Many Railsbridge chapters have a dedicated organizer who arranges all the
events. The San Francisco chapter, which puts on far too many events for a
single organizer, takes this principle one step further and has a
I interviewed Rachel Myers, the meta-organizer for the San Francisco
Railsbridge chapter, to talk about what it is that she does.
“A ‘meta-organizer’ matches up venues who can host or sponsor a workshop
with a volunteer that can organize the workshop,” she summarized.
Rachel came across her meta-organizer role organically. Participating in
lots of workshops and social meetups with Railsbridge and Women Who Code,
she became familiar with many of the venues that frequently hosted such
So when a volunteer wanted to organize an event, she knew which venues were
likely to be available and could put the organizer in touch with a contact
In the past, Rachel sometimes reached out to specific people: “I know
you’ve volunteered at multiple workshops; would you like to organize
one?” But this approach doesn’t work with people who haven’t happened
to show up on her personal radar. So if an upcoming planned event has
no one scheduled to organize, she puts out a general call. A quick tweet from
the Railsbridge Twitter or message to the mailing list usually gets
at least 5 or 6 responses.
She used to take personal responsibility for keeping an eye on organizers
and making sure everyone was on the same page, but as she’s gotten busier
with her job she’s tried to back away. She now prefers to let people
organize events on their own, confident that they are capable.
That’s not to say that new organizers are left without guidance; first-time
organizers for an event will be paired with an experienced one, or two
first-timers working together will be assigned a mentor to back them up.
This approach helps maintain continuity of knowledge.
And don’t think you have to be a long-time teacher volunteer before putting
on an organizer hat, either. “Sometimes we get people who are, for example,
new to SF and want to make friends, or are starting a new project and want
to recruit. They come to us and say “I want to be involved somehow,” so we
ask them to volunteer at a workshop.” After getting a chance to experience
a workshop in action from a lower-stakes position, they’re welcome to lead
Fresh faces can be great organizers, but it’s a little different for
meta-organizers. “To do a good job as a meta-organizer, you need
connections and long lasting relationships,” Rachel says. But typically
only very few people are willing and able to participate for the length of
time needed to develop these connections; often job responsibilities keep
them busy and limit the amount they can commit to Railsbridge.
When those criteria are met, however, the reward is high: “The process is
one person talking to one person, which is very compelling. If someone says
‘I need you to do this,’ the person will say ‘Okay!’ The problem is that
it’s a huge investment for the person doing the asking if they have to do
it every other week.”
But someday this investment might be no longer necessary.
Rachel envisions an “exciting future” where individuals felt comfortable
reaching out to venues on their own: “If everyone who wanted to get
involved with Railsbridge saw it as their job to, for example, ask
Indiegogo if they would host a workshop, then there would be no single
point of failure. At the moment, if I’m busy, it doesn’t happen.”
She noticed that, with all documentation of workshop planning happening via
a chain of emails, nobody who might want to volunteer could see that it was
happening. So she experimented by creating issues in the Railsbridge
organizing repository so that the documentation was in the open.
But the outcome was not entirely what she expected.
“I thought people would think, ‘Oh yay! There’s a place where I can sign
up.’ But it turns out it’s very intimidating to sign up to volunteer by
commenting on an issue.”
She suggests a hybrid process where anyone can take the initiative to sign
up to organize events, but people are also invited by another to do that
signing up. And that other person shouldn’t always be the
meta-organizer—there should be a community effort of encouraging people
and making them comfortable to step up.
“I would love a world where other people were empowering people to get
things done. Everyone at this meeting should be able to tell people ‘I need
you to organize a workshop! Here is the process, here is the step-by-step
guide, here is the checklist!”
And in fact, those documents already exist! The Railsbridge Cookbook is an
incredibly thorough guide to running a workshop. “Maybe too thorough,” Rachel
admits. “Maybe people don’t read it.” Too thorough is better than insufficiently
thorough, of course. And it’s a wiki, so anyone inspired can step up and
streamline it or create a summary version.
Really, Railsbridge seems to have the same philosophy as wikis in general:
anyone and everyone has the power to step forward and contribute. And if
that’s not enough, everyone also has the power to tell their friends, “I
want you to do this.” Right now that task may mainly fall to Rachel,
but there’s no reason it has to.
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