Thursday, 20 August 2015

They didn’t build this – The “new” Manchester Skeptics group

If you search for “skeptics” in Manchester at the moment* you get the “Manchester Skeptics”. This group is described as being “a new 2015 group” but also has 132 “past Meetups”, 474 members, and was founded Nov 20th, 2009. A pretty impressive feat of time-bending organisation, I’m sure you’ll agree. How have the organisers achieved this staggering success?

Well… they didn’t. These are the successes of the Greater Manchester Skeptics Society, which has been the work of many dedicated volunteers, myself included, over the past six years. We built up that membership. We ran those events. We poured our time and energy into building this community, in some cases putting our own funds on the line where necessary in the hope that the gamble would pay off.

Unfortunately, being human and having a lot of plates to spin, we dropped one of the plates. Through a combination of (well-deserved) summer holidays, work stress, bereavement, job-hunting and side projects, exacerbated by a regrettable but inevitable amount of miscommunication, there was a period in which our subscription to Meetup was up for renewal. With hindsight, we should have sorted it out sooner but then we were naïve enough to assume that none of our members would take advantage of the situation before the final deadline. We are, after all, a pretty friendly, supportive community.

But there’s always somebody who has to go and spoil things. For reasons which are still somewhat unclear, somebody else paid the subscription and took over the Meetup group. Rather than work with the existing organisers they removed our admin privileges and are now removing people from the group for either criticising their actions or for being “inactive”. They emailed the existing members to explain their grand plan, insulting the “previous” organisers in the process. They’ve changed the name, the branding, the description of the group, cancelled future events (on the site only – the events themselves are going ahead as planned) and added links to some rather dubious websites. To all intents and purposes, they have created a “new” group, exactly how they want it to be.

But they’re still passing off our hard work as their own.

That large membership and the long list of past events, both of which lend an air of success to their group - they amount to misrepresentation. You want to start a new group for the discussion and promotion of skepticism (or scepticism, whichever you prefer)? Have at it. The more the merrier. But have the guts to build it yourself, from scratch. The more established groups will be more than happy to help, if asked.

Of course, now that they've caused such disruption to our operation and our members by removing scheduled events from the calendar, spreading misinformation, accusing us of mismanagement or incompetence and refusing to return control of the mailing list (which, remember, was created for a group with different stated aims, different organisers and so on), future cooperation with the wider network of Skeptics in the Pub groups seems unlikely to say the least.

Even when trying to suppress all my anger and frustration (some of which is directed at myself for not realising this could happen) I can’t attribute what they’ve done to pure motives. Why take over a group only to change everything? Why not start a new group? It’s difficult not to assume that they preferred to take the opportunity to buy our membership and our record of events from Meetup.

Not illegal. Not outside the rules of the site. But also not the actions of considerate, ethical, honest human beings.

*That moment being 9:45am, 20/08/2015


Below is a copy of the email they sent. I considered going through it with a red pen but on reflection, I think it speaks well enough for itself. Suffice to say that GMSS exists in the real world, beyond the statistics on Meetup, that the group is active and thriving, and that we have a great working relationship with our fantastic regular venues (none of which deserve the kind of insult levelled at them here).

Welcome to your new skeptic meetup

So you may have noticed a lot of changes to the group lately and have many questions. I hope in satisfy your curiosity and hopefully inspire you back into the skeptic community so lets begin.

Firstly we have acquired this group after the overly bureaucratic leadership team failed to make the small payment fees that are accosted to the organizers. In the several days left to fix the issue no one coffed up the 15£ and just as in real life if you don’t pay your bills your house gets repossessed. Finally to our surprise gave us full ownership, this is actually a common occurrence on meetup when groups are failing.


Who is we you say, we are two passionate meetup organizers that already run two fast growing active meetups in Manchester. We live here and support the community via scientifically driven food and mental health groups. We also have been interested in science and the like for many years and have a large collection of materials to share/recommend which to our surprise we notice was totally vacant from the group more on that soon in the pages section.
Out with the Old

Briefly here are some clues as to why the group was failing to grow which likely lead to it changing hands.
One fact that resonates this point most is the very poor active members rates of the group. If you don't run a meetup you won't know about this hidden feature but it gives clear graphs and insight into how much your members actually care about the kind of group you create.

