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Vancouver Change Camp Explores a New Format for Public Efficacy and Responsive Governance

June 28, 2009

Vancouver’s first ChangeCamp event offered a framework for private citizens and policy makers to connect and share ideas on how people can engage government and effect policy.

Why is this an idea whose time has come? The current democratic process has become increasingly detached from ordinary life, and the act of voting is only a single tool in the life of a society. Citizens are gaining unprecedented access to civic data through communications advances and open government initiatives. An event like ChangeCamp creates a new kind of roundtable where stakeholders; activists, policy geeks, municipalities, lobbyists, politicians and the general public can meet, share, and plan.

Those whom I met at the downtown BCIT campus during last weekend‘s event were smart and passionate, and the staff and volunteers fostered an atmosphere of enthusiasm, safety and creativity. The event followed an “unconference” format, providing a loose structure within which presenters pitched topics for discussion. Participants then signed up and met in breakout groups. After 45 minutes, groups returned to the plenary to report their most insightful moments.

Sessions explored  topics ranging from how to use social media for mobilizing around climate change, how public service can engage the public, to current open data initiatives in local government. I found the breakout sessions to be generally well organized, but I found that I was not clear on what the intersession reporting to the plenary was meant to accomplish in the limited time allotted.

One of the highlights was the Net Neutrality town hall meeting, introduced by SaveOurNet founder, Steve Anderson. A distinguished panel of speakers, featuring MP Libby Davies and Jacob Glick, Google’s Canada Policy Counsel, discussed the importance of Net Neutrality (or potential lack thereof) for citizens and commerce.

The moment where I understood the power of something like ChangeCamp was when I observed an exchange where one participant explained Net Neutrality to another, so that the latter could present about it to his association. The listener then advised the expert about helpful strategic partnerships he could make. Both parties learned something useful in a reciprocal exchange that they may never have learned otherwise.

I have always heard that the key to getting your message across is understanding who you are speaking with and where they are coming from, but watching this maxim unfold in front of me, as people from different backgrounds helped each other understand the issues, was illuminating and exhilarating.

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