First published: Prof. Dr. Ulrich Wünsch (ed.), Handbuch Erlebnis-Kommunikation (The Communication Experience Manual). Fundamentals and best practice for successful events, 2nd fully revised and expanded edition, Erich Schmidt publishing house.
In the following, we will discuss the new challenges facing organizers of conference formats in the “digital age”, and illustrate their influence using the example of the re:publica. After an overview of the history of the re:publica and its topics, the creative spaces and opportunities for contributors, sponsors, participants or partnerships will be highlighted. In addition, the particular importance of the event venue, as well as the digital space, will be discussed, with a conclusion based around a quick outlook on the future organization and further development of the conference.
The internet has become an established channel of communication due to the diverse and varied offers provided, which allow for the comprehensive and quick dissemination of information, opinions and topics. The last years have seen much talk of a shift in the media landscape, most specifically pointing away from one-sided mass communication towards network communication. This shift cannot be explained solely through the various possibilities of the internet, but must first and foremost be attributed to a change in audience behavior. Passive recipients have become active users, who not only publish their own content, but actively participate in the selection, assessment, recommendation and proliferation of information in a multitude of forms.
In accordance with this shift, conference formats, as thematically-centered systems of interaction, are confronting new challenges. In the past, planning and conception were centered around information and knowledge transfer, as well as on the creation of a neutral space for this exchange, whereas now concepts such as ‘community building’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘meeting experience’ have become key ideas.01
With participants who increasingly help shape societally relevant discourses not settling for formal lectures and a passive recipient role, the demands and expectations made of organizers have changed. Event participants – be they visitors, speakers or partners at a conference – do not just simply want to exchange thematic and specialist knowledge anymore, but rather look to discuss concrete experiences and possible solutions, so as to engage in a mutually beneficial dialogue. Moving beyond a short and fun get-together, new networks are created and existing ones consolidated and strengthened, so that, in the best case scenario, results and problem resolution can be achieved through, or even during, the event itself.02
The annual re:publica, held in Berlin under the slogan ‘The conference. The event’, belongs to the most globally relevant events on topics concerning the digital age. Beginning from the first edition in 2007, the shift in the media landscape and the subjects related to it were discussed within the context of the three conference days.
The visitors at the first re:publica were, for the most part, bloggers, internet activists and web intellectuals, with 80 percent of the 700 total participants stating that they themselves publish content on the internet.03 However, since its beginnings as a kind of “class reunion for bloggers”, the re:publica has developed into a “societal conference” which counted 7,000 participants at the last conference in May, 2015: ‘representatives of the digital society impart knowledge and competencies, and discuss the further development of a knowledge-based society. They network with a heterogeneous mix of activists, academics and scholars, hackers, entrepreneurs, NGOs, journalists, bloggers, social media und marketing experts, and many others. This allows for innovations and synergies to be developed that bridge internet policy, digital marketing, web technologies, digital society and (pop) culture.’04
Part of being an annual “societal conference” that measures itself on the changing expectations of a steadily growing number of participants means pushing continuous development to fulfill the new demands put forward by the digital age. Just as the internet, with all its possibilities, acquires more and more relevance and pushes further into in all areas of everyday life in modern societies, the re:publica has taken to pursuing an increasingly holistic approach.
The conference’s thematic scope has widened significantly in the last years with new formats, partnerships and program offers being added that have, in their sum, made the re:publica what it is – a conference, an event. It is only through a general, overall approach and with an all-encompassing understanding, that the characteristic openness of the re:publica can be preserved without the event breaking down into separate and separately valued parts, dependent on topics or participants. The collaboration of all involved parties, as well as a holistic approach when dealing with the introduction of new concepts, content, formats or offers and their relationships and influences, are what allow the re:publica to be successful and functional in all its complexity.
MOTTOS, THEMES AND SUB-CONFERENCES
The re:publica was founded based on the motivation of wanting to organize a conference during which ‘the societal and cultural changes affected by digitalization were discussed by precisely those people who were actively shaping it’05. Each year, re:publica founders Markus Beckedahl, Tanja and Johnny Haeusler, and Andreas Gebhard select a main focus from the wide range of topics surrounding Web 2.0, weblogs, social media and digital society, which is then reflected in the conference motto. The motto with its structuring function, as well as the entire design of the program offer, is oriented towards relevant current events, topics and problems.
2007 – LIFE ON THE WEB
In 2005, the web portal Yahoo acquired the image hosting site Flickr. That same year, YouTube was founded and subsequently sold to the search engine operator Google the following year. Facebook Inc. has been around since 2004, the social networking service Twitter since 2006. By the year of the first edition of the re:publica, 2007, Google was already one of the most valuable brands in the world and Apple had just presented its first iPhone in January. However, besides these exemplary technical and economic developments, the German Federal Government had also just passed a law on the retention of personal data in 2007.
