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The Univention Summit looks back on a 13-year tradition as a place of exchange and discussion around the topics of digital sovereignty and sovereign IT infrastructures. This year, for the first time, it had to be purely digital. This article looks back at the challenge of translating such an event, with all its interactivity and discussion spaces, from the real world to the virtual.
In order to realize the 14th Univention Summit as an online event, Univention approached us, Plain Schwarz, last year as an event agency and service provider for the conception and implementation of virtual, hybrid events as well as face-to-face events. We already knew each other through the Open Source environment and shared networks before we worked together for the Summit.
Many initiators and organisers of events and conferences have to face the challenges of the Corona pandemic. For all of them, the big questions are: How can conferences function in a virtual environment? And how can a popular and proven format that has grown over the years be brought to the internet without losing quality?
In view of the deadline at the end of January and the tense Corona situation at the end of 2020, we had to decide against a hybrid event with a small audience in Bremen. So, together with Univention, we planned to produce only part of the programme and all the moderations live in the Congress Centrum Bremen – while observing the necessary hygiene measures. The vast majority of the speakers were added remotely.
For such a production, you need a reliable partner on site who takes care of the technical setup and ensures a smooth process in front of and behind the camera. We were pleased to have
found such a partner in the Bremen-based technical service provider MST Medien-Systemtechnik.
Since MST had already gained some experience with the meeting and webinar software Edudip, the external speakers were to be brought in via this software, which can also be used to share and transmit screens and presentations. The video signals of the two stages as well as the stream of the main stage, simultaneously translated by two interpreters, were sent to the online platform via RTMP.
Now we just needed a virtual venue where the participants, speakers and moderators could come together. For this, we chose Venueless. The decisive factors were above all clarity and interactivity.
Simple and intuitive navigation between stages, breakout and workshop rooms is just as important here as the stable broadcast of the lectures and possibilities for networking with other attendees. In addition to the integration of live streams, Venueless also offers a chat function, embedded Big Blue Button (BBB) rooms for workshops and a sponsor area.
Venueless was developed by the team of the ticket shop provider Pretix. Both systems are coordinated accordingly and offer additional functions that simplify and optimize work processes. Therefore, we decided to handle the registration of the Summit participants in advance via Pretix. This made it possible to significantly reduce the accounting efforts on the part of Univentions compared to previous years. Communication with the participants was also simplified, as emails could be sent to them directly from Pretix and the tool gave the organising team a good overview of the registration status at all times. The following is a brief overview of the features:
The Pretix ticket shop can be used to sell tickets for participants as well as to register employees, speakers and sponsors. Through integration in Venueless, moderation rights for employees and additional functions for sponsors can even be assigned at this point.
Venueless offers a separate exhibitor area for sponsors. Here, as is common on other platforms, they can introduce themselves and provide additional information material. Via a contact function, participants can also enter into text and video chats with the exhibitors and inform themselves individually and network.
Events and conferences thrive on encounters and exchange. Therefore, interactive elements that go beyond a chat next to the stream are essential. Venueless offers various functions here: Each participant has their own profile and there are direct messages in the form of a 1:1 chat, which can be extended by a video chat via Big Blue Button.
In order to transfer as much conference character as possible into the digital world, it was important to us to make direct and personal interaction possible. Workshops and round table sessions therefore took place in Big Blue Button rooms and enabled a free exchange between all participants, whether sponsor, speaker or visitor.
So-called break-out rooms offered the audience a dedicated space to discuss the previous lectures and panels with the protagonists after the sessions and to ask further questions.
Finally, we would like to thank Univention for the good and trustful cooperation. The situation was not only special for the Univention Summit, because our meetings and arrangements also had to take place without any personal encounters.
We are pleased that we were able to participate in the realisation of such an established conference and contribute to its success. Special thanks go to Alice Horstmann and her team for the important ideas, hints and suggestions – it was the combination of our joint expertise that made the Univention Summit as successful as it was.
The Berlin-based company Plain Schwarz specialises in organising events with an Open Source focus. For example, they organised ApacheCon Europe 2019, the Haystack Conference for E-Commerce Search and the MICES Camp 2020. Their own projects include the international conference for Open Source Search & Big Data – Berlin Buzzwords, as well as the Open Source Management Conference – FOSS Backstage.
If you would like to find out more about us, our events and services, please visit plainschwarz.com or email us at email@example.com.
Paul studied Communications, Politics and Italian at Freie Universität Berlin. He is an avid committer of all things open source and implements it not only in his professional life. He has been involved in the organization of conferences and tech events since 2014. At Plain Schwarz he is an allrounder, enjoying the full range of tasks: from the meticulous planning beforehand to the excitement (and troubleshooting) of event production.