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Monday, October 19, 2009

5 items from changecamp edmonton.

On Saturday October 17, over 180 engaged citizens converged to participate in the first ChangeCamp Edmonton.  Here are five items that I found to be the most interesting parts of the day-long event:

5) Diversity: Participants came from many diverse backgrounds and I was pleasantly surprised that there were many people who I didn't recognize from other political events. The large majority of participants were non-partisan (which was extremely refreshing) and sincerely interested in changing the way citizens interact with their governments (and vice versa). I would like to see future ChangeCamps reach out more actively to new Canadians and underrepresented communities in our city who face very unique challenges to participating in governance. Increased outreach will be important for any sequels to this event, but overall I was very impressed with the range of citizens who gave up their Saturday to participate in re-imaging citizenship.

4) A little help from our friends: Videos from ChangeCamp Ottawa and ChangeCamp Toronto welcomed participants to a growing pan-Canadian ChangeCamp community.

3) Equal participation: The politicians weren't introduced. I give full credit to the elected officials who attended ChangeCamp Edmonton, but unlike many other events, they weren't confered a special status through introduction at the beginning of the day. They were equal participants, and I believe set a positive tone for the day. Many elected officials may have had legitimate reasons not be in attendance, but I will full give credit to those who did participate: Public School Trustee Sue Huff, Councillors Don Iveson and Ben Henderson, MLAs Laurie Blakeman and Doug Elniski, former MLAs David King and Don Massey, and past and present candidates for office Brendan Van Alstine, Andrew Knack, Wendy Andrews, and Mary MacDonald.

2) Opinions are easy, ideas are hard: There were some great discussions ranging from open data, the evolution of media and technology, but it felt like much of the debate around revitalizing citizen engagement and the de-polarizing of community discussions was re-hashed from previous discussions. I had the distinct impression that almost all of the participants who were engaged citizens, were simply bringing up ideas that they had heard elsewhere. On this topic, I believe that is past the point of talking. Get your friends and neighbours engaged. It starts on the community level.

1) It was organic: The organic elements are what I found to be the most powerful part of this un-conference. The steering committee that met at the beginning of 2009 was largely connected through Twitter, which helped coalesce a group of people who might not normally find themselves working together to organize a project like this. Word of ChangeCamp was largely spread through the internet (twitter, facebook, blogs, etc). The underlying concept of an unconference - an organic "facilitated, participant-driven conference" - was demonstrated at the opening of ChangeCamp, when anyone had the opportuntity to pitch an idea and add a session idea to the grid.

Related and Recommended:
Alex Abboud: ChangeCamp Edmonton: Evolution, not revolution.
Chris Labossiere: A great day for the Future Democracy
Sirthinks: The empires of the future are the empires of the mind


Brian Dell said...

Open data sounds great, although I suspect that giving citizens the data is only meaningful if the politicians are pursuing evidence based policy, which the vast majority are not. One could say, "giving the people the data is giving them the evidence directly, so they can demand evidence base policy," but in practice the raw data needs interpretation. The civil service and machinery of govt typically takes the data and writes analytic memos to politicians and THAT is the stuff we really need to make transparent. It would reveal who is pursuing evidence based policy and who is not.

Brian Dell said...

What is funny about these engagement initiatives is that last election a lot of Wildrose Alliance candidates and NDP candidates responded such that in various forums there was almost no one else and some of us Wildrosers, who represented what was basically a fringe party at the time, attacked the NDP for not supporting fixed election dates in their platform. The spectacle was absurd since the NDP is hardly at the root of the democratic deficit' - after all, they were participating in these things and it was the PCs (in particular) who were conspicuously absent (in my experience one token PC MLA or candidate will be assigned to participate on orders from Stelmach).

Party of One said...

"...participate in re-imaging citizenship..."?

Is ChangeCamp engaged in a marketing exercise? What do you mean by "re-imaging"? or is this just tweet-speak for re-imagining? Or do you mean re-viewing? Or reconsidering?

The perennial problem with activist groups of any kind is the tendency to adopt "clever", "in-sy" lingo and jargon; it becomes part of their self-identity and makes it easier to identify people of like mind. However, it also tends to shut other people out, or...disengages from other people. Hardly what you seem to suggest is underway...

"Word of ChangeCamp was largely spread through the internet (twitter, facebook, blogs, etc)"

Here's the thing...a large number of the people who are disengaged from the political and social processes MAY NOT HAVE REGULAR ACCESS TO THE INTERNET! (gasp!) I know, it's hard to believe, but you've fallen into a "Type II" error (generalizing from the specific) when one assumes that facilitating discussion through different means is the same as broadening discussion. It's not.

If you REALLY want to broaden citizen participation in a meaningful way, you have to "outreach" (err...reach out?) to those who haven't participated previously.

Paul Turnbull said...

Brian: You misunderstand the point of Open Data, or at least how it was discussed at ChangeCamp. Open Data isn't about politics or holding politicians accountable or any of that. It's about providing raw city level data directly over the Internet.

The data in question is stuff like transit schedules, event calendars, GIS data, crime locations and numbers, etc.. Application developers can then take that data and build services around them. A simple example in Edmonton is Google's use of ETS scheduling data in Google Maps. Vancouver has already started this process (see:

Party of One: ChangeCamp is not an organization or activist group. It was gathering of people to discuss the changing nature political participation. The people who came were from across the political spectrum.

You're right that a large number of people who are disengaged from the political process may not have access to the Internet but it is also true that a large number of the (previously) disengaged do have access. Just because an event doesn't reach everybody doesn't mean it doesn't have value.

Finally one of the things I heard over and over again that day was that things we were discussing weren't replacements for existing means of political participation. They are additions that can bring more people to the table than have been able in the past and by doing that change the nature of the debate.

Amanda Krumins said...

ChangeCamp seemed like such a great event - I was so sad to miss it. Hopefully Edmonton can have another one soon (when I am not so sick)!

Brian Dell said...

Ok, right, I see that "open data" and transparency are two different concepts.

Tony said...

Are the rumours about certain people being told not to attend; are these just about staffers or public servants? As someone who works for the GOA, no one said anything to me.

gas-guzzler said...

Tony, it wouldn't surprise me if that were true. If you just look at the makeup of the organizing committee, you have a prime sample of aberrant eco-socialist hacks. They consider themselves intellectuals and have very little time for any opinions other than their own.