Unrig made wonky politics cool again

Editor’s Note: How can a nonprofit, nonpartisan group focused on bringing 1,800 people together from across the country to share best practices for democracy reform pull off a win with a skeleton staff? Smart Meetings sat down to talk with Stephanie Slysz, executive administrator and Mei Seva, multimedia producer at RepresentUs, about just such an event.

Business Goal: The second-annual Unrig event was designed to showcase a movement on the rise. The stories shared proved that one person can have a huge impact. Sessions featuring winning grassroots campaigns uplifted the voices of local leaders and brought to light their experiences, lessons and challenges on a big, national stage, with actress Jennifer Lawrence moderating.

Challenge: All of this had to be accomplished with a tiny crew of 1.5 staff members until six months out; then five people started contributing part-time, and in the last month, everyone chipped in.

Solution: Managing a conference of this size with few people requires securing the right partners. Working with Eventbrite and Entegy made it easier to create a seamless, customized registration experience that flowed into exclusive app usage.

Focus: Politics can be wonky, so a mix of panel discussions, plenary sessions, entertainment and star power kept the energy up. Unrigged Live was a night of comedy, music, entertainment and leaders, such as RepresentUs Director Josh Silver, and the force behind a Michigan anti-gerrymandering bill, Katie Fahey. Build-your-skills workshops empowered attendees to be more effective when they returned home.

Success Measurement: Surveys showed that 75 percent of attendees learned about a 2018 win or about a future campaign/coalition launching or growing. Half said they met someone of a different political ideology. And attendees were much more satisfied with the training offered than in the previous year.

Lessons Learned: The timeline needs plenty of wiggle room. The team has vowed to start planning even earlier. Registration is always a beast when everyone comes at once and there are badge issues from the printer. Even more effort will go into looking for ways to make that first impression seamless.

The app not only served as a more environmentally friendly way to help people navigate the agenda: It forced planners to finalize schedules on time because delays would have affected the app rollout. One thing that worked well was having trained volunteers at a help desk, away from the registration table, to help people download the app so that everyone felt comfortable with the paperless solution.

The team also plans to keep the conversation going by recording episodes at the conference for Unrig the System Podcast, which will be released on Spotify and iTunes weekly.