Limits of Unconferences for Gov 2.0: What Next?

crossposted from adrielhampton.com

Gov 2.0, in my advocacy, is use of emerging technologies to promote a more transparent, efficient and collaborative government. Gov 2.0, in its co-creations by citizens, bureaucrats and entrepreneurs, represents a dramatic remaking of traditional governance power structures through information sharing, low-cost and open source tools, and increased participation.

As a mass movement, Gov 2.0 is very young and green.

Unconferences can move Gov 2.0 forward, but only from its infancy. As we develop maturity models for Gov 2.0, we need to create new models for community events. This is what we are grappling with after San Francisco’s first CityCamp last fall. CityCampSF wasn’t the first San Francisco-based unconference around Gov 2.0 themes; the organizers of the 2009 California Data Camp helped with outreach for CityCampSF and both unconferences used the same event space. CityCampSF also drew participants from SF GovLoop meetups and the internal City government crowdsourcing campaign InnovateSF.

CityCampSF was an “open space” style unconference. We were successful in bringing together more than 75 people around the theme of civic innovation, and many useful connections were forged. However, despite a number of online channels for continued dialog and participation, the handful of action items identified and the people brought together around the event quickly diffused. Just a few months later, individual organizers don’t know much about how folks who met at the camp are working together or what projects it has sparked or helped grow.

CityCamp is modeled after a number of similar events, including Government 2.0 Camp. But Gov 2.0 Camp was two years ago and its wiki hasn’t been updated in 21 months – it is an important historical event, but it is history.

Another unconference-style event, CrisisCamp, is doing much better, buoyed by a formalized parent group, CrisisCommons, which recently secured a $1.2 million grant to foster and staff its work in creating innovative solutions for crisis response and global development.

More traditionally styled Gov 2.0 conferences continue as well, including Tim O’Reilly’s Gov 2.0 Summit and Expo, Sarah Schacht’s Open Gov West and Alan Silberberg’s Gov 2.0 LA. CityCamp is also booming, with locally organized events taking off in cities around the world. There is a clear need for low-cost, participant-driven events in the Gov 2.0 space and BarCamp and unconference-styled events help fulfill that need. But there is also a real need for new event models that support progress in the greater Gov 2.0 corpus.

Gov 2.0 is at this point a brand, and as yet a good one with a very decentralized power structure. Anyone who can compellingly present their vision within a broad umbrella of social tech and open government principles has a say in the future of the movement, and no pundit or corporation has successfully co-opted the brand. Gov 2.0 remains a grassroots movement largely absent any harmful locked-in features. It has advocates with left and right political views, united in concern that rigid legacy systems aren’t compatible with the fluid challenges of today’s globalized and uncertain world.

Amidst this tableau, San Francisco’s citycampers are looking at where we need to go next. We’ve had unconferences, what we need is a local brand to advance. In 2011 in San Francisco, we’re exploring alternative event formats and how to both grow and sustain a local Gov 2.0 tribe. We’re looking at event design to expose traditional advocates to the Gov 2.0 spirit, and to funnel energy into actionable plans. We’re considering regular informal meetups and collaboration with other groups to keep our community energized.

I’m interested in hearing what other citycampers are doing to keep their communities alive and to create outcomes, and to know what kind of role you think events play in advancing Gov 2.0 as a whole.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

I think it comes down to goals and desired outcomes, Adriel. A couple examples:

Goal 1: Ensure that 100 people attend and connect, with 50% being brand new connections.

Outcome Question: Do you want members to (a) meet each other or (b) forge a continuous connection?

Action Plan: If it’s the latter, then determine the platform(s) where they will (a) friend each other and (b) continue to dialogue…could be Twitter, GovLoop, LinkedIn, etc. Define it specifically and have a plan for driving people toward that desired outcomes

Goal 2 – Generate 10 innovative ideas with 50% being immediately actionable.

Outcome Question: Where will ideas be captured during the meeting? How will they be shared and prioritized? Who will take the lead for action? When do you want it accomplished?

Action Plan: What is the action really? The creation of a knowledge product, a guide, and infograph or some other type of living, breathing content…or is it just a sustained conversation?

I think it you’re super clear from the outset what you want to accomplish, you’ll feel satisfaction that it’s more than a meeting that becomes history.

And I’m / we’re here to help as a place to forge, sustain and build relationships and create those living knowledge repositories and iterative outputs/products that can be shared and lead to replication of success.