What is a BoF? At its simplest it is a gathering of individuals (like-minded or maybe not?) who come together informally to discuss, learn, and share knowledge on a subject that interests them. Often these meetings are ad hoc, and individual agendas for attending them vary greatly, but problem-solving is often a motivation. Perhaps you have a specific problem that you’d like to solve/discuss—maybe there are people out there who have already solved it or may have ideas/experience that can point you in the right direction. Let’s organize a BoF session!
BoFs as a term and event evolved in computer specialist circles dating back to the 60’s, but exact origins are not known. They share similarities with other open meeting styles such as the unconference and Open-Space Technology formats. Today, they have become a valuable adjunct to more structured meeting types, and are embraced by many tech communities, including Drupal.
There are no rules around what specifically constitutes a BoF, but they can happen at any event with enough participants to allow people with like interests to come together. In Drupal they generally happen at DrupalCons and, the more local, Drupal Camps, but it can happen at any gathering large enough and with space enough to accommodate meetings. All that is needed is a notice board (or other medium) to communicate the BoF topic, time and place.
Unlike traditional meetings there is no set format. Sometimes people step up to facilitate or to be the discussion “leader” (not always the originator of the BoF), and many facilitation styles are acceptable. Inclusivity is a high priority, and individual contribution is valued. Perhaps someone volunteers to take notes or write on the whiteboard. However, don’t expect that there will be a presentation posted on SlideShare any time soon. Recording BoF outcomes may be an area where there is room for improvement.
BoFs have no expectations or formal brief, but often great ideas can emerge out of the organic, free flowing discussions. Wouldn’t it be nice to collect these ideas in a shareable channel where they can be used by others? Even “rough notes” may be helpful to someone researching a topic.
It should be noted that while BoFs are generally highly flexible, in reality, there may be some boundaries imposed in certain communities. For example, in the Drupal world, BoFs at DrupalCons are guided by the Drupal Code of Conduct. However you choose to modify the format, the value can be quite compelling:
• Facilitate networking/sharing for specific groups
• Encourage more interaction from participants in a meeting situation
• Allow more organic, freeform brainstorming
• Non-institutional—can usurp traditional top-down organizational frameworks
• Put the fun back into meeting situations
• Allow focus on narrow-interest issues
• BoFs can empower participants and can inject freedom into the discussion process
• As much as anything, BoFs let people get to know each other in a friendly, no-pressure situation
So, why not explore the use of the BoF discussion format for your company? It has a low entry bar and is an excellent forum for interaction and collaboration—one that can potentially reap dividends for your organization.