On the acceptance and rejections in the 30c3 Society, Politics & Ethics track

Within the next hours, everyone who submitted a talk or lecture (not: lightning talk or workshop) should receive their notice of acceptance or non-acceptance. Some of you will be disappointed, because talks that you considered important did not make it into the program. We would like to share with you how decisions were made and by which priorities, so everyone can have a better understanding of how the final Society, Politics & Ethics program came into existence.

First, we would like to give you some background on the content team process. In previous years, there was one global content team for all tracks. This year, we had five “track teams”,  each responsible for one track. The track teams consisted of subject matter experts who reviewed the submissions thoroughly. We did this in order to (a) reduce the work load on each content team member and (b) to increase the time for reviewing each submission.

Before we started, the total number of available congress slots was split up between the tracks. The resulting distribution of slots aimed at creating a proper balance between tech/science subjects, IT security questions and politics/society topics, as well as art & beauty and making/crafting. The CCC congress has always lived from its very wide area of subjects and topics, so distributing the available talk slots among different tracks is a good way to get the right mix.

The Society, Politics & Ethics track was assigned 29 hours out of 120 hours total lecture time. This does not include lightning talks, workshops, CCC related talks or evening shows. We received a total of more than 300 submissions to the congress – more than 120 of which were aiming at a slot in the  Society, Politics & Ethics track. Many submissions asked for slots even longer than one hour.

With regards to contents, this track’s goal is to reflect on last year’s important discussions and events in order to bring forward the debate in our community and in society in general and to – and this is just as important – have a number of talks that just widen the horizon and introduce you to fields you haven’t heard or thought about much so far. The overarching goal was of course to help forming connections between different communities in the fight for digital freedoms and to learn from each other’s successes and mistakes.

So, we needed to make some hard decisions.

The track team, after reviewing all submissions, came up with some rules to ensure general fairness between submissions:

  1. Maximum slot length is one hour.
  2. A number of talks has to be condensed to thirty minutes, so we can cover more topics.
  3. No panels – unless we have contrarian, extra-ordinary, kick-ass panel members.
  4. No lectures whose sole purpose is the introduction of a specific project (we humbly ask you to do this in a workshop or lightning talk).
  5. Strong international/European focus, no predominantly US-centric talks.

As a first step, we identified this year’s general topics of interest and clustered submissions into 12 resulting sections. Within each section, submissions were then rank-ordered. Judgements were made strictly based on the talk submission’s contents. As we have emphasized on numerous occasions before the submission deadline: Submitting a weak, hastily written or convoluted description or one that does not convey what you really want to talk about, immensely reduces your chance of acceptance.

After the first round of thorough reviewing and within-section ranking, we ended up with about twice as many talks as we could fit into the available time. This means: For every submission we accepted, we had to drop at least one other submission that we had also agreed to accept. As you can tell, this was when the really tough decisions had to be made.

At this point, there were two types of conflicts:

(a) the intra-subject conflict: When there were two submissions dealing with the same (or very similar) topics, we had to opt for only one of them, in order to not discriminate other, just as important subjects. This is when we introduced speaker performance as a criterion. We looked at videos of previous talks, read through the rankings collected at previous CCC-events and asked around to hear about audience experiences with the speaker in question at other conferences.

(b) the inter-subject conflict: Even after (roughly) enforcing the one-slot-per-topic directive we had laid upon us, there was still not enough time. The only solution was to shorten submissions down to thirty minutes of length, and – ultimately – dropping them. So we sat down and made these uncomfortable decisions based on which talk might interest the bigger audience, has the higher relevance in the current situation.

In the end, only 35 submissions made it into the final program.

If your submission was accepted, please keep in mind that two other submissions had to be rejected to make space for you, one of which was originally considered indispensable by the track team. We trust that you will not disappoint our faith in you.

If your talk – or one that you feel strongly about – has not made it into the final 30C3 Society, Politics & Ethics track, don’t despair. You all were up against some very serious competition. We could have filled about twice as much time as we had and would still not have weak talks in the program. The other track teams faced similar problems, just that they had (except for the Security & Hacking track) a far less dramatic submissions to available slots ratio.

To those of you who did not make it into the final round, there is one consolation: Judged by the number of rejected obviously-unrejectable submissions, we’re sure to have compiled a kick-ass program. :)

More information at 30c3? Here: https://events.ccc.de/congress/2013/wiki/Main_Page.