I had the pleasure of attending ChangeCamp in Toronto over the weekend, and it was an excellent experience.
The event actually came together really quickly – I heard that the organizers started pulling it all together in mid-December – and the end result was incredible. I actually learned about ChangeCamp only a few days before the event through Twitter, and made a quick decision to attend. The (un)conference was very well organized, with some obvious good sponsorship backing to provide the event with an excellent venue (the MaRS collaboration centre), an abundance of support staff, resources, and materials to make everything happen very smoothly. They even had some good food and drinks free of charge.
So what was ChangeCamp? ChangeCamp is a free participatory web-enabled face-to-face event that brings together citizens, technologists, designers, academics, policy wonks, political players, change-makers and government employees to answer one question: How do we re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation?
The turnout was impressive, with about 100 people in attendance. They used an open space conference approach – basically the agenda is created in the morning by those in attendance. Anyone can suggest a specific topic (related to the general theme of the conference), and select a time and location to discuss the topic (from a pre-defined grid of timeslots with about two dozen table locations for each time). Once all the times are filled, the event begins, and people self-select the topics of most interest to them to attend. Participants can wander between groups, with the intent that ideas will flow between groups.
All of these sessions were captured using a wiki as the primary central archive, and lots of folks also snapping photos, shooting video, and capturing audio clips. The end result being a large organic collection of discussions, ideas, concepts and action plans.
I found that time was a bit limited to reach the action-plan stage, but there was certainly a lot of great ideas being shared, and tons of enthusiasm to see the ideas turn into actions.
I led a discussion on “how cities can use social media to help manage crisis situations”, from which I took two main points: (1) establish City social media channels for “regular business”, build a strong following and get known in the community so that can be converted to emergency channels during a crisis and reach a significant number of people (including mainstream media); (2) in a crisis have a plan with an elevated, staged approach for using various social media channels to inform & engage people, for example, using twitter for the initial quick reaction, with a blog/audio cast to followup, and a videocast later.
Another key point to raise is the incredible attendance at the event from City of Toronto staff members. There was about a dozen staff members there, including the CIO and the Communications Director for TTC. They are clearly on board with social media, although from my discussions I’d say they are at about the same place as we are in terms of getting their ideas in place.
So it was well worth the journey to Toronto; and I hope to participate in other events like this in the coming days… next one is the Third Tuesday Meetup in Ottawa on Monday Feburary 2nd.