The meaning, effects and dangers of this and other events connected to the continual process of digitization were brought together and highlighted in the first conference under the motto ‘Life on the Web’. Questions such as “What does a life on the web look like when all communications data is saved for at least six months to allow access for security agencies?”, “How can you make money with weblogs?”, “Are bloggers the new journalists?” or “Is there a need for a new ethics, a new code of conduct and communications for internet use?”, were therefore the focus of the program. Google and IBM featured as some of the first sponsors who, alongside other leading companies, not only financially supported the event in the years to come, but also participated by providing content in the form of lectures, stand presentations or sub-conferences.
From the beginning, and in accordance with the motivation behind the founding of the event, the conference was shaped by those individuals who had also made early use of the possibilities for active participation. This included the conference founders, who themselves founded companies such as newthinking communications (Gebhard and Beckedahl) and Spreeblick publishing house (Tanja and Johnny Haeusler). Having dealt with net-political topics and diverse aspects of digital culture and society for over a decade, they also run two of Germany’s most well-known weblogs: netzpolitik.org and spreeblick.com.
They are, therefore, themselves part of the target audience of the conference and have not only been witness to the shift in the media landscape, but have been actively involved in its development: ‘By 2006, German blogs had established themselves to a point where they had not only penetrated public perception, but were also bringing their own topics to the fore. The time had come to lure the so-called “Blogosphere” out of its virtual world and into the physical one, and so the idea for a blogger meet-up came into being over a beer – with the second one resulting in the name: re:publica.’06
2008 – THE CRITICAL MASS
In 2008, around 950 event participants discussed the role of the digital community as a counterpublic under the motto “The Critical Mass”: ‘The conference motto stands for different sides of the same complex: the internet and new forms of communication are increasingly being integrated into people’s lives. Web 2.0 applications are developing into self-propelling phenomena. On the other hand, the growing critical capacity of the public will also be at the centre of the three day event.’07
Harvard Professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, for example, held a keynote addressing data protection and Web 2.0 and the virtues of a “useful forgetfulness”, with Markus Beckedahl featured on a podium discussing Advocacy 2.0 and digital activism. True to form, 2008’s motto also tackled current events relevant to the digital age, such as the release of the “Message to Scientology” video on YouTube as part of the Chanology project and the Anonymous Collective’s international protest against Scientology.08
The motto, however, was not only focused on the critique of a mass movement as such, but was also interested in the ‘the precise number of participants in a network at which point the user numbers begin to grow exponentially, thereby becoming a self-propelling phenomenon’09. Correspondingly, the rapid growth of social networks such as Facebook or platforms like YouTube were the subject of many talks, wherein the importance and effects for companies, NGOs, politics, media or society were discussed.
Besides the roughly 100 talks, panel discussions and workshops, 2008 also saw a sub-conference featured during the re:publica for the first time. Held in cooperation with the Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung), it discussed the topic of “Video Blogs”, and how video blogs and video platforms change the media landscape when viewers become actors. Among other things, the sub-conference featured ARD Director-General Verena Wiedemann answering questions on the role of public broadcasting services in the digital age, as well as international video podcasters reporting on projects from the Netherlands, USA, Iraq or Tunisia.10
2009 – SHIFT HAPPENS
2009’s conference motto “Shift happens” stood for the rapid change of the media landscape and was derived from the “Did you know?” YouTube video by Karl Fisch. The concept behind the motto, however, was taken from the sociologist Jeremy Rifkin.
One of the most distinguished presentations in 2009 was that of the American Stanford Law School professor and founder of the Creative Commons Initiative Lawrence Lessig, who put forward his argument for a reform of copyright in its current form. ‘Lessig, who counts as one of the leading visionaries of our time, sees existing copyright laws as a danger for societal and technical innovation and the discourses surrounding them.’11
In addition, the Federal Agency for Civic Education sponsored a sub-conference on the topic of “Politics 2.0 – New political spheres online”, which discussed the influence of the internet on national and global political processes. With an eye on the 2010 European and German Federal parliamentary elections, which were upcoming at the time, ‘the sub-conference aimed to give an overview of how social media enabled citizens to get politically involved and how the German parties and top representatives [“¦] were presenting themselves on the web’12. Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales gave a lecture on “Wikipedia, Wikia, and the future of Free Culture” and spoke about the effects digital communities were having on the opening up of politics and governments within the scope of the Politics 2.0 sub-conference.13
2009 also featured the first sub-conference held in cooperation with partners IBM on the topic of “Social Everywhere – how Web 2.0 is conquering business”, with the aim of further bridging the gap between the private and commercial use of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, wikis, YouTube, etc.14
The range of topics was expanded that year, with the field of medicine being introduced and a new health-related sub-conference organized under the title “re:health”. Panel discussions and lecture sessions had ‘doctors, founders and experts discussing new forms of medical communication and information on the internet’.15
The media had paid little attention to the influence had by the digitalization of a majority of the areas of our life on our healthcare up until that point. The visitor numbers for the re:health’s program offer reflected this, with comparatively few of the now 1,600 conference participants stopping by. This has, however, changed rapidly in the last years and many of the topics discussed in 2009, such as user generated health as a possible model for the future, or data protection and legal affairs on the medical web, have become mainstream subjects for debate. In the following editions of the re:publica, and despite the initially small number of participants, re:health continued to grow and was integrated into the program as its own topic track and, along with other key areas, became a permanent fixture of the conference.
