A Government "Unconference" Tackles Social Media

Gov2.0 camp was the most astounding example of the wisdom IN crowds I've ever witnessed. First thing in the morning on Friday, no one ...
by | March 31, 2009

Government_2.0_Camp Gov2.0 camp was the most astounding example of the wisdom IN crowds I've ever witnessed. First thing in the morning on Friday, no one had a clue what they'd be learning that day, or from whom. By 10 a.m., 55 sessions were set and people started spreading out to different rooms according to their topic interests.

I first wrote about "transit camp" in a Web 2.0 story published in Governing last May. But I don't think I quite got the concept of a "barcamp" until I went to this one on making government more open, efficient and accountable through social media tools. 

I was one of more than 400 people signed up for the free "unconference" at the Duke Ellington School in Washington, D.C. Attendees came from federal, state and local governments. Some strays from the military, private sector and non-profit worlds joined us. 

At 8 a.m. on a Friday we were a bunch of bagel-eating attendees without a plan. There was no agenda to be found. Because no agenda existed.The agenda for the first hour was to set the agenda for the day.

So at 8:45, we gathered in an auditorium and introduced ourselves. One at a time. It took about an hour, but it was often fun and funny, as my colleague Mark Stencel explained here from his seat in the auditorium that day. 

People stood up and proposed sessions. The unconference organizers, up on stage, wrote each suggested session in magic marker on a piece of paper. Those bits of paper were stuck to a big board with masking tape.Yes, paper, tape and marker served as the tools for this Web 2.0 crowd. And when it was done there was a completed agenda for the day.

Blink. Blink. Blink. What just happened here? From zero to 55 in an hour? From no agenda to a fully fashioned one?

It happened again at the unconference's second day. And astoundingly, it all worked. Most of the sessions I attended were useful, informative and way more participatory than typical conference sessions. Though some veered into the philosophical or pie-in-the sky. And some participants rambled on too long.

Still hard to grasp? I've uploaded a couple of videos here from the "auditorium session" on the second day. I hope that helps. The first is an explanation of how a "camp" works. The second is a demo of how people were suggesting sessions, saying whether or not they needed a projector and what time slot, if any, they preferred. Enunciation and speaking into the microphone were not the strong suits of all the participants but you'll get the gist of what went on.

Ellen Perlman
Ellen Perlman | Former columnist | mailbox@governing.com