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Change Camp Edmonton: Evolution, Not Revolution

I attended the first ever Change Camp Edmonton yesterday.

I wrote about Change Camp on Friday, ahead of the event. What follows is my post-event reaction and thoughts.

Justin Archer
Justin Archer introduces Change Camp and provides an overview at the start of the day.

The day got started around 9am, with an overview of the event concept, process, and “rules of engagement”. I was impressed with the level of turnout at the very start – there appeared to be 100 people or so there by the start, and people trickled in throughout the day. I’d say around 150 people participated throughout the day, but I haven’t seen an official count. There was a pretty good balance in gender, and good mix of ages, which I was pleasantly surprised to see. There wasn’t, however, much ethnic diversity. That’s nobody’s fault, but this is something we’d ideally see more of at future events, especially given that Edmonton is a city with growing immigrant and visible minority (especially aboriginal) populations.

Following the introduction, the floor was opened up to participants to suggest topics for the day. You can see the result of that in the Grid that was developed. This is one of the things that I enjoyed about Change Camp. In many situations, people like to use the expression “you get out of it what you put in”. This expression is, in fact, true at Change Camp. The agenda for the day is completely up to the participants to set. I was impressed by the number of participants willing to put forward topics for discussion. As you can see from the Grid, the schedule for the day filled up.

Wendy Andrews
Wendy Andrews leads a session titled “Depolarizing Community Conversation”.

There were three morning sessions, followed by a lunch break and two more afternoon sessions, then a wrap-up session and a short opportunity to talk about action items. This was all followed by an excellent after-party at Original Joe’s.

There were a number of interesting topics, I was disappointed I was unable to participate in some of them, particularly the sessions on “Using Technology to Elect More Women“, “Cultivating Albertans’ Ingenuity“, and “How to Encourage Power Sharing“. I did participate in the sessions on “De-polarizing Community Conversation“, “Urban Design“, “How to Create More Engagement” (which I had the privilege of facilitating), and “Preserving Accountability Journalism“.

Creating Engagement
Participants discuss ideas at a session titled “How to Create More Engagement”.

In Friday’s post, I said the following in anticipation of the event:

I’m not sure what to expect in terms of outcomes, but I see the process itself as being valuable. It’s the kind of get-together I suggested here (in paragraphs 6-7) needs to happen more often; citizens coming together to discuss, learn, and collaborate. One event or idea likely won’t change the world, but many in aggregate may bring about large-scale change, or plant the seeds for future changes.

After the event, I feel that this statement accurately sums up my feelings. I found the whole day to be very beneficial. Towards the end of the day, one of the event organizers used the term “political revolution” to describe the event. This is, in my opinion, an exaggeration. The event was hardly revolutionary, rather it was an important event in a series of other events or avenues for dialogue and participation that will improve the civic and political situation in Alberta. I don’t say this to diminish the event’s value. Change is largely incremental; every event or action that makes up a part of it is immensely important.

Afternoon Session
Change Camp organizers Alain Saffel and Jason Darrah drop in on the “Accountability Trust” session about a new model for journalism.

I hope the event happens again in the future, for a couple of reasons. First, because of the value of the event in and of itself in encouraging dialogue, participation, and thought. Second, because I think the event would be even more productive now that the concept is better understood, and many people have been through it once already. Done a second time, Change Camp will be more effective.

The best thing from the event was seeing the willingness from people to participate, and the quality, and thoughtfulness of the comments that people contributed. This is even more impressive when you consider that the format was new to most participants. Three weeks from now, there will be a follow-up event, and I hope to see as many people in attendance as possible. The follow-up event has the potential to lead to more engagement, and to action.

Talking about Open Data
Change Camp organizer Mack Male leads a discuss about next steps for pursuing open data in Edmonton.

To be fair, there was a session at the end to discuss ideas participants had for actions coming out of the day. Three such ideas were proposed – one dealing with open data, and two others that I can’t remember.

