Tuesday, October 27, 2015

BarCamping Civic Hackers: Participants, Not Attendees

[This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on the myDigitechnician blog.]

BarCamp Green Bay 2015 is happening on November 7, 2015, less than two weeks away. Sign up TODAY -- it’s free, it’s fun, and it’s for You.

Yes, this event is ‘for’ you -- and this means that you and other people at the BarCamp will be a key part of making the event an interesting and enjoyable gathering.

BarCamps are unconferences with a strong focus on technology and other topics of interest to people who use or help make technology. If you’re not familiar with BarCamps, read “9 Reasons BarCamp Green Bay Is For Civic Hackers” to find out why you may want to participate in the event. Many of those reasons will also be of interest to people who are not civic hackers.

PARTICIPATION is a critical aspect of BarCamps. BarCamps have only ‘participants,’ not ‘attendees.’

Conferences have attendees. At most conferences, most attendees have little or no impact on the success of the conference or how fun and interesting it is for other people at the event. The conference organizer(s) decides what will happen at the event, who the speakers will be, and what the agenda will be. The attendees only get to choose what presentations they want to listen to (or fall asleep in), and the presentations are generally not designed for input and feedback from attendees. Often the presentations are thinly-disguised advertisements for a the presenter's products or services, regardless of the attendees' interest in those products or services.

Unconferences often start with a self-introductions circle
BarCamps have participants. The classic format for a BarCamp is an unconference utilizing Open Space Technology. This means participants determine what topics will be discussed at the event. This also means the participants will both lead sessions and actively participate in discussion at one or more of the sessions. Another way to state this is: “NO SPECTATORS, ONLY PARTICIPANTS.”

The concept of BarCamps is that discussions which take place in hallways at conferences art the most interesting and valuable conversations of the conference. These are discussions of high interest to people at the conferences, rather than the one-way canned PowerPoint presentations by a limited number of pre-arranged speakers. Unconferences put the focus on conversations of high interest to people at the event -- BarCamp sessions should be like hallway discussions at conferences. The person leading the session (a BarCamp participant) initiates and guides the discussion, while other people really interested in the topic (BarCamp participants in the session) chime in with questions, suggestions, resources, experiences, etc. Participants are key to all discussions and sessions at BarCamps.

Group Photo of BarCamp Participants
Unconferences are participant-driven events. Participants decide what topics they want to lead a session on. Participants decide which sessions they want to be part of. Before BarCamp, they can post on the event website the sessions they want to lead or participate in. Participants can lead sessions, or they can make the session discussions more valuable by asking relevant questions or contributing useful and relevant topic information or experiences. Participants help organize the barcamp or help the organizers with logistics on the day(s) of the event. They personally invite other people to the BarCamp or promote the event on their Facebook page, Twitter account, Google + page, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, blog or other social media they use. Participants recruit sponsors for the event.

In short, everything related to BarCamps is done by participants. There is no ‘they’ or ‘them’ at BarCamps, only ‘we’ or ‘us.’

The focus on participants at BarCamps is especially relevant to civic hacking in two ways:

  1. As a participant, you have a great opportunity to share with other creative, self-motivated people what you know about civic hacking and why you are a civic hacker. If you lead a session on some aspect of of civic hacking, you have a great opportunity to let other people know what that term means and to get lots of input on what civic hacks the other session participants would find useful or interesting.
  2. Because BarCampers are participation-focused people, they will make great civic hackers. So BarCamp Green Bay offers two opportunities to expand the NE Wisconsin civic hacking community. The first expansion opportunities is that you should invite lots of potential civic hackers to register for BarCamp Green Bay and to participate in your session. They might enjoy the event and your session so much that they want to immediately start working on their first civic hack! The second opportunity to recruit new civic hackers is that during your session and at other opportune moments during the November 7 BarCamp, you can invite BarCampers to participate in the November 17 meetup and in other NE Wisconsin civic hacking events. Suggest that people get on the NE Wisconsin Slack team, download and give feedback on the “Is it recycling week?” Android app, and take a look at the DHMN Civic Hacks blog.

My next post about BarCamp Green Bay 2015 will be on topic of ‘sessions, not presentations.’

Sign up today for BarCamp Green Bay, and reserve all day November 7th on your calendar for a good time with tech people, innovatorsmakers and entrepreneurs (the TIME community of NE Wisconsin).


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