Unconferencing collaboration (and public policy)

I was just reading on the Doors of Perception blog that Collaborative Innovation is this year’s theme at the World Economic Forum. Maybe this is a good thing (Jimmy Wales got to talk), and maybe it’s not (Don Tapscott got to talk). In either case, the really sad thing is the continued trend events about mass collaboration that are as uncollaborative as possible. Davos is just one long-lecture-fest, with most people zoned out in the audience in passive listening mode. It’s not collaboration, it’s television.

Unconferencers and openspacers of the world have be running real collaborative events for years. However, trying to roll participation into conferences ranging from WEF (big and showy) to the iSummit (small and groovy) almost always meets with heavy push back. Even when talking about collaboration, most event organizers seem to think TV-style lectures are the only viable format. Strange, and maddening.

Happily, today saw a small victory for the unconference crowd, with an article on Toronto’s TransitCamp appearing in the Harvard Business Review’s 2008 Breakthrough Ideas section. My friend Mark Kuznicki describes it here:

… [the HBR] piece tells the tale of a community and a public agency coming together to solve problems in an innovative new way, using social web technology, social media and design methods together with the Barcamp unconference framework. The approach helped to shift the relationship between the organization and its customers and community stakeholders. That organization was the Toronto Transit Commission and the event and the open creative community that emerged from it was called Toronto TransitCamp.

Put simply, TransitCamp was an unconference to gather input on the redesign of the Toronto Transit Commission’s web site. What’s amazing is that the chair of the TTC attended and that many of the new and creative ideas from the event actually got fed into the site design process. Vancouver and San Francisco have ripped off the idea by holding their own TransitCamps.

My hope (and the hope of the TransitCamp ringleaders) is that the HBR article will give some legitimacy to the unconference idea, especially as a way to engage in both public policy dialogues and big conferency conferences (a participatory unDavos? … okay, maybe not). Here’s to hoping.

PS. You can read the article in Harvard Business Review, or visit this wiki page
for links that provide a comprehensive overview of the background, the
design, the experience, the media coverage, the conceptual foundations
and the influence of TransitCamp.


  1. Jesse Hirsh replied on | Reply

    Hey Mark, I’d be curious to hear your briefly elaborate on the Tapscott remark. I think I understand what you’re saying but would love to read more given how much space Don the ex-Trot Tapscott takes up…

  2. Mark Kuznicki replied on | Reply

    Thanks for the link Mark! I’m looking forward to working with folks like you to build on this rising awareness of unconferences and other open participatory engagement methods the web enables. A movement clearly focused on value creation can infiltrate more and more ivory towers where well-meaning professionalization has led to unintended consequences of stagnation.

    I think the Don Tapscotts of the world are important and useful in propagating ideas like these to new audiences. Like him or not, business writers like Tapscott have helped to make open innovation and peer production legitimate conversations within the world of business. It also appears that government and other large organizations need to see that endorsement by business in order to support their own decisions to try new approaches.

    We need Enterprise 2.0 before we will see Government 2.0. And we need both for Society 2.0. (I feel dirty even using the terms!) We have lots of work to do.

  3. Mark Surman replied on | Reply

    Jesse: Tapscott is a great packager of other people’s ideas, which is an important role in society. We’re all riffers. However, guruizing yourself without honouring history ain’t groovy. The Doors of Perception post I cite at the top of this article comments on Tapscott and Davos from this angle.

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