Recruitment should begin as soon as you can possibly manage it. A ChairJam benefits from a varied set of skills and experiences amongst the participants. Assembling these participants needs the proper time dedicated to it. A basic understanding of the event’s timing and locale should be established ahead of time, and you should develop materials to help you promote the event in advance. A good rule of thumb to follow is that advertising for the event should begin at least 3 months prior while registration itself, with timing and locale figured out, should begin at least 1 month prior. This section will go over recommendations for advertising materials, who to send them to, various channels that can be used to do so, and why this is such an important part of the organization procedure.
2.1 How do we recruit?
At the beginning of your recruitment phase, you want to make sure you have a few things ready. Namely, make sure you have a few pieces of advertising materials, some descriptive text about the event to send with it, and, importantly, a general understanding of the timing and locale for the event.
Starting with the materials, at bare minimum you’ll want to design a flyer that conveys the basics of the event. What is the event, where is the event, when is the event. Even why is the event, if you’re feeling ambitious. This flyer will serve a multitude of scenarios. It can be passed out physically, sent with recruitment emails digitally, and posted up on bulletin boards.
The flyer should direct people to a website, where they can register for the event. The website should have all the information that is on the flyer, and then some. Our first iteration of the site included a Google Map of the location, alongside information for the local paratransit company, information about the organization team for the event, and an FAQ with some notable pieces of info. It also had the event registration page, which is a must.
If you aren’t yet entirely sure of the locale or timing, but you have to start recruiting, it is alright to be a bit vague on your materials. Specify a general geographic area and at least have the dates of the event. That should be enough for people to understand whether or not they could theoretically attend the event.
There are a handful of ways to spread the word about ChairJam. The most obvious and easy is to find relevant people or organizations online and send them an email. Write up some descriptive text, making sure to include all the relevant details, and politely request that they share it with their network. Make sure to include a PDF of your flyer, both for them and whoever they share it with.
A more effective method of recruitment is to physically visit locations or organizations that may be interested. Try to set up a time via email that you could drop by and talk to a representative. If you are unable to reach someone to arrange an appointment and the organization has a public office, it can sometimes be effective to stop by unannounced. Bring a handful of flyers to leave with them. Explaining the event face-to-face to another person provides much more gravity to your request for participants and avoids the scenario in which nobody hears about it because their email inbox buries your message.
Don’t forget to also put up flyers on public bulletin boards. Many can be found on college campuses, bus stations, or in the lobby of Maker Spaces. While this has the least likelihood of directly getting you participants, it could never hurt to spread word of mouth about the event. To be honest, putting up flyers is just plain fun, too. When placing flyers, make sure that you have read and understood any existing advertising rules of the bulletin board. These can be found by researching online or asking a nearby representative.
2.2 Who are we recruiting?
When recruiting for a ChairJam, it may at first seem like there are two main demographics to hit: wheelchair-users and people who can ‘make’ the stuff. However, it is a bit more complicated than that. First, those two groups are not at all mutually exclusive. Second, people who ‘make’ stuff is clearly a nebulous phrase that hides a lot of sub-groups within it. Ideally, you would want to recruit a mixture of software engineers, physical computing specialists, game designers, visual/audio/performance artists, disability/accessibility advocates, fashion designers, industrial designers, and human-computer interaction specialists all with varied abilities. Understandably, it will be difficult to find representatives from all of those disciplines. However, getting as many as possible is paramount. It will improve the quality of brainstorming, discussion, and results if you can vary the skillsets you are able to recruit. Next we will go over what are considered the three main sub-groups in more detail: Accessibility Experts, Makers, and Creative Experts.
2.3 Where do we find them?
Where do you look for all these potential participants with such varied experiences and skills? In a word, locally. When recruiting, your best bet is to recruit in your city or geographic area. You are much more likely to find people who are willing to commit themselves to the event if you aren’t asking them to make a big trip. In the next few sections we will discuss the major sub-groups to recruit and where members of the groups can commonly be found. That being said, always remember that you also have access to your personal network. Ask around with friends and colleagues in the area to see if they know anybody that would be interested.
2.3.1 Accessibility Experts
This demographic is absolutely required, in that it includes wheelchair-users. Without wheelchair-users, your ChairJam is not Co-Designed. Naturally, this means that wheelchair-users will be one of your primary recruitment targets from the beginning of planning until the event itself. That is not to say that wheelchair-users are the only participants with knowledge of accessibility. Plenty of people with professional expertise or personal experience fit into this category, whether they have a disability or not. They will provide you with a diversity of experience and understanding of the subject matter that sets ChairJam apart from other types of game jams and hackathons. However, wheelchair users are key to the process of co-design, to make experiences that can truly be enjoyed and appreciated by everyone.
Accessibility experts can be found in a variety of groups. Local activism organizations for disability is a great place to start. Depending upon the size of your city, there should be a few of these around. Try searching “Disability”, “Accessibility”, or “Wheelchair” coupled with “Advocacy” or “Group” along with the name of your city on Google, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Even clubs at a local university would qualify for this. If there are local accessibility focused organizations, try to find out if they hold any sort of event or gathering. For example, we had The Children’s Institute in Pittsburgh. That was a wonderful opportunity both for learning and recruitment purposes. If you find something, make sure to attend! Finally, keep in mind that you can find people with disabilities in all walks of life. Check with the local Veteran’s Association to see if they know of anybody who would be interested in the event. Check in with local rehabilitation or care centers to see if they have contacts that may register.
