Where to have the Brainstorming session?

Hosting a five-hour event with seven people is no small feat. It’s not a graduate class nor a conference, but something in-between.  Here’s a list on what we need the space to be (with a couple items that are not relevant to our group, but I’m including for reference for other similar projects):

  1. Comfortable and well-lit and available. We’ll be there for five hours, we’ll need a table(s) with seven comfy chairs. The space should be pleasant. The room also needs to be available and open.
  2. Hooked up. We will need electrical outlets, strong wifi, a projector, and a screen. Participants are bringing their own laptops and reading/reference materials.
  3. Affordable. Our budget, which is ~$300, needs to cover food, fees, childcare, copy expenses, etc. We cannot pay high rental fees.
  4. Access to food. Again, since were on a budget, food cannot be expensive. We need to be able to bring our own food for snacks and meals and/or easily get an affordable lunch somewhere nearby.
  5. Accessible. With the Americans with Disabilities Act, federal law ensures that businesses, public buildings, and facilities are accessible. Only if the event were to be hosted in a private space, such as a home, would this be an issue.
  6. Childcare. We’re hosting the event in early September during working hours so everyone with children in our group has indicated they’ve already sorted their childcare needs. But childcare may be a factor if such an event is taking place at non-working hours or for non-working stay-at-home parents who would like to participate during working hours.
  7. Inspiring. The space should jive with the ethos of the project.
  8. Private. It shouldn’t be a space where people wander in, interrupt or disturb us. We need to be able to brainstorm in a safe space.

Based on this criteria, I researched three different location types: a university classroom, a private room at a cafe or co-working space, and a conference/community room at a library. I ruled out holding it at a private residence such as my house, because that seemed unnecessarily private, though if your budget were really tight, that could be a place to do it. I’ve been in book clubs that are hosted at homes, as this is often the space which is most affordable and can accommodate a group.

Here are the pros and cons of each location:

  • University classroom. I’m affiliated with the UW, so I can reserve a classroom in the Department of Communication. The classroom that was available for our size is a seminar room on the third floor of the Communication building.
    • Pros: it meets all eight criteria — it’s free (to me), it’s private, accessible, has wifi, etc.
    • Cons: It’s not is all that close to food — tho we could bring non-messy food in easily, however I’d need to double check the rules on that, but for lunch we’d need to walk about twenty minutes one way for restaurant service or order some boxed lunches from a catering service. It’s also a bit isolated. School hasn’t started yet so we’d likely be the only ones in the building and the room itself is a basic seminar room, nothing fancy. There’s a window, though, which is nice.
    • Take away: an affordable and convenient option, but no real bells and whistles or bonus benefits. Also, it’s only available to us because I’m affiliated with UW, if I were not, this free space wouldn’t be an option.
  • A cafe or co-working space. I considered a few different options in the city with nothing turning up. Then a friend recommended I check out Ada’s Technical Bookstore and Cafe on Capital Hill. And wow — I’m glad I did. Last night I went to a talk there in the room that would be available for our session “The Last Generation of Lonely Astronomers.” I It was poetic and mind-blowing, as astronomy should be. The cafe/bookshop is remarkable. The ethos of the shop completely jives with the project. Ada’s, is a reference to Ada Lovelace, the mathematician and more recently an icon of feminist computer programming. The room available is well-lit, with skylights, and lined with books on Java and Html near collections of essays with names such as “Beautiful Security: Leading Online Security Experts Explain How They Think.”
    • Pros — It meets all of the criteria, and is inspiring to boot. We can conveniently pre order food from their cafe, no additional service to be arranged. And the food is delicious and affordable. We can *likely* also bring in our own coffee maker and snacks to set up. Tho this has to be confirmed. Doing all that, we’d just barely come in at under ~$300, so within range tho would need to watch the $$$s. It is in a non-university setting so for future Wikipedia community partnerships, it’s wonderful. I think it is important to build relationships with like-minded feminist technical geeks in the community.
    • Cons: it is slightly more expensive than free. The room is $25/hour. There’s less leeway for food. They also asked that we allow people to come and browse the bookshelves during our session. That could infringe on our privacy a little.
    • Take away: This is my top choice for atmosphere and community-building, but still need to think through the details.
  • A library community room. I was surprised to find out that these are not free, and also not open all the time. The Central Seattle Public Library charges $25 for the cheapest room. And that’s a small conference room with no windows. Yuck! There’s also no food allowed. The community rooms in neighborhood libraries or centers are more than $25 per hour, Ballard was something like $200 for five hours, since they charge for set up, food fees, and security guards. Other spaces that are cheaper simply are not open at the hours we needed. Many neighborhood libraries do not open until 11am. On one hand, a public space such as a library or public community room seems as if it would be ideal for this sort of event, but on the other, constraints are such that it would be impossible to host it there without changing the hours — and budget! — of the project. I axed this idea.

The atmosphere of a place is influential in setting the mood of an event or activity. While, of course, people create atmosphere through their own collaborative energy, places also shape and impress upon us and our interactions. Right now, my first choice is Ada’s, since it would still be in budget, but also a positive, community-oriented and generative space. My biggest concern is the privacy issue, however I’ll reach out to the events staff to ask if we could have privacy for at least the first two hours, when we’re discussing and introducing ourselves, and have bookstore patrons be able to come in to look for books in the latter half of our event, when we’re working on our own or having lunch.

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