Several people have asked me what I took away from Transparency Camp, an “unconference” held this past weekend here in DC (read the Twitter stream to get an idea what it was like).
I did get a few concrete facts out of it, but fundamentally to me, it was all about basic research, not applied.
I think of basic research as work you do to figure out how the world works, without necessarily tying it to some concrete goal. As opposed to applied research, which tries to help you do something in particular.
The distinction can be pretty clear in science. For example, in Physics (my undergrad degree), basic research would look into the nature of fundamental particles. Applied research would try to answer functional questions, like “how do I use my knowledge of fundamental particles to build a nano-sized robot?”
In my current field (loosely defined as communications), basic research is very similar to networking: I’m just meeting people, learning what they do, hearing their general thoughts. But it’s not just about people. I’m also asking them questions about how the world works: what’s this tool, how do you draw people into that engagement, when do you think this thing will get big? Still not with a particular goal or project in mind.
it’s critically important to carve out time to do basic research. We get so bogged down in details and immediate goals, including really exciting stuff. Without some effort, we’ll always find new trees and make small changes, instead of finding whole new forests to explore.
For me, Transparency Camp was a fantastic basic research opportunity. I don’t know when stuff I learned will come in handy, but I’m convinced it will. At some point, as I’m musing about how to get something done, a person’s name or a website will pop into my head. I might remember I learned about it then, or I might not. But these tidbits will be there, waiting to apply themselves.
Now, as a co-organizer of Government 2.0 Camp, I was also doing a little applied research: simply learning how the unconference format works by experiencing it.
My top 2 takeaways reflect both types of learning:
1) There is a HUGE number of very smart, passionate people working to improve how government serves, relies on and talks to the public, both inside and outside. That inspires me and gives me hope. Some of their names and projects are the core of my basic research learning.
2) I’ve never seen 9-6 go by so fast, which gives me great hope for future unconferences. I’m struggling to remember the benefits of traditional set agendas. That applied learning helps me understand what to expect for gov’t 2.0 camp.
How about you? Do you do basic or applied research?