Project Elephant: Experimenting in the open

Published On Jun 16, 2022

When Amazon makes strategic decisions, it separates them into one-way and two-way doors. A two-way door is a decision that can be reversed, such as the change of a product name. But a one-way door can’t easily be undone. The launch of a product may mean committing to supporting that product’s users for the reasonable lifespan of the product, for example. Such decisions require more scrutiny, because they’re riskier.

One of the tenets of FWD50 is that digital government requires a rethinking of risk. Digital gives us the ability to roll back to the past. Because bits are free, it’s easy to make an identical copy of something. That means you can save a copy, make changes, and if they don’t work out, roll back to the saved version. This changes the calculus of risk, because many previously one-way doors are now reversible.

Another critical attribute of digital systems is that the dispel the myth of the “launch.” When we build a steamliner, there’s a moment when it’s not in the water, and a moment when it is. But digital products aren’t quite like that. We can publish them now, and now, and now. We can improve them iteratively. We can deliver something basic, and see how it’s being used, and learn what it’s for from how people use it, rather than from our own assumptions. Digital delivery makes collaboration better. Because we can update things, and watch how they’re used in the wild, it’s better to ship sooner. Perfect is the enemy of good enough.

Over the past years, we’ve preached the gospel of digital at our annual conferences, and across dozens of online events. And now, we’re following our own advice.

Back in 2017, we built the first FWD50 website on Squarespace, over a weekend. We then moved it to Wordpress, and eventually, with the help of some amazing developer friends, doggedly turned it into a powerful, albeit complex, event platform with speakers, and multilingual support, and dynamic grids, and plenty more. But five years is a long time, and as with all systems, the thing we’d developed became more brittle. We had plenty of ideas for new formats, new technologies, and new activations that we simply couldn’t implement on what we had.

It was time for a bit of modernization of our own.

Screenshot of FWD50's homepage prior to 2022
FWD50's website you've known since 2017, hosted on WordPress


Over the last nine months, Olivia Rossi, the product manager behind most of the tech stack on which we run FWD50 and other events, has been designing a modern event management platform that lets us do new things with less effort. It’s based on an open Content Management Platform, with new front-end tools that allow collaboration and simplify management. And it’s extensible—we’ve already built QR-code conversation starters for Startupfest, the startup conference we’ve been running in Montreal’s Old Port for the last decade.

We’re launching our new event platform as early as possible. It won’t be perfect. We’re sure to discover some oversights and obstacles in the coming weeks. But that pain is a necessary part of change, and it’ll let us build even better experiences, online and off, while keeping our team small and agile. So welcome to our new event platform: We apologize for the dust, but it’s a part of embracing the new things that digital has made possible.

Notice at collection Your Privacy Choices