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DrupalCon Europe: Solving for “how to provide unique value”

September 6th, 2017

DrupalCon Europe plays an important role in moving Drupal forward. However, with waning attendance and increasing financial losses, it’s time to find a new path forward so it is sustainable and continues to provide unique value. This blog covers the problem of relevance. In other words: how can DrupalCon Europe provide unique value, meeting the needs and wants for the European community. This blog is part of a series that includes:  

  1. The problem we need to solve for financial sustainability

  2. The problem we need to solve to create unique value

  3. Results from a proposal based on community input

  4. A new path forward for DrupalCon Europe.

As mentioned in our last post, DrupalCon is a human experience. It’s truly about bringing people together to strengthen bonds so they can do something amazing together with Drupal. As seen in the DrupalCon Dublin Wrap and DrupalCon Barcelona Wrap presentations, the event mostly attracts builders from digital agencies (developers, project managers, designers, UX) and digital agency owners. However, our community consists of so many more personas including technical decision makers, end-user business decision makers, as well as content strategists and content editors and other marketing related personas. DrupalCon’s current attendees, and those who don’t attend, have unique needs that they want DrupalCon to address. The question we ask is “How can DrupalCon serve this spectrum of needs while also being a sustainable event?” We start by looking at our current attendee base.

In the last post, we showed how attendance is waning at about 14% per year on average. Sponsor support dropped 17% this year. It’s apparent that DrupalCon Europe is not currently providing value that attendees and sponsors are willing to pay for. We understand that the cost to attend is not just buying the ticket, airfare, and lodging. There is also the opportunity cost of missing billable hours with clients and important time with family. To thrive as an event, DrupalCon Europe’s value needs to outweigh all of these costs.

Why is DrupalCon attracting fewer attendees? To find out, we spent a lot of time this year interviewing Drupal event organizers, core developers, sprint mentors, business owners, sponsors, and other engaged community members. We also conducted a survey that 350+ people participated in. This research started in December 2016 and continued through the year. We found that there are several reasons why fewer people attend DrupalCon ranging from lower-cost camps that provide similar content, to gaps in DrupalCon programming, and high attendance costs.

Event Competition

To understand how DrupalCon Europe can provide unique value through programming, we evaluated the competitive landscape for events. We looked at Drupal events (ex: Camps) and other technology events that attract Drupal developers, especially those working on headless solutions and e-commerce.

You can find the competitive analysis here. The TL;DR is that every Drupal event has some, if not a lot, of the same programming as DrupalCon Europe. The other thing that stands out is that DrupalCon Europe's programming does not cater to business decision makers who want to evaluate Drupal for their organization. However, local communities have started this work with the Splash Awards and similarly coordinated activities.

Doing this competitive analysis helped us see where DrupalCon provides unique value, which is listed in the Strengths portion of the SWOT down below. Still, we need to understand what the region needs to move Drupal and the community forward and what potential attendees want and need out of DrupalCon. So we conducted round table interviews of over 40 European community leaders and organizers and conducted a community survey. Thanks to everyone for participating in these conversations. You can find the survey findings here (spoiler: there is a lot of information in there. It is summarized in the sections below)

Findings from Interviews and Survey

Based on everyone’s input, we created a needs assessment and we also created a DrupalCon Europe SWOT analysis. Below are summaries of key questions asked.

Needs Assessment

What Does Drupal Success Look like In Europe in the next 3 to 5 years

The roundtable and survey participants we talked to describe a future where in 3 to 5 years, Drupal 8 will have lower barriers to adoption (modules, usability, UX) and it will grow in market-share, especially in government and enterprise. There was also a shared vision amongst some that Drupal serves the small and mid-sized business market. It will be seen as a leader in each country over competitors like WP and Typo3. There will be enough developers for hire to support that growth. In terms of community, there will be more contributing members, especially from end users, and there will be more people volunteering time to contribute code and run events. The community will be vibrant, healthy, and engaged.

What Europeans want and need for Drupal to thrive

We asked participants what areas need focus to help Drupal achieve their vision of success. Here is a summary of what we learned:

  • Grow talent pool

    • Developers (PHP, Symfony, Javascript) need to get involved to: 1) be hired 2) contribute either by code or time to organize events - basically, the longtime contributors needs backup.
    • Education for developers to learn Drupal and deepen their skill
  • Grow adoption rate

    • not measured by just numbers - because there is no value in going after Squarespace deals. More marketing of Drupal’s power showing big, local case studies.
    • Get Drupal off the island - merge with other tech communities (PHP, JS) to talk about Drupal, organize co-located events, and recruit talent
  • A healthy community (depth of volunteer bench and mental health)

    • Camp support - turnkey websites, templated checklist, and sponsor support.
    • Promote / list country Associations, user groups on D.O

DrupalCon Europe and meeting the needs

Based on this input, it appears that the European community has a good vision for Drupal’s success and what they need to achieve it. We are pleased that DrupalCon Europe already addresses several needs such as:

  • Attracting new developers
  • Teaching developers about Drupal’s contribution culture
  • Getting people off the Drupal island with the PHP and Horizons track, which focuses on other projects and technologies.

