Since I attended WIREDcamp roughly a month ago, I’ve been thinking a bit about using the un-conference model in government. WIREDcamp was hosted by the Ontario Government but open to Federal and municipal public servants, as well as not-for-profit-ers. I haven’t been able to come up with any negatives. They really do seem to be a match made in heaven. As long as you have participants open to sharing. Here are 4 reasons I think they’re a good match.
- Governments are full of subject matter experts
- They’re actively seeking ways to share and manage knowledge
- The aging silos of the public service are crumbling under the weight of renewal
- Budgets for large-scale conferences and learning events aren’t there
PodCamp, the little un-conference cofounded by Christopher S. Penn and Chris Brogan in Boston a few years ago has spread like a weed throughout North America and even across the ocean. I’ve attended them in four different cities myself – Toronto, New York City, Boston and Montreal. The same rise in popularity has happend with other un-conference ‘brands’ like BarCamp, DemoCamp and others.
If you’re new to un-conferences, here are a few basic steps to organizing one. (Not necessarily in this order)
- Find your audience for the un-conference
- Invite them to your event
- Get a venue, book a date
- Establish the rules of engagement
- Work with your audience to develop your agenda
- Provide enough guidance to make sure that your un-conference is going to be valuable to participants
That’s basically it. You might have to consider sponsors (maybe getting your venue for cheap or free). How you work with your audience to develop the agenda might vary. PodCamp Toronto organizers use a wiki to organize speakers, volunteers, etc. If your audience isn’t comfortable using wikis, you’ll need another way.
At WIREDcamp, they simply divided the room into many discussion tables. A grid marked on the wall with green masking tape represented tables and a time slots. The agenda was developed on the spot by having participants write topics on paper and tape them to the grid.
It’s too bad I had to skip the afternoon of WIREDcamp because of another work-related commitment; I thoroughly enjoyed the small, intimate and on-the-fly un-conference format.
I suggested the topic “How do you help non-tech people learn to use tech tools”. You can find the notes here. I didn’t know if anyone else would be interested, but as it turned out, a few people dropped in to take part and we had a good talk!
Also that morning, I joined the discussion on “How to manage ownership of content with multiple contributers (for the purpose of ATIP/FOI).” ATIP is short for Access to Information & Privacy in the Federal Gov, while FOI stands for Freedom of Information for the Ontario public service. These are the official systems in place for allowing the public and politicians access to government information.
This was a fascinating discussion initiated by Karl Ghiara, one of the guys behind the Federal wiki, GCpedia. This is a serious issue when it comes to furthering collaboration in the government because existing policies are not geared towards collaboration on channels that aren’t fed through top executives. I have to say, I was amazed by Douglas Bastien‘s knowledge of policy, he contributed a lot to the discussion.
Have you tried the un-conference model? I really enjoy it and think there are a ton of opportunities to employ it within government.