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ChangeCamp re-cap: The Product is Change

ChangeCamp was yesterday. My live utters captured most of my immediate reactions; here is a loose summary of some more initial thoughts.

Format

The format of this event worked pretty well for me. The opening circle was followed by random groupings by letter. Each group had 45 minutes to hold rounds in which the people in the group introduced themselves, their work, what they wanted out of ChangeCamp, and what they thought the event was about. Each group then dispersed, leaving one member at the table to speak about what the initial conversation was about. The first part worked well for me; the second part not so much, but mostly because I was too burnt out to engage properly, and the one person left at the table was often already engaged in an explanation by the time I got there, which was slightly off-putting. My subjective sleep-deprived experience of it aside, the idea behind the format is interesting; I wonder if the people who stayed at the tables felt they had things they could summarize meaningfully for others.

I had lunch with a thoughtful group, even as I got carried away talking about TransLink. I’m going to have to hunt down my tablemates’ names in the wiki.

Change Lab

The afternoon was a bit odd for me. I participated in the Change Lab purely by accident, as my idea was very unexpectedly chosen and mashed up with another idea for ChangeLab1 development. My original ideas was something for rural or small town governments to develop online presences describing their work, with commenting abilities for citizen input. In architecture, I imagined it to be similar to the Evergreen project. Ryan Taylor’s idea was a “social API,” for hyperlocal websites for citizens, and which had a strong emphasis on microblogging.

The following 3 hours were quite eye-opening, as we danced around the parameters of the problem we were actually trying to solve. Then a somewhat archetypal misunderstanding between “marketing”/recruiting and tool development occurred. At the last minute, somehow, it all stitched together. Mark summed it up thusly: “Project Shame” (the name has a story that I only know pieces of) surfaces and organizes the information required for changemakers to know what changes are needed, and how changes in progress are going.

I thought it was interesting that I ended up finding value in contributing as a stakeholder to the government group, more than in the “user situation” project group – perhaps indicative of my true strengths. As always, my faith in the strength and value of the process wavered at times. I’m interested in what would make me a more effective contributor in these kinds of processes, which often strikes me as tiresome and irritating, especially when the cross-talking starts. It is also possible that I hate hearing people get carried away because I know I do it too.

I am quite, quite excited about seeing what comes out of the “ChangeCamp in a Box” project, and contributing what I can to making it better. I think I have a lot to contribute, as someone who really took the TransitCamp idea, ran with it, and ended up somewhere completely different from where I’d started (and who is continuing to suss out precisely what to do with what’s there!)

The Lab was also a great opportunity to watch how others think of this stuff. Michael was an excellent facilitator, but everyone made great points about how the conversation stitches together a concept, a purpose, an experience. I tended to take a “break it to them gently” perspective – I don’t think people working in governments (especially in governments where there may be a lot less exposure to the benefits of social networking) should have technical solutions hoisted upon them in a heartless “shape up or ship out” manner, which I find sometimes find is the implicit statement for what should happen. I’m inspired by the Evergreen project, as little as I know about it, because it feels like it was something that emerged from need identified and filled primarily by those who felt it, in collaboration with those who are able to build it. Not, as someone mentioned during the Lab brainstorm, us going, “We have these tools and tell us your problem that we can fix with it.”

Takeaways

Me during the opening circle (photo by Rochelle)

Me during the opening circle (photo by Rochelle)

I did get to try out some ideas, both during the Camp and from other discussions. When I think about all the things I’ve had the chance to be exposed to – web, social media, education, public transit, Internet access, online communities, dialogue and conflict resolution, social change movements, organizational change, Middle English – I realize that one of my persistent fascinations is with the way people go about doing their everyday activites; what interactions this requires; and how those interactions can be improved, whether through improved or altered use of either technology or human systems.

I like the idea of our cities as being organisms that are still in the stages of learning what to do with their new-found awareness – all the information coming from people connecting with each other, sharing things, and using instantaneous and location-aware tools, of which things like Twitter, Facebook and BrightKite are only starting to scratch the surface. All this information makes for a more reactive, swifter organism. And I think the role of action is not just up to the “brain” – there are processes at all levels, distributed throughout the body that need to have methods of keeping each other informed and in check.

I did not get to meet nearly as many people as I may have wanted to, as participating in the ChangeLab cut down on my moving and shaking time by quite a bit. But I did get to catch up with old friends and familiars like Will Pate, Rochelle Latinsky, Matthew Burpee, Mark Kuznicki, Sean Howard, and met oodles of new people with interesting tales and experiences. At such a bustling event, I could barely make an effort to catch their names – hopefully they’ll put their details on the wiki, because I remember lots of job titles (perhaps we can even get the wiki user pages sorted by the letter group of the opening session). As I said during that initial session, I probably could have spent 10 minutes talking to everyone at that session (the educator teaching ethical consumption to high-schoolers, the designer now working with arts organizations, the women from the City of Toronto, etc). Hopefully, that was the start of more – and better – conversations to come!

2 Comments

  1. I'm glad were with us that day and thanks for the feedback. ChangeLab and ChangeCamp felt a little like having two different events in the same space, which wasn't ideal.

    Posted February 5, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  2. I’m glad you found it helpful, and I’m ecstatic to continue contributing as ChangeCamp goes forward! As it goes forward, I’m also coming around to the idea that ChangeCamp is picking up on something that people are already feeling, and often has a lot to do with what people are already also doing in their lives and communities; but it also threatens to spin off its orbit if it doesn’t assert itself, similar to the way individuals and (egads) organizations need to as well. The movement is curious because it has the potential to encompass so many things (gen y, civil society, sustainability, social justice) that each all have their emotional baggage – the “sweet spot” is being able to bring enough focus on what’s common in order to throw our momentum into having actual change come about.

    I promise, my iceberg theory post will be up really, really soon! :)

    Posted February 6, 2009 at 11:00 am | Permalink

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