2010 – NOWHERE
By 2010, the re:publica already counted around 2,700 participants with parallel sessions being held in three neighbouring locations in Berlin-Mitte – the Friedrichstadtpalast, the Kalkscheune and the Quatsch Comedy Club – so as to be able to fit 50 hours of programming on up to eight stages in three days. With a program comprised of over 120 lectures, workshops, panel discussions and events, the 2010 re:publica saw the conference become the biggest event of its kind in Germany for the first time.16
The fourth edition of the re:publica was centered around the real-time web, as: ‘with “Nowhere”, we find ourselves in the here and now – and nowhere all at once.’17 The motto “Nowhere” also picked up on the growing international scope of the conference and its participants, with speakers from thirty nations illuminating international perspectives.
Following the introduction of the re:health sub-conference the year before, 2010’s conference program was expanded to introduce education and study as a theme, with the influence of the internet on education discussed under the “re:learn” motto. This was not just limited to e-learning, however, as when ‘the educational world and the online world coalesce, the entire culture of education shifts in the direction of self-determination, collaboration, practical and project orientation’18. As part of the re:learn, practical projects from Germany and Switzerland were presented, for example schools where wikis and blogs are a part of daily life, or where elementary school students used their own notebooks. Several geocaching projects were featured in the program in which participants were sent on pedagogical scavenger hunts using GPS devices. One of the highlights in this respect was the Geocache released specifically for the conference by the media pedagogue Guido Brombach19
Besides the one day re:learn, the conference also featured the re:campaign for the very first time, which took place over two conference days and featured NGO representatives presenting the best campaigns on the web. International experts from leading German organizations presented their “best-practices’ and highlighted creative concepts for campaigning, the proper approach to social networks and the NGO campaign of the future.20 The first re:campaign was organized in cooperation with Oxfam Deutschland, the Socialbar, Nest Agency and the Making Sense CSR consultancy and also offered a new format, the Open Space.
The Open Space offers the possibility of informing yourself in a personal discussion, posing any questions you might have und going out in search of suitable partners. To this end, information was communicated in a playful manner to enable easier networking, for example through giving visitors a “Talk to me about” sticker.21
One of the most popular lectures was Sascha Lobo’s “How to survive a shitstorm”, in which he reported on his experiences with so-called “shitstorms” – especially fitting after the American Dialect Society had just named “tweet” 2009’s “Word of the Year” in January.22
Another highlight that year was the talk by Daniel Schmitt of WikiLeaks, who presented the project, its objectives and methods of operation in light of WikiLeaks developing into a central collection point in 2009, with 1.2 million documents and the governments of China, Israel, North Korea, Russia and Thailand, at least temporarily, blocking access to the platform.23
In addition, 2010 also featured the first “Hacks4Democracy – A hack day on open data”, a cooperation with the Open Data Network that was held as a two-day side event to the re:publica in the style of a BarCamp. Similar events had already been held in other countries such as the Netherlands, France, Australia or the USA. The goal of the open data hack day was to show ‘that creative and innovative prototypes and applications can be programmed, in a very short time and without a big budget, that allow for data from politics and public administration to be made accessible and usable’24. The fact that the concepts were not only being developed, but also directly implemented, also had the added benefit of making a broader public aware of the topics of open data and open government.
With re:campaign going into its second round in 2011, this time as a follow-up to the re:publica, the year also featured the first crowdfunding conference “co:funding”. The sub-conference was already fully booked before it even launched, as 25 experts from the cultural and creative scene came together with artists and intellectuals and over 250 visitors to discuss the potential applications of crowdfunding for the financing of creative projects. co:funding was initiated and curated by startnext.de.25
The re:learn, for its part, was fully integrated into the program as its own thematic track and, with the mathematician, philosopher and IBM CTO Gunter Dueck, hosted one of the most well-known speakers of the fifth edition. Dueck held a lecture on “The internet as society’s operating system” and, in “Beyond media literacy” he asked the question of how the shift in key media will enter schools.26
It wasn’t just the sub-conferences that were enjoying increased popularity, the conference’s overall participant numbers continued to rise. Around 3,000 conference participants were counted that year and the team, including the founders, expanded to approximately 20 people.
2011 was an exception in that topics and events were picked up and their developments discussed without a set motto, with subjects from past editions featuring on the program, as well as new issues being raised. For example, the political activities of Anonymous, who continued to make headlines, were discussed, as was the issue of privacy on social media, and the Egyptian journalist Noha Atef was given a stage from which she highlighted the role the web had played during the revolution in Egypt.27
The 2012 re:publica was held under the motto of “ACT!ON”, which symbolized the propulsive force that social media gave to political movements and highlighted how the importance of digitalization had manifested itself in almost every aspect of society. It was ‘about pushing forward technological advancements, rethinking topics such as mobility, resource distribution or finances, developing interactive designs and games, turning societal thought patterns and business models on their heads, and redefining production and consumption in light of the DIY movement’.28.
