christian.jpg.jpgrene.jpg.jpgThis is a guest blog by two authors: Christian Dähn, who works as Senior Consultant for the Opitz Consulting GmbH, and René Dalock who works as a Consultant for the Trivadis GmbH in Hamburg, Germany. Christian and Rene run the Atlassian Hamburg User Group.
In an effort to spread best practices, we are publishing guest blog posts from community leaders who have founded Atlassian User Groups (AUG). If you’re interested about starting an AUG in your area, or want to find a user group close to you, visit our Atlassian User Group page.

5 Steps to found a user group

Setting up the scene
In November, Christian Dähn and I founded the Atlassian User Group (AUG) Hamburg, Germany. Now, after finishing our second meeting on March 4th, we are fairly confident that the way we have started this the AUGs will work in the long run. In both meetings of the AUG, we have had round about 20 attendees and we got great feedback.
We’ve been asked by Atlassian to share our way establishing a user group. The foundation of a user group is not too complicated. We’ve boiled it down to just five simple steps to set up an AUG (okay… to be honest, it’s easier said then done, but it’s not rocket science either).
Step I: Build an organizing team
The first step is to find co-organizers who are interested in organizing the user group with you. The work which is to be done for organizing user group meetings is not enormous, but it’s easier if you have some collaborators.
Some advantages of building up a team for this task includes:

  • The feedback you can give each other
  • Connections you make with other people, companies or institutions (important for step III)
  • That you have an excuse to go to your favorite pub for team meetings.

To sum it up: It’s more fun to do it in a team!
Step II: Get a date…and stick to it
The very first thing you have to do is choose a date! It’s not important that you have any details planned at this moment. If you have a fixed date for your user group meeting then you and your team have a timeframe in which you have to organize the meeting.
Alongside food and beverages you need a location. For our initial meetings, we found space at our companies. The companies we work for are very interested in giving us a conference room because for them it’s a chance to support their own brand on the local market. In the unlikely event of not getting a room from your companies, you can try to ask your local chamber of commerce or other user group organizers (often Java user groups have a large number of attendees and their organizers know were to get rooms for meetings, so this will be a good starting point).
Step III: Find people with resources
This step is the easiest one, because the guys from Atlassian do their best to support you. They’ll give you an adequate budget to organize some food and beverages for the people who will attend to your meeting.
Alongside food and beverages you need a location. For our initial meetings, we found space at our companies. The companies we work for are very interested in giving us a conference room because for them it’s a chance to support their own brand on the local market. In the unlikely event of not getting a room from your companies, you can try to ask your local chamber of commerce or other user group organizers (Often Java user groups have a large number of attendees and their organizers know were to get rooms for meetings, so this will be a good starting point).
Step IV: Build a forum for your tribe
Next you need a platform for communication and you need to find people to whom you can send invitations for the meeting. To satisfy these needs we decided to use the German business platform XING (http://www.xing.com). They provide the ability of creating own groups with a bulletin board and features for organizing meetings, sending out invitations and write newsletters. And, in our opinion one of the most important reasons to choose this network, they have thousands of members which are potential attendees of your next user group meeting. LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/) would be another possible platform. We stick to XING because they have a huge number of German members.
In addition to this Atlassian is sending out invitations to their mailing lists and give you your own Confluence page (see ours). With these two starting points you get enough people informed and you have all features by the hand to communicate with your tribe and, more importantly, to let them communicate.
Step V: Let them do the work
Don’t think too long about the agenda of your first meeting. What should the mission of the user group be? Which topics should be covered? Which meeting-format should be preferred for your user group? And there are many questions more to answer.
Our solution: Let the group do the work! Just choose an interactive meeting format and claim your first user group meeting as the Foundation Meeting. For our first meeting, we decided to organize a World Café (http://www.theworldcafe.com). We provided some questions and let our attendees discus about this topics. So there was no need for us to look into the crystal ball to determine what the requirements and the interests of our attendees could be. Have a look at our results of the Foundation Meeting to get a feeling of what we’ve done.
What we developed in the first meeting was then implemented in the following meeting just last month. We prepared a short and simple feedback form and asked our attendees to fill it out. We got instant feedback. Have a look at the results.
The Secret Step
There’s one more secret to starting a user group and we’re going to let you in on it: Just do it! Try the steps described above and see results. Don’t think too much about organizing.

  • It doesn’t matter how many attendees you’ll have in your first meeting. It’s fine to start with just a few.
  • It doesn’t matter where you meet. If there is no obvious place to meet, start at your favorite pub where you held your planning meetings with your organizing team (see step I).
  • And it doesn’t matter if you complete your mission. Just start and have fun!

What about you?
Let us know what you think about the steps above and share your own steps to creating a solid foundation for a user group!

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