The challenge with seeking out action items immediately following the session was articulate well by Raffaella at the after-party. She made the case that there was a lot of ideas and information to take in throughout the day, and people need time to think about it, absorb it, and make sense of it. I agree with this. I hope the follow-up event can provide structure for this; if it doesn’t, some mechanism for doing so should be addressed for future Change Camps. I also believe that focusing on “action items” is a narrow definition of actions stemming from Change Camp. For many, the impetus for change may lead them to get (more) involved in community organizations, government, etc. In other words, to become more active citizens, rather than pursuing a single specific initiative.

In summary, I see this event contributing to many other positive trends that will increase civic participation and engagement in Edmonton. I’m happy I was able to participate in Change Camp, and I send my thanks to the organizers and participants for making this a good event. I look forward to doing it again.

More on Change Camp:
My Flickr Set from the Event
Change Camp Edmonton Flickr Pool
Chris LaBossiere: A Great Day for Future Democracy. A Sad Reflection on the Current One
Sirthinks: The Empires of the Future Are the Empires of the Mind – Change Camp Edmonton
Daveberta: 5 Items from Changecamp Edmonton
Global TV Edmonton

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Be the Change

FDR Shirt

That’s me, sporting my FDR t-shirt. I was incredibly excited to find this in Portland a couple of months back. FDR is one of my political icons; while he was far from perfect, his accomplishments in ushering in the New Deal, and in guiding the United States through most of World War II (he died in office in April 1945, about 4 months before the war officially ended) rank up there with any other President before or since. If he is not the greatest president, he is certainly near the top. I’ve always admired his dedication to helping everyone, especially the less fortunate, and the courage he showed in bringing in dramatic reforms to American society.

The lessons of FDR are useful now. Not only are we facing significant upheaval in our economic system, but we are a society in flux. Additionally, dissatisfaction with, and cynicism about, government run high.

If you’re concerned with any of those issues above, and live in or near Edmonton, Alberta, then you should come to Change Camp on Saturday. The idea, in a nutshell, of Change Camp is to get citizens in a room to discuss their concerns, and hopefully to come up with some ideas about how to go forward. It’s a citizen driven initiative; participants throw out topic suggestions at the beginning of the day, and “vote with their feet“, choosing sessions based on what interests them. For more specific details on the event, I suggest checking out the official website, as well as Daveberta‘s post, along with the slideshow/audio contained within.

All the above sounds great on paper, but what should we really expect? Well, that’s a good question. As a participant-driven event, most of what we get out of it will depend on what we’re willing to contribute in terms of topics and discourse about them. Don’t let the weighty slogan of “how do we re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation?” discourage you. At the root, Change Camp is an event about bringing people together, and talking about their ideas and concerns. I picture it more “college kids in a dorm discussing the world” – informal, broad, and collaborative – than “Kingston Conference“. Sure, there will be people in attendance with a specific agenda, but I suspect most people are attending because of a general interest or concern regarding citizenship, government, and politics.

I’m not sure what to expect in terms of outcomes, but I see the process itself as being valuable. It’s the kind of get-together I suggested here (in paragraphs 6-7) needs to happen more often; citizens coming together to discuss, learn, and collaborate. One event or idea likely won’t change the world, but many in aggregate may bring about large-scale change, or plant the seeds for future changes. Change will only come about when citizens take the initiative, and get involved to bring it about. Being passive or dropping out of the system won’t get us anywhere.

If you’re interested in government and citizenship and want to connect with others who are, I hope you’ll join the 170 other citizens who have already signed up, even if it’s just to stop in for a bit.

If you do, feel free to come find me; I’d love to chat. I’ll be the guy in the FDR t-shirt.

Event Details:
ChangeCamp Edmonton
Saturday, October 17, 2009 from 9am to 4:30pm
Registration at 8:30am
Maple Leaf Room, Lister Conference Centre, University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Follow on Twitter: #yegchange

I’ll also be writing intermittently throughout the day on this site.