These are the people who will make stuff. A lot of great, innovative, and fun ideas will be brought up at a ChairJam. These people will be the ones who bring those ideas to life. At least in a prototyping sense. While you can’t necessarily expect a fully featured product by the end of the event, what you can have is a working proof-of-concept that could be carried forward by others in the future. These people fall into a few different buckets. They are software engineers, physical computing specialists, craftspeople, etc. We will use the wonderful catch-all term ‘makers’.
This target is an easy one to find, if not recruit. Look for makerspaces in your area. These are typically communal buildings that feature equipment or supplies to make things, be they large or small. We would recommend visiting these spaces in person. They are almost always open to the public and will probably have someone around who’d be willing to chat about the event. They are great places to leave flyers laying around. As stated previously, make sure to ask a representative for permission before leaving the flyers. Outside of these communities, you should check with the engineering departments of local colleges. That is, both mechanical and software engineering. Let them know about the event and ask them to share it with their students and faculty. In all likelihood, they will. Finally, don’t forget to look for actual companies in the area who work in a similar field. Think companies that have a great engineering focus, but also create things for people’s enjoyment. In Pittsburgh, we have Deeplocal, which really fits the bill. Deeplocal is a Pittsburgh company specializing in utilizing emerging technology for novel advertising. Their creativity combined with engineering experience made them a good company to reach out to.
2.3.3 Creative Experts
“Creative Experts” define a broad category, but an important one. These participants will provide experience with creation. This means making art, making entertainment, and, of course, making games. This category includes game designers, artists of all kinds, fashion designers, industrial designers, and more. These people will help guide the design process and drive much of the ideation and brainstorming for the teams. They have the skills and knowledge to give the prototypes the spark that they need to be really fun.
This group is a wide spread one, so you’ll have to look in many places. Fortunately (in our experience) it’s likely that you’ll find people with these skills in the process of recruiting others. An easy first place to check is with other events that are similar to a ChairJam - look to other Game Jams or Hackathons in the area. Ask them to spread the word in their network. If you have an actual game development studio nearby, reach out to them as well. As with the other groups previously mentioned, college clubs or departments are wonderful resources for finding folks with these skill sets.
The simplest way we have found to gather information about potential participants is to have them fill out a registration form. For ChairJam Pittsburgh 2019, we found Google Forms to be a quick and easy method of creating and distributing this form. If you would prefer not to use Google Forms, you could look into other options such as embedding a form onto a website or using literal, physical forms.
Basic contact information is vital to retrieve with the form, but there are a considerable number of other questions that would be beneficial for you to ask registrants. It is important to ask which, if any, of the participant types we discussed previously they feel they belong to. They may qualify for more than one, so make sure to allow them that option. This will give you an idea about the general makeup of your group of participants, which will help with planning in various other areas. If you curious about experience with a particular area of expertise, ask them directly what experience they have had in that area. One question that cannot go unasked is if the participant is in need of any accommodations in order to attend. This can help make your ChairJam as open to everyone as it could be. If you are planning to provide food, it can’t hurt to ask your participants about potential allergies, as well. Finally, you will probably want to ask where they heard about the event on the form. That way you can gauge the effectiveness of your various recruitment avenues.
2.41 Using This Information
ChairJam Pittsburgh 2019 used the information from the form in order to form teams of the participants. We did this ahead of time to ensure that each team had a decent mixture of skill sets within it. Other methods of forming teams do exist, such as having people pitch ideas to one another and then self-forming based on personal preferences. Feel free to look into other ideas, but be aware of the compositions of your teams once they have been formed so that you can supply support as needed.
The form information can also be used to screen out participants from the event if you are placing restrictions on attendance. ChairJam Pittsburgh 2019, for example, did not allow minors to attend. If that was the case with your ChairJam, it would be important to include a question of age and a statement regarding the restriction.
2.42 Registration Fee
You have the option of including a fee to register for your ChairJam. This can help fund the event, but be aware of the consequences of doing so. Namely, you will immediately trim down the number of people who will consider attending if attendance is not free. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. Participants who sign up while paying a fee are subsequently more likely to actually attend than if no collateral existed at all. ChairJam Pittsburgh 2019 wanted to ensure the highest participant count we could, and we therefore did not charge.
2.6 Importance of Recruiting
It can be harder than you think to get a sufficient number of people to participate in your ChairJam. ChairJam Pittsburgh 2019 had around 5 people per team. This was because of the particular number of people we recruited and how their skills fit together into teams. We found this team size to be relatively comfortable and effective. We had 4 teams with a well-rounded distribution of skills. For our venue’s size, event’s budget, and organizer’s experience, this was a decently sized event. While recruiting, be mindful of how many people and teams your ChairJam could reliably accommodate. When thinking of individual participants’ skills, be mindful of recruiting a disproportionate number of people in one skill set or another. This will affect not only their experience on a ChairJam team, but the experiences of the rest of the team as well. It’s best to avoid any one group of people dominating discussion or workload for the health of the teams. Of course, having lopsided teams would also affect the products or prototypes they create. For example, if you lean heavily towards Creative and Accessibility focused people but lack makers, it will prove difficult for your teams to actually realize their wonderful ideas. Conversely, if you just gather a typical game jam crowd of creatives and makers, then you would be lacking the accessibility knowledge and experience needed to make ChairJam what ChairJam is. If you are mindful, diligent, and start early, you should be able to gather the participants for a great ChairJam.