free moment. (hahahaha I crack me up!)
16th-Oct-2012 02:52 am (UTC)
We are already an all staff family :)

I'm one kind of tech before the con (sysadmin) & the other (Tech Staff) on-site, and crewgrrl is doing social media stuff this year :)
(Deleted comment)
15th-Oct-2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
Besides that there are multiple other tracks! And epic parties, dances, a geeky belly dance show, etc...

And this year? A bouncy castle.
(Deleted comment)
16th-Oct-2012 06:03 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad to be able to go this year!!
17th-Oct-2012 03:54 am (UTC)
Me too! A bouncy castle?!?
15th-Oct-2012 06:36 pm (UTC)
As a fellow sausage-maker, I'm curious about what method you use to collect the information. Is it a google form or surveymonkey type of thing, or do you have something else? I chair a literature track, and we actually have a programming director this year. I don't know if she has a preferred method of surveying the guests for scheduling purposes, since we haven't really discussed that yet (we're currently in the stage of inviting people).
15th-Oct-2012 06:42 pm (UTC)
It's a system called Zambia, which I like. If you've used Wiscon's system it's similar; you can search for panels that you might want to be on, add them to your list, then indicate your level of interest and why you'd be good on the panel.

I have no idea how it is to use as a track head; it works well for me as a panelist.
15th-Oct-2012 06:59 pm (UTC)
The only experience I have with programming as a panelist was the clusterfoxtrot that was Chicon programming. Ohgod.

I tried googling that, and, as you may guess, all I found regarded the country. It sounds useful, though. We're having a meeting Friday, and I can see what the director is planning to use.
15th-Oct-2012 07:33 pm (UTC)

(Googling for "Zambia Arisia" knocked out most of the country references.)
15th-Oct-2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
Tangent: I have not seen "clusterfoxtrot" before and I think it is my new favorite. :D
15th-Oct-2012 07:55 pm (UTC)
The clusterfoxtrot is the new Saturday-night dance at Arisia.
15th-Oct-2012 10:08 pm (UTC)
16th-Oct-2012 01:40 am (UTC)
It's my favorite, too :D
15th-Oct-2012 07:55 pm (UTC)
As a track head, I highly recommend it. The issues I have in scheduling are issues that would happen with any system, but I appreciate the UI for assigning people to panels and the just-improved UI for assigning panels to rooms. Also the conflict reports - if we try to double-book someone or schedule them outside of their stated availability, we get a red flag.
16th-Oct-2012 01:31 am (UTC)
That sounds very useful! I'll bring it up with the programming director & the vice chair (the guy in charge mainly of the computer stuff). He has a lot of experience with other cons, and I don't know what he used or if there's something he likes.

If I suggest this, I'll have to make a really good case for it :/ Probably "the people who run Arisia use it and like it" won't be sufficient.

Edited at 2012-10-16 01:41 am (UTC)
15th-Oct-2012 09:46 pm (UTC)
Is there any interesting story behind why it's called Zambia?
15th-Oct-2012 10:05 pm (UTC)
I do not know, nor would I, as I am not a SMOF, however, one might hazard a guess at it having to do with the registration system being CONGO.
16th-Oct-2012 03:17 am (UTC)
It makes me sad that so many of the panels I want to see so I can learn about them don't have enough people on the panel.
16th-Oct-2012 08:15 pm (UTC)
I know, right? Happens every year. :(
16th-Oct-2012 09:57 pm (UTC)
If there's still just me for the Wheel of Time panel, I would be fine running it as a group-discussion thing.
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