In the run-up to the sixth edition, the organizers made the crucial decision to expand the re:publica further. To do this, the event location was moved to the STATION Berlin and the republica GmbH (Ltd.) was founded in order to ensure financial security. The companies of the founders, newthinking communications and the Spreeblick publishing house, became shareholders in equal parts. By now the team was made up of 30 to 40 people who took care of the planning and implementation of the event, with around 4,000 visitors taking part in that year’s conference. For the first time, the re:publica was acknowledged as an educational event, meaning that educational leave could be requested to be able to participate.
The thematic spectrum for 2012 had spread to over 13 tracks: co:funding, re:design, re:health, re:innovate, re:invent, re:learn, re:mix, re:open, re:play, re:port, re:publica, re:unite, re:volt. Additionally, the year featured another Open Space, as well as new offers in the main hall of the new building, such as small workshops or lectures at partner stands. Event highlights included the interview with Steffen Seibert who reported on his Twitter activity as government spokesperson, and “Don’t worry about ACTA any more”, a lecture by EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes in which she demanded alternate solutions to ACTA and other treaties such as SOPA.
The ACTA negotiations were one of the dominant topics of 2011 and 2012 and opponents of the treaty made extensive use of the possibilities presented by the internet for publishing and spreading information which, ultimately, led to the mobilization of public opinion and Europe-wide demonstrations. It was the initial coverage of the protests against ACTA via the web that became the decisive factor for the traditional mainstream media picking up the story, eventually leading to the failure of the planned treaty. One of the most impressive tracks, therefore, was re:volt which was not only home to the ACTA topic, but also to the voices and reports from the protest movements in the Middle East. Leila Nachawati, among others, spoke about the brutality and protests in Syria.29
New partnerships were also added, such as the participation with Daimler AG or the comdirect bank. Within the scope of their partner stand, a keynote, as well as workshops, Daimler offered first perspectives on the mobility services of the future.30 The comdirect bank tendered the .comdirect Finance Blog Award for the second time running and awarded the prize to the operators and authors of exceptional weblogs on finance during the re:publica.31
2013 – IN/SIDE/OUT
2013’s motto “IN/SIDE/OUT” was a reflection of the fundamental concept behind the first re:publica in 2007 – get off the web and into the physical world: ‘And weren’t the themes of the following years all just a sounding out of one world against the other, a dissolution of the boundaries in between and the definition of what differentiates the digital society from the analogue, but also how they are connected? […] Keeping that in mind, one can indeed interpret the motto of IN/SIDE/OUT as the turning on its head, or inside out, of digital society.’32 In doing this, the transformation of digital society is meant to be reflected in a way that depicts a society where the blogosphere, online activism and social media represent only elements of a whole, as digitalization has long since reached and reshaped all aspects of life.
Besides keynotes, lectures and discussions on the eight stages the conference now had on offer -organized by and with guests such as the publicist Evgeny Morozov, the sci-fi author Cory Doctorow or the chairman of the Mozilla Foundation Mitchell Baker – the 5,000 conference attendees could also expect numerous workshops and tools dealing with social media, gamification, open data, data mapping, 3D printing, interactive design, storytelling and copyright.33 There was also the sub-conference “Ambivalent technologies and the limits of openness”, organized in cooperation with the Federal Agency for Civic Education, which served as a platform for the exchange of knowledge and discussion of technological, ethical and economic topics of debate such as drones, data protection and dual-use.34
Using the thematic claim of openness as the motivation behind the discussion of problems of general interest also demands openness towards matters which affect companies and the economy. Whereas, in the past, there was more emphasis on areas such as politics or education, “get re:ady!” opened up a new working world with the focus on business innovations and, in particular, the Berlin start-up scene: ‘Use the power of a good idea to finally build up something of your own! More and more people are mustering up the courage and determination to take the big step and become founders of their own company. Despite the risks or potential side effects! Together with you, we’d like to find out how that works and what you need to pay attention to in our thematic focus get re:ady.’35
To accomplish that goal, Berlin entrepreneurs were given an extra ticket and their own area, where businesses and projects from every corner of the world could meet and mingle. Another special feature was the visit by the Enterprise Europe Network, a network initiated by the European Commission that brings together representatives from business and science, cooperation and knowledge transfer to consult, network and support small and medium-sized enterprises.36
The re:publica was also able to widen its international perspective. Besides Syrian online radio producers and Iranian web activists, the first partnerships with the German Society for International Cooperation (Deutschen Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit – GIZ) and the AfriLabs were formed. Hubs from Africa, Asia and South America were invited to the conference to discuss their experiences with the development and promotion of technologies, business innovation and community building. In Africa, innovation centres such as the Ushahidi or iHub are spreading across the entire continent and play an important role in Africa’s ever-growing technology and entrepreneurial scene. Similar developments had already taken place in Asia and South America, where co-working spaces, technology hubs and hackerspaces strengthened local communities. All AfriLabs representatives from the African hubs announced their participation, meaning that all AfriLabs members actually met up for the first time within the scope of the Global Innovation Lounge, a space open to all conference participants.37
2014 – INTO THE WILD
With Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 still echoing loudly, the 2014 re:publica moved forward with its “INTO THE WILD” motto, ‘searching for unexpected technical solutions, surprising impulses from science, business and politics and an untamed internet culture’38.
