Documenting your event serves a few purposes. First, the photos and video you capture during your event will be useful to show how amazing it was, and sponsors always appreciate nice photos in any event wrap-up documents you provide to them. Second, and arguably more important, any event documentation created before, during, and after your event will help not only your own team in planning future events, but can help guide others in planning their maker events. (It’s the whole reason we’ve written this guide!)
So how do you go about documenting your event? There are as many methods as there are makers, and no one way is the “right” way, but we’ll share some of the best practices we’ve seen.
Documentation is information, and information wants to be free. Don’t plan on just one person doing all the work, but make it a distributed project for anyone who is willing to help. This is where sharing is caring, and using the sharing tools available today through various software and service providers makes sense. Maybe you’ll use Google Docs that many people have access to and can collaboratively write. Slack might be useful for people to quickly drop a note about something to the team so it can be expanded upon later. Other have used wikis or even email to easily gather the raw ideas generated during an event.
Here’s a list of some software we’ve seen teams use.
All of these tools will work in a web browser, and most have desktop and mobile apps as well, which come in very handy for widening who has access and how easy it to use a tool.
Google Drive will allow multiple authors to write and share documents, spreadsheets, and any photos, videos, or other files. Anyone with a Gmail account has access to Google Drive so the barrier to entry is low.
Slack provides a great way for teams to communicate and collaborate with each other (especially during an event) and while it’s not made for long-form writing like Google Docs, it’s a great place to quickly and easily capture your thoughts so you can expand on them later.
Discord is similar to Slack, but (as of this writing) does not have the limiations of the free version of Slack. Right now Slack has better integration with more business tools but Discord has a lot of great features as well, including some that Slack is missing.
A wiki is a web site that anyone can edit, though you can also restrict who can edit it and even who can view it. The idea behind a wiki is that it’s a web site, and you can easily make an edit to any page you are ready by just clicking the “Edit” button, or add a page by creating a link to it. Wikidot is one service that will allow you to set up a free wiki. There are also many great open source wikis availble that you can install on your own server.
GitHub is typically used for software development and version control, and since software is really just a bunch of documents, there’s no reason you can’t use GitHub for hosting your documentation. (We’re doing that right now, and you’re reading it!) Using GitHub does require a certain amount of technical skill, but the tools are powerful and getting easier to use all the time.
While most of the tools listed above are free, or at least have a free version, for those that are paid services, you might want to check if they have discounts that apply to your organization. Maybe you are a non-profit, or maybe an existing organization involved in the event already has something running that you can use.
What to Document
Now that we’ve looked at a few tools to help document your event, what exactly are you documenting?
Document the things that went wrong, and the things that went right. Document the things you want to improve upon next time, and things you want to warn others against. Maybe you found out that a local moving company is willing to move things for you since you’re a non-profit and they’ve already got a truck and employees skilled at lifting heavy objects. Make a note of that! Maybe the person in charge of registration had a great idea about how to do things better next time by separating people who have tickets and people who need tickets into two separate lines. Write that down!
Consider that you are writing an operations manual for next time. If you are sharing your documentation with the world (or even just by invite) consider that the maker community you know in a neighboring city, or state, or makers halfway around the world might find value in learning how you’ve done things, and can incorporate your ideas into their maker events.