We can adjust some programming to address currently unmet needs. For example, there is a need to deepen our community volunteer bench. Perhaps we can use Community Summits to provide mentorship.

However, there are some things DrupalCon Europe may not be able to achieve. For example, there is little support to make DrupalCon a developer event and a business / marketing event. In talking with other OSS projects, we learned that this is common in Europe. The suggestion is to decouple the two needs.

While DrupalCon can be redesigned to better meet needs, it is unclear which stakeholder to prioritize: the Drupal shops / digital agencies who want a marketing event, or the developer community who needs more people to help them build with Drupal and move the project forward. It is also unclear if camps and other Drupal events are better positioned to meet the developer community’s needs better than DrupalCon.

DrupalCon Europe SWOT Analysis

Our survey and roundtable asked other questions like what is special about DrupalCon, where does it not meet your needs, etc. We used that kind of input to create a SWOT analysis for DrupalCon Europe.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It helps you organize input so you can consider the best strategy for your business - or in this case, your event.

Here is the DrupalCon Europe SWOT:

  • Strengths:

    • DrupalCon Europe demonstrates the power of Drupal because it is the largest Drupal event. It creates a “Disneyland feeling” that re-energizes excitement for Drupal.
    • It breaks down barriers and fosters greater knowledge sharing across international borders.
    • Because it attracts people from different countries and is the largest Drupal event, it provides the best opportunity to expand your network and learn new thinking.
    • DrupalCon is professionally produced, which improves how Drupal is perceived
    • Dries and other well-known Drupal members are there
    • Offers diverse content (it’s for project managers as well as developers)
    • DevOps and hosting sponsors (e.g. Fastly) feel they connect with the right audience
  • Weakness:

    • Cost is too high (strong agreement on this)
    • Content is not advanced enough. We want to hear about other languages (PHP, Symfony, JS)
    • “I can hear the same speakers at camps, which are cheaper and closer to home”
    • Digital shops who sponsor say there is no ROI. They can’t give more in terms of sponsorship because they put their money into sending staff, which has a hard cost and opportunity cost
  • Opportunity: [note: this section reflects contrasting community opinions]

    • Re-imagine the event to focus on a new audience

      • Attract new developers. Don’t serve the existing advanced developers because they can go to DevDays.
      • Attract and move developers from newcomer to beginner to intermediate only
      • Attract [prospective] end users and then attract Drupal agency sponsors again.
      • Create vertical-specific programming with emphasis on public sector to attract [prospective] end users
      • Don’t focus on business. Just make it even better, bigger for the community
      • Make the event bigger than Drupal. Co-locate with or include more content about PHP, Symfony, Javascript,
    • Make the main goal to attract new developers (including PHP, JS) by only going to three locations: UK, Benelux, Germany
    • Expand programming to talk more about things bigger than Drupal like JavaScript, PHP
    • Bring back the old community feel. Go back to the old days when it was more intimate and run by the community.
    • Shift resources by not doing a DrupalCon and support the camps. [But watch out for community burnout and help when camps get more attendees.]
    • Find a sustainable model for supporting European camps that can also support other regions like Asia Pacific and Latin America.
  • Threats

    • Camps, DevDays compete with DrupalCon head on with same speakers and sprints, yet provide an intimate, localized experience. Sponsorships are more affordable and sponsors can possibly get business at a camp where they can’t at DrupalCon Europe.
    • DrupalCamp London provides a regional event since it attracts attendees from all over [Western] Europe.
    • Other Technology events. Advanced developers want to go to a PHP, JavaScript conference
    • Drupal 8 is not growing and the D7 SMB market is moving to WIX and not D8, especially in certain countries.
    • Some can’t attend because of family commitments
    • Event timing conflicts with when I need to focus on business. Just returning from long summer break and it’s the end of Q3.

Looking at the SWOT, it is good to see consensus about DrupalCon’s strengths and weaknesses. That helps us know what to lean into and what to avoid as we look for solutions. What is concerning is “where do we take DrupalCon?” when looking at the opportunities. The community feedback reflects a wide spectrum of needs that DrupalCon could serve, yet it is quite unclear which ones to prioritize. Also, there was strong consensus that we lower ticket prices. Unfortunately, to lower ticket prices we need to hone our focus, rather than expand it to meet all of the expressed needs.

Summary

Overall, findings showed that there are many needs and opportunities for DrupalCon Europe to tackle. We cannot do all of them and it’s unclear which one is the top priority for the region.

Europe is many countries with many cultures. And Drupal is very flexible both in terms of how you use it technically, and also what personal or professional dream you want to pursue with it. It’s only natural that our research findings showed that the European region has multiple and differing visions for DrupalCon.

In the end, the question remains: where do we focus DrupalCon’s programming to strike at the highest priority needs of the European community and how do we do that in a sustainable way? The next blog in this series shows how we tried to answer it with community members.