The purpose was to focus attention on lesser-known aspects and questions, so as to better understand and improve the internet and the society of the near future: ‘If algorithms turn us into transparent, predictable, and thereby controllable people, should we maybe aim to become more unpredictable? The dissolution of structures, straying from popular paths into chaos, irrationality and, simply, the wild, could indeed be strategies to this end. But how would we find our way, how would we find each other? How do you whisper online and, above all: with whom? Won’t those people who demand a free, uncontrolled net be the exact same ones who have to control who is allowed to join, and who has to wait outside, all the more rigorously?’39
In June of 2013, the huge extent of global surveillance by intelligence services such as the NSA and GCHQ was made known through Edward Snowden. The revelations and their consequences were not only the focus of the motto, but also found themselves reflected in a sub-conference organized in collaboration with the Federal Agency for Civic Education on the topic of “Internet Surveillance”.40 Highlights included the media activists THE YES MEN, Jillian York and Jacob Appelbaum, who spoke about encryption techniques, or the Canadian security expert Ron Deibert (Citizen Lab), who offered insights into the world of “Black Code”.
In content, the re:publica went above and beyond the last years thematic spectrums, offering talks and debates on subjects as varied as the mobility of the future, history and the teaching of history, health, education, innovation, art, start-ups, among many others, besides the usual numerous net-political topics.41 That year also featured new collaborations such as the Science Lab – a sub-conference held in cooperation with the Science Year 2014 “The Digital Society” – which constituted a special focus. Open science, open data and open process made up the thematic areas, within which opportunities and boundaries of knowledge were researched. In addition, a Science Hack Day was also organized where developers, designers, scientists and hackers between the ages of 18 and 28 brought together science and technology, subsequently presenting their results at the conference.42
Besides the re:publica, the STATION Berlin simultaneously played host to the MEDIA CONVENTION BERLIN, the droidcon and the LinuxDay that year, with separate tickets available for those events.
The MEDIA CONVENTION Berlin was able to provide a central platform as a congress for the convergent national and international media industries. Running under the motto “Media Rules!” it played host to all things concerning the moving picture business, with content focused on media structures, media markets and the societal effects of the shift in media landscapes.43 The growth of internet users had, against expectations, not led to a significant “crowding out” of other media in Germany, but had instead triggered on overall increase of the population’s media consumption. The partnership with the more classical media congress, which up until that point had been held as part of the IFA exhibition, offered further possibilities for an exchange.
During the LinuxDay, experienced users and developers presented and discussed concrete techniques and projects that arise in and around open source technologies. Additionally, the droidcon with its “Android everywhere” motto, and held as the biggest global meeting of Android developers, put the mobile operating system, its usage and marketing, front and centre.44 This meant that there were definitely more technicians and developers on-location at the conference centre than ever before, and both theoretical and practical perspectives on the topic of open source gained further attention.
The partnerships with the droidcon and the LinuxDay were a one-off, but the MEDIA CONVENTION Berlin moved closer to the re:publica and, through a combined ticket in the following year, the exchange and interaction between the conference and congress participants was further simplified.
2015 – FINDING EUROPE
In its ninth edition, the 2015 re:publica tackled the issue of Europe as a digital cultural region and its net-political characteristics with the motto “Finding Europe” and, in doing so, tried to answer the question of if there could ever be a “European digital society” and a “digital cultural region of Europe”. With the motto as the guide, many of the lectures and discussions were centred around the Europe of today, as well as tomorrow, with net-political debates taking place alongside the reflection on societally relevant topics and the consideration of different European perspectives. Refugees, migration, or the future of the city were featured topics, as were the digital single market, net neutrality and data protection.45
The Global Innovation Gathering (GIG), the annual meet-up of tech hubs, fablabs, makerspaces and innovation centres from around the world, wasn’t initially planned as a recurring event. However, after the first meeting in 2013, as part of the Global Innovation Lounge, an active network began to form and continued to grow so that 2015 had the GIG going into its third round. And what had begun as a small space in the main hall of the re:publica had grown, so that the GIG participants at that year’s sub-conference not only came together in a big makerspace for the exchange of ideas and some communal tinkering, but were also represented on the re:publica conference stages at multiple sessions. The GIG makerspace offered participants the opportunity to try out 3D printing with electronic trash or produce electricity and music using rotting vegetables.46
Another sub-conference was held dealing with the city of the future, organized as part of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)> and Wissenschaft im Dialog’s (WiD – Science in Dialogue) Science Year 2015. The scientific supporting program, as well as accompanying events, took into consideration the future of cities at the intersection of technology, society and sustainability and the initiative showed how research and civil society can enable sustainable growth.47
Music and fashion were added as new topic tracks in 2015: for the first time, the “re:cord Musicday” brought together aspects such as big data, fingerprint files, streaming services or open source with topics from the music industry. The sub-conference was held as a one-day event in cooperation with the XJAZZ Festival, the Reeperbahn Festival, all2gethernow e.V. and the Berlin Music Commission, and was supported by Musicboard Berlin GmbH. The program was made up of a mix of a conference on the topic of the music business in a digital society, and a network platform for the national and international industry. The music industry has long since been under the influence of machines and technologies and there has never been more access to music than today, so that music and the digital are closely intertwined.48
Fashion also got its own sub-conference which was even co-financed with resources from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The #FASHIONTECH BERLIN was developed in cooperation with the international fashion trade shows PREMIUM and SEEK, as well as in collaboration with the Senate Department for Economics, Technology and Research / Project Future. ‘It connects gadgets, hacking and fashion, finally bridging the gap between technology and design. Wearables – and their possibilities for an all-encompassing connectivity – have become especially interesting lately in relation to the Internet of Things (IoT).’49 Besides the lectures, workshops and Meetups there was also a showroom on all three conference days. This had been preceded by a #FASHIONTECH BERLIN conference with talks, lectures and workshops which took place within the scope of the Berlin Fashion Week.
