Managing applications to an invitation-only unconference

AdaCamp was a two-day unconference dedicated to increasing women’s participation in open technology and culture. This page is part of the AdaCamp Toolkit, which helps you take AdaCamp’s tools and practices and apply them to your own event. You can re-use the text of this page under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike license with credit to the AdaCamp Toolkit.

Attendance at AdaCamp was by invitation, with applications open to the public. This document is an outline of how to manage the application process of an invitation-only event.

Why invitation-only?

AdaCamp was a feminist unconference for women in open technology and culture. In order to achieve our goals, we wanted to avoid filling the schedule with very introductory feminist content, or disputes about basic feminist principles. We also wanted to avoid the event becoming centered around learning employment skills or around professional networking. (None of those are bad things, but they are provided for by other events). In order to create a safer event, we also wanted to exclude people who had a known history of abusive or harassing behaviour.

Thus, we asked that people apply to attend, and asked applicants to demonstrate some knowledge of feminism and some existing interest in open technology and culture.

Invitation process


Ideally, open applications five to six months before your event and aim to have all applications reviewed and invitations sent out at least two months before your event. This means that accepted attendees have time to arrange leave, plan travel, etc.

Applicants for travel grants were ranked by the review committee, but otherwise AdaCamp accepted applicants on a rolling basis, so that attendees who applied early got a decision about attending early. Doing this requires that you accept people first-come-first-served rather than being able to rank attendees, but is fairer to them as it allows them to plan based on their acceptance, rather than waiting potentially for months to find out if they’re invited.

AdaCamp offered applicants a notification turnaround of two weeks.

Review committee chair

The chair of the review committee takes ultimate responsibility for accepting or rejecting an application to attend the event. The chair of the review committee is responsible for:

  • recruiting the review committee
  • finalizing the application form with the help of the review committee
  • managing the review committee: checking their workload, making sure that enough reviews are being done
  • communicating the decision to accepted and rejected applicants
  • dealing with conflict over a decision, either within the review committee or with a rejected applicant

The review committee chair for an event like AdaCamp would need to:

  • be a core member of your community who you would welcome at your event
  • have experience organizing communities or events in the past
  • have attended your specific event in the past (if it’s been held before)
  • agree with your selection criteria for your event and be willing to reject applicants who don’t meet it
  • be skilled at corresponding directly with your potential attendees
  • be comfortable making and communicating unpopular decisions
  • be able to distinguish situations where a decision needs to be revised from a situation where the decision needs to be re-iterated
  • be comfortable ending discussion when a decision is final

This is a substantial job and for AdaCamp was performed by someone who was paid. It often consumed in excess of 10 hours per week for several weeks.

Communications to draft

The chair will need to send the following types of messages to applicants:

  • “You have been accepted to EVENT”
  • “We need more information to consider your application to EVENT”
  • “You have been waitlisted for EVENT”
  • “You have not been accepted to EVENT”

Review committee recruitment

The review committee members should:

  • be core members of your community who you would welcome at your event
  • have a good understanding of review ethics and be willing to maintain confidentiality about who applied, and the committee’s decision making about individual applicants
  • agree with your selection criteria for your event and be willing to reject applicants who don’t meet it
  • have around 1–2 hours available to do reviews most weeks while your applications are open

You should have at least some members who:

  • who know lots of people in your community
  • who are willing to help you promote the event during application time
  • are part of, or at least very familiar with, the local culture of the region where you will hold the event

In order for AdaCamp to succeed at creating a feminist event, we needed to understand how feminist views were expressed by different people and in different cultures, in order to not exclude people for expressing a feminism different to the Western mainstream or explaining their feminism in different ways. Similarly, you will want to work with local reviewers and the local community in evaluating applications, especially for other feminist, activist or political events.

Your review committee will probably need to be ineligible for travel grants or any other thing of monetary value the committee is deciding on. If so, be sure to let people know this when asking them to be on the committee.

Review process

AdaCamp shared the applications to attend with the review committee in a Google spreadsheet, with a column next to each applicant for each reviewer to give an opinion. Typically we had around five reviewers and the chair asked that any individual applicant receive at least two and ideally three or more reviews before a decision was made. Reviewers were asked for a “Yes”, “No”, “Maybe” decision, with reasons for their decision if they thought other reviewers needed additional information.