We also noticed a very large users base hasn't even checked the meetup in over a year (insome cases 6 years!), very poor by our standards. It's often a clear reflection that users aren't happy with the group's direction. Meeting new people especially critical thinkers can be fairly daunting if not handled properly. One worry sign of this was how common a users had attended once and never come back, another statistic that is only viewable by organizers.
“Too many cooks spoil the broth” they say and there was a lot we noticed about the overly bureaucratic nature of the organisation. Many leaders and a lengthy list of rules etc seemed very authoritarian by design. We personally prefer conversations in almost all cases whether conflict or nurture. In our previous meetups we have had much success with taking a true liberal attitude. Being down to earth in way that makes members feel they are equal to the organisers seems lacking here and something we really want to change. At the end of the day meetup is a tool that we are part of and nothing more. We want to embolden the group's properties to be the most conducive conduit towards real human connection within the skeptically inclined whether you’re an old member or brand new.

The leadership team has indeed messaged us for a second chance but we feel that it would be doing a disservice to the group's quality to go back to the old ways. Meetup takes a lot of effort and if it’s not there meetups evitable becomes a stagnate contact lists which is mostly what we found. You may have noticed this effect present in a lot of “Top” meetup groups that have over 1000 members but only 10 people at their events.

Last msg sent below by old leader(in our group ther wont really be leaders)

“Hi Sophie, I'm the current elected chair of Greater Manchester Skeptics (and have been for the past three years or so - you can see that I'm the event organiser from the Meetup page). I'm currently on my holidays in Cornwall so have been away from technology for a couple of weeks. I'm sure you have stepped up and taken over our Meetup group with the best of intentions, however could you please step down as organiser so we can carry on using our group. As you can see we are more than a Meetup group, as we also have a website and Facebook page.If you're interested in attending future events you are more than welcome and you can put yourself forward for election at the AGM.”
Unfortunate but no accident...
In with the New

Overall I hope you are starting understand the fact of the matter that it was high time this group needed to relaunch whether it was us or others. I hope you also see that we make a lot of careful consideration towards any aspect possible that we can tweak in terms of quality.  We have already begun to implementing and planning many of our ideas to get the group going with a bang.

We have already and will continue to embolden the ascetic of the meetup which members have already told us has a much fresher look. Notable also was the low quality photography which will be rectified as we have access to high quality DSLRs to make some memorable moments.

We also want to improve the quality of members without compromising on the openness needed to have open skepticism.  Obviously anyone should be able to come along and challenge the strength of the groups skeptical nature that said flakes are flakes. I was reminded of this just this week in a recent Tony Robbins video
The point being not only logically but in our experience culling members that no show or never attend helps the health of the group. We hate the idea of acting like a group that is big when really we have many faux members.

Last to mention will be the improvement of locations the Church Inn being a perfect example of everything that we don’t want. Old, low quality and it has the word church in it. We like the idea of constantly changing the location as there are many quality places in Manchester to explore. Currently we are looking towards Font Chorlton its basically a brand new contemporary facility with high quality service at a similar price.

Lets get together

I hope this honest message takes a good chunk of your queries away and makes you feel safe in our hands. We also hope this message pumps some much needed excitement into your future social life.

As mentioned we want to be leaders only by administration as we feel members should feel equally valued. Equal in conversation and opportunity to speak their views so tell your friends and join for some exciting conversations and connections at our next social.



We realise there will always be those opposed to change as a counselor I can speak with experience that change is gross to most people. So inevitably we expect some drop off from the hardcore fans of the old group maybe even some flames. Ultimately we took over the group without breaking any laws or even policy. So threats etc don’t cause us to have any hard feelings either way so if you want to leave the group and think of other options we still support that and you're still always welcome.
Life is too short to be angry.

Good luck in life and everything you aspire to be.