2016 – TEN
2016 will see the tenth edition of the re:publica take place. The motto for the big anniversary is a simple “TEN”, and with it comes the assertion that ‘visitors are speakers. Guests are actors. […] The boundaries between the people onstage and the people in front of it are fluid, interaction is reflection is communication, and only the exchange of everything between everyone makes viewing the whole possible.’50
After the record-breaking year in 2015, with 850 international speakers from 60 countries, 500 hours of program content, 17 stages, around 7,000 participants and 700 accredited international journalists, the event organizers wanted to highlight those people who help make the event such a success: ‘We know that the re:publica wouldn’t be the exciting, inspiring, motivating and fully heterogeneous festival that it is without the numerous guests from diverse backgrounds, with equally diverse goals and interests. And it is only because of these uniquely diverse guests and participants that the re:publica can be a mirror of digital society.’51
Besides the diverse gathering of participants, it is the wide spectrum of topics, ranging from the net-political and technological innovations to culture and media, music, health, education and further aspects surrounding the digital society, which make the conference so successful.52 Motto and topics, in their structuring function, as well as the actual implementation of the program offer, are left sufficiently open and flexible so as to allow space for matters and issues to surface which are, or could be, relevant to all members of a society. Additionally, topic tracks, diverse foci and sub-conferences help promote the exchange of ideas surrounding practical questions of how we live together, but also the compatibility of demands and interests, as well as problems with the definition of common values in association with diverse target audiences.
PARTNERSHIPS, PARTICIPANTS AND HELPING HANDS
One of the central aims of the event today consists of not only developing the conference for the participants, but together with the participants, so as to make them an essential component of the event. The attendees at the re:publica tend to, overwhelmingly, be very well informed, have high standards and themselves possess expertise on the conference topics.
To be able to shape the roles of participant and speaker more fluidly, the conference team puts out an open “Call for Papers” every year, which garnered a response of 930 submissions in 2015.53 Besides the curated program and that of the sub-conferences and partners, up to 50% of the sessions in the main program come straight from the Call for Papers. Lightning talks offer short lectures and give lesser known speakers a bigger stage and wider audience. This multi-layered structure contributes to the thematic openness of the event.
As opposed to many other conferences of its kind, the re:publica boasts a heterogeneous mix of visitors both in front of, as well as on, the stages. This is made evident by the re:publica already being able to lay claim to 40% female attendance and speaker participation in 2014. The speakers at the conference range from 12 to 70 years of age, and 2014 also saw a group from the Seniors Computer Club Berlin-Mitte visit the conference.54
This mix and the diversity of the participants is no coincidence, but expressly wished and promoted by the organizers and illustrated in the Code of Conduct published on the website: ‘A society thrives on the diversity of its members – this is all the more true for the digital society! That is why the re:publica is a conference that celebrates otherness and does not want see anyone excluded on grounds of their age, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disabilities, looks, skin colour or religion. We expect the same attitude and approach from our participants. Together with you, we look forward to celebrating and experiencing a peaceful event as a community of equals.’55
The re:publica has managed to hold on to its original charm despite the enormous growth over the years, and that is all because ‘nowhere else do you see hacktivists mingling with business people so naturally, and few other events have such controversial topics discussed in such good-humoured fashion as is done at the re:publica in Berlin’56. This is also due to the way the cooperation is constructed and how the partners are integrated and consulted, itself a direct result of the conception of the conference, which does not see itself as a ‘marketing event with the usual amount of product presentations and sales pitches57.
Accordingly, the site does not feature any traditional stands, as partners are understood as indispensable elements of the event and not seen as something foreign by the attendees. An integrated concept is developed for every cooperation and joint, content-related and practical contributions are compiled in close coordination. The sponsors, supporters and partners appreciate this type of presentation and the arising added value that comes with it.
The collaborations with the Global Innovations Gathering, the MEDIA CONVENTION Berlin and Daimler, meanwhile all count to the most important partnerships, but the composition of the sponsors and supporters over the last years remains varied and colourful. From the WWF, the Aktion Mensch or Viva Con Agua, from Hornbach, IBM and Google, all the way to the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the Federal Agency for Civic Education or the European Union itself, a wide array of different actors, companies and institutions are represented.
