I want to get in a post about mistakes made by the organizers of EA Global. I’m not talking about considered decisions I may disagree with about, say, the speaking lineup. I’m talking about things that don’t seem to have been considered decisions, but rather seem to have been, as far as I can tell, the consequence of way too much stuff getting done at the last minute.
I get the impression that the primary organizers of EA Global, Tyler Alterman and Kerry Vaughan, had never run such a conference before. (People talk about EA Global as a follow up to the 2014 EA Summit, but the 2014 summit was run by different people.) If this was their first time, Tyler and Kerry did an excellent job by the standard of people who’ve never run a conference before. I understand such events are usually complete shitshows.
On the other hand, I also get the impression that part of what happened is that late in the conference-organizing process, they finally brought in more experience people to do it right. This would explain why lots of things seem to have been done in a tolerably okay manner, but without a ton of thought behind the specific decisions. Seriously people, experience and domain expertise are a thing.
When I say all this, understand I don’t have a ton of behind-the-scenes knowledge here, but when I’ve talked to people who do, this is the picture I’ve gotten pretty consistently. So I think people understand what went wrong, and they’ll mostly be able to avoid the problems next year (because of having more experience, and getting other experienced people on board sooner).
But as an overt example of the thing I’m talking about–people had to fill out applications for EA Global, were told they’d hear back on their application by a certain date, then didn’t hear back by then, and when people did get their acceptances, the acceptances came out in waves. That put a lot of people off. Also, not knowing what the price tag would be until the last minute.
More worrisome is the fracas over the menu at EA Global. A couple months before the conference, word got around that the conference was “probably” going to be entirely vegan, and the organizers asked for help from vegans in the community on planning an all-vegan menu. Then, a day and a half before the conference, people suddenly found out that it wasn’t going to be vegan after all.
This upset a lot of people. Some didn’t want their money going to support factory farming, and a few people who take animal rights seriously get upset by (what in their view are) dead bodies being served at events they attend. Personally, I think an all-vegan menu would have been great as a signal that animal advocacy is taken seriously in the EA movement, but I’m not sure what I could say to convince someone who doesn’t take the cause seriously.
What was totally unacceptable was leading people to believe one thing, and then revealing they were going to do something else at the last minute. And I can see this happening as an honest mistake, the result of too much being done at the last minute. I’d be pretty happy if the organizers simply said, “We disagree with the reasons given for having an all-vegan menu, but we should have made our decision clear well in advance of the event, and for that we apologize.”
But that isn’t what has happened. For a movement that prides itself on transparency, there’s been a startling lack of transparency from the organizers on this issue. There’s been promises for more information later that get half-heartedly fulfilled at best. This is not acceptable.
For next year’s conference, I tend to think that having a menu that’s all-vegetarian, and with good vegan options, is a reasonable compromise. But whatever the organizers decide, they need to announce their decision (along with doing a lot of other things) well in advance.
Update: Shortly after I posted this, Oliver Habryka posted a Facebook comment that was the kind of response re: the menu issue that I’d been hoping for from the beginning. Props to Oliver for that.