Most cases were easy to decide: the reviewers were unanimous. More difficult cases were:

  • edge cases where someone’s experience or feminism qualified them for AdaCamp in some reviewers’ opinions and not in others
  • when one reviewer had additional information about an applicant (eg, at one end are applicants who vastly understated their qualifications in the application, at the other end end were applicants who had a history of abusive or harassing behaviour in other spaces)

Some cases may call for a discussion between all the members of the committee; having an email list or scheduled meeting time will be helpful.

Special cases

An invitation event will still have some people who need to be registered without applying, eg, the event staff, other staff of your organization, your board members, your review chair and committee, your organization’s core volunteers, or your guest of honour. Be sure to have a process in place for them to register directly while also capturing any information you need, eg, dietary requirements.


Deciding how many people to invite

Some of your invited attendees won’t accept invites, or won’t come, potentially leaving people on the waitlist who could have attended the event. You thus should invite people until your event is somewhat over-full by invitation numbers.

Approximate numbers for over-filling are about 120% of the planned event numbers, or 150% for an all-free event.

Lost communications

AdaCamp found the following with our invitation process:

  • some applicants believed that by filling out the application form, they had registered for the event
  • the number of people who applied, were accepted, and then never responded to their invitation or registered for the event was surprisingly high considering the length of our application form (perhaps 20–30% of invitees)
  • a considerable amount of email regarding invitations, acceptances and rejections got lost in spam filters or by busy attendees

These weren’t problems we solved to our satisfaction for AdaCamp, but we suggest carefully evaluating event software to allow, as much as possible, for the entire workflow of apply, be accepted, register to be managed within the software rather than attempting to glue it together with email pointing people at different systems.

AdaCamp’s application questions

How to use this application form: It is very unlikely that any other event resembles AdaCamp closely enough that you could use this application form in its entirety, but please look through it and use and modify the parts of it that are applicable to your event and useful to you.

Name you prefer (Help text: Please enter your full name if you are comfortable with us knowing it, otherwise a pseudonym or partial name is fine.) [required, TEXT BOX]

Contact email [required, TEXT BOX]

I identify as a woman in a way that is significant to me. [required, YES / NO]

Have you attended any previous AdaCamps? [CHECKBOXES LISTING PREVIOUS CAMPS]

What is your geographic location? [optional, TEXT BOX]

Are you requesting travel assistance? [required, RADIO BUTTONS AS FOLLOWS:]

  • No, my travel will be paid by my employer, myself, or other source.
  • Yes, I can only attend if I get a travel grant.
  • Maybe, I might be able to attend without a travel grant but would appreciate assistance.

What areas of open technology and culture do you have experience in? (Help text: Select all that apply) [required, CHECKBOXES AS FOLLOWS:]

  • Open source/Free/Libre software
  • Wikipedia, Wikimedia projects, and other wiki projects
  • Creative commons, open content, and free culture
  • Open libraries and libtech
  • Open data, including open government data and data portability
  • Open standards and the “open web”
  • Open education, open access journals
  • Remix, mashup, and creative fan culture
  • Makerspaces/hackerspaces
  • Localization, translation, internationalization, or documentation for open projects
  • Other [TEXT BOX]

Briefly, what is your experience in open technology and culture? We are looking for people already familiar with some aspect of open tech/culture (but you don’t have to be an expert). (Help text: 2000 characters or fewer please!) [required, PARAGRAPH BOX]

Briefly, what are some of your thoughts and experience around feminism? (Help text: 2000 characters or fewer please!) [required, PARAGRAPH BOX]

Any other unique experiences or expertise you would bring to the event? (Help text: We want a wide range of backgrounds and experience represented. Past AdaCamps have included women age 18 to 60+ from dozens of countries who speak a variety of languages. 2000 characters or fewer, please!) [optional, PARAGRAPH BOX]

What is your homepage, blog, Twitter account, or other URL where we can find out more about you? [optional, TEXT BOX]

Do you have any dietary restrictions? [optional, YES / NO]

Please tell us what your dietary restrictions are so we can fulfil them. [optional, TEXT BOX]

Will you use our free childcare during the conference? [optional, YES / NO]

Please list the ages of your children who will be using childcare (as of MONTH, YEAR) [optional, TEXT BOX]

Do you have any accessibility needs that are not provided for by local accessibility laws and marked access corridors? (Help text: E.g., sign language interpreters of your choice or tactile maps. We make every effort to fulfil all accessibility requests.) [optional, PARAGRAPH BOX]

Anything else you’d like to mention? (Help text: (Please email CONTACT EMAIL if you want a reply.)) [optional, TEXT BOX]