That said, the re:publica is by no means apolitical and its founders take a critical approach to topics, problems and discussions. In 2014, for example, the conference was opened with the appeal: ‘Criminally active intelligence services have wrenched the web from our hands. This is about our basic rights. We therefore call for the Federal Government to enforce these basic rights. This is our web, let us fight together to take it back!’58. Within the scope of this launch by the founders, solidarity was also expressed for imprisoned bloggers at the time, such as the Uyghur editor and economics professor Ilham Tohti, or the Vietnamese police officer Tạ Phong Tần, and political asylum was demanded for Edward Snowden, among others.
It was not just the founders up on stage during the launch that year, but also the then Managing Director of the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Elmar Giglinger, who opended the MEDIA CONVENTION Berlin and Björn Böhning, Head of the Berlin Senate Chancellery, who thanked ‘the re:publica, in the name of the Federal State of Berlin, for their commitment and service to freedom on the internet and the fight for freedom from state surveillance’59.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the clear positioning the re:publica takes on issues, it is able to integrate actors into content that would at first seem counter-intuitive, such as with Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche, who spoke at the 2013 re:publica. The unusual appearance of this big-league corporate representative not only filled seats at the main stage, but statements such as ‘If Daimler still wants to be around in 126 years, then we can’t keep doing things the way we have been up until now’60 or ‘If there’s going to be change, then it’s smart to be a part of the change’61, made Zetsche’s appearance a highlight, with lots of positive feedback from the participants.
Besides the partners, speakers or guests, the “Helping Hands” also constitute an important and crucial component of the conference and its implementation. In the same way that a Call for Papers is put out every year, the re:publica also puts out a “Call for Help” in a search for volunteer helpers to support the team in the realization of the event. In exchange for free entrance to the conference, the helpers take on duties in the setup, the accreditation of participants or stage support for a day.
There were around 500 volunteer helpers in action in 2015 and the offer is always met with plenty of interest. In March 2015, over a month before the conference even began, all shifts had been allocated.62 Unlike other conferences, the helpers at the re:publica are not hidden away somewhere, but can be found on a lot of the pictures and videos, and are always part of the annual acknowledgements, statistics and surveys. The Helping Hands are just as diverse and colourful as the mix of guests, and are also always greatly appreciated by the visitors, speakers and partners. Among the helpers you can always meet visitors who have been participants at the conference for some years now.
Another very important tool to be able to do justice to all the differences, demands and expectations described here, is the annual survey which in its last instalment had 1,000 people take part and answer 32 questions. The survey results are published on the re:publica website, with 2015 again showing that the motivations behind visiting the conference are varied. 51% stated that they see the re:publica as a kind of “class reunion”, during which they see old acquaintances, 53% also use the conference for professional development, and 84% of the participants state that they come for the program offered.63
EVENT LOCATION, DESIGN AND DIGITAL SPACE
The spatial environment of an event represents an important factor for the shaping of interaction. ‘To ensure that an event is believable and that interaction can arise, the topic and the event aims must be able to be experienced spatially.’64 The choice of the event location was therefore not made coincidentally by the re:publica. Having been held in three neighbouring locations up until 2011 – the Friedrichstadtpalast, the Kalkscheune and the Quatsch Comedy Club in Berlin-Mitte – the conference moved to the STATION Berlin in 2012, where it gained both space and options: ‘The change in location did the event a lot of good, with a central area ideal for chatting and exchanging ideas – and a well-suited forum for the numerous sponsors that had, up until that point, been somewhat lost on the different floors of the Friedrichstadtpalast.’65
Since moving to the new location, the venue has been developed and expanded in close collaboration with the owners of the event site, enabling a further collective rethinking of the location. In doing so, the organizers of the re:publica attach a great amount of importance to designing the site and the atmosphere of the event in as inviting and personal a way as possible, to ensure that it is a place they themselves would want to go. This type of personal touch establishes a certain warmth and comfortableness, and emotional quality to the visit for all participants.
The additional space in the new venue is also used to implement new presentation formats and concepts. Here, too, the motto takes centre stage and is made tangible through annually changing designs. As the thematic design weaves its way through all of the rooms, and is found on the stages, stands and halls, as well as on all of the media used, from the website to the business cards, the annual redesign constitutes a remarkable, yet worthwhile effort. In 2013, for example, abstract figures could be found throughout the location, stages and stands were constructed out of white cardboard cubes, and the figures depicted on them were brought to life using elaborate animations. Customized to fit 2014’s motto of “INTO THE WILD”, the stages and stands were built up out of planted bread crates and long prints of trees hung from the ceiling of the main hall. The partner stands got in on the theme too, so that a forest atmosphere was created on-site. 2015 saw the STATION transformed into an airport and PA announcements echoed through the halls.
One of the best known elements of the interior design is the so-called “Affenfelsen” (Monkey Rock), which offers a seating area in the middle of the main hall, as well as the monobloc chairs from the 2012 edition, so as to encourage and enable an intensification of discussion among the participants. The chairs are colorful, without a logo and can be spread throughout the site. This means that, besides the classic conference chairs, the visitors have the monoblocs at their disposal which can be taken wherever they are needed and even, against payment, taken home with them afterwards.66
The courtyard is, without a doubt, one of the most important features of the new conference site. Open to anyone throughout the entire conference in the first years, meaning even those without a ticket, it is now only accessible in the evening due to the increased attendance numbers.
The courtyard offers a central location in the venue, with the halls circling it and making it an inviting meeting point for discussions and lounging in the sun. The area also features stands with drinks and food on offer, and in the last two years street musicians and artists have been providing additional entertainment and providing a relaxed atmosphere. As the courtyard also opens up to guests without a ticket in the evenings, further actors and influences find their way to the re:publica, and many also use the event to invite and meet with non-participants within the scope of the conference, using the opportunity to network.
‘The development of innovative formats which enable interaction and participation is essential for the organization of meaningful events in the digital age. To be able to develop sustainable communities on specific topics in an event environment, the corresponding digital spaces must also be developed alongside these physical spaces.’67
For one, this is realized through the use of a Drupal conference management system, developed together with newthinking communications, over which the Call for Papers, the assessment and selection of conference contributions, the Call for Help, as well as the composition of the program itself is handled. The conference speakers create the “Speaker Profiles” which appear on the website in the system, and can directly contact the team there too. The “Event Drupal” is also offered as a service to other organizers.
Furthermore, the re:publica has also made extensive use of online offers from other providers from the get-go. Besides its considerable presence on Twitter, it can meanwhile be found on Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram or YouTube. For example, most pictures from the conference can be found on Flickr, with hundreds of videos on YouTube from 2015 alone, and audio podcasts from almost every session in 2015 are available on the website of the partner Voice Republic.68
In addition to the recordings of the stage program, background interviews with the speakers and founders are offered on DCTP.TV. With the videos on YouTube uploaded directly after the sessions and remaining available from then on, the cooperating partner SPIEGEL ONLINE provides an actual livestream of the program on the main stage via spiegel.de.
Beginning in 2013, a reader has been published together with the German School of Journalism (Deutschen Journalistenschule – DJS) and the self-publishing platform epubli. Known as the “fastest book in the world”, it is already published during the conference and remains available after the end of the event in eBook stores such as Apple, Google, Amazon & co.69 The reader summarizes the events and topics of the three conference days, thereby integrating a further media format into the coverage of the conference.
Moreover, all content, such as videos or pictures are published under a Creative Commons license and can therefore be shared and spread as quickly and easily as possible.
In 2014, a further communications channel was added through a cooperation with the Berliner Fenster, opening up access to almost all broadcasting formats offered by the Berlin U-Bahn transit system to report on the re:publica. Students of the DJS produced news and updates live and on-site for this new TV format.70
With this wide and extensive offer of communication channels, the conference attendees are provided the possibility of preparing and discussing topics prior to the event, meaning that the conference itself can become a place where ideas and approaches for possible solutions can be discussed. This results in greater added value for both the event and its participants, leading to an enhanced overall quality of the event. What is more, comprehensive and fast communication among conference participants, as well as with people not present on-site, is made possible, which increases the number of actors who can actively get involved in the development and organization of the re:publica and its communication.
This kind of extensive room for creative freedom in the design of the event is decisive for the success of the re:publica and has been preserved over the years. The fact that it isn’t necessarily the easiest undertaking is illustrated by the number of partners and helpers involved, the increasing demands and efforts associated with communication that are taken on by the entire team, but also in the technical challenges that accompany an event of this scale.
There were, for example, editions of the re:publica during which there wasn’t a functioning wireless network available, und where the access via mobile phone services also failed intermittently. This is because hardly any of the guests carry just one internet-ready device with them anymore, but usually two to three, which are permanently trying to establish a connection to the internet. Both the mobile phone providers, as well as the re:publica, have had to upgrade accordingly.
The wireless network has been up and running at the STATION Berlin since 2013, and in that same year re:publica released a visualization of a visitor flow analysis together with OpenDataCity and picocell. This allowed for the tracking of 6,700 devices, which were connected to the event network and one could follow the movements over the course of the entire three conference days in 2013 on a site plan.71
Future editions of the re:publica will continue to develop and expand their target audiences, key topics and design spaces, to not only meet the demands of the participants, but also their own – those of the founders and the team. This includes, for example, the performing and visual arts. These will be integrated into the re:publica, along with new cooperating partners, as an additional topic track for the first time in 2016.
Overall, the creative foundations for the design and organization of the conference are to be brought to the fore even more and the holistic approach allow for, among other things, the promotion and expansion of matchmaking and networking possibilities. The re:publica and its founders have made their goal clear: to become one of the leading international addresses in the digital world. The conference, in all of its facets, aims to creatively pick up on those topics and problems which affect all members of society, so as to be able to discuss them open-mindedly and in all their diversity. In this way, it does not see itself merely as a knowledge-based, information event, but rather as an event indicative of the digital age.
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