From amazing metaphors involving adorable puppies to reflections about how data can transform generalities into actions, I was fortunate to attend the first CityCamp held in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 11/12/2011. This un-conference is designed to be more of an open exchange of ideas than the traditional professional conference that most of us are used to – whatever profession you work in.
Prior to the actual un-conference day, we could submit ideas about what kind of breakout sessions we would like to see. The organizers of the conference did this via email, website, and social media streams. When I got to the conference, I was shown the big board of ideas and asked to indicate which I might be interested in participating in. As a data guy, I tended toward those topics because I am always trying to learn about what others are doing with data, how to visual data, and really how to tell better stories with data to help my own company (GovDelivery), but more generally, to help citizens and governmental agencies “informatively” engage with data and the wisdom that comes from understanding that data.
We met in the morning for quick individual introductions of all 100+ registrants and then settled in to listen to 6 amazing “ignite” mini-presentations where folks like the CEO and Co-Founder of GovDelivery, Scott Burns, gave insights into the role of social media in cost effective communications. The presenters were limited to 5 slides in 5 minutes. While these presentations kept us revved up and engaged, the event organizers were collating all the ideas and trying to put together 24 separate sessions on a grid that covered the majority of the topic suggestions. Obviously, some ideas got dropped, but for the most part, organizers were able to combine and build a substantial grouping of 24 topic sessions.
Now, here is where I think the magic of this un-conference truly started. The CityCamp working grid was presented and we could see what topics were going to be discussed at what time of the day during the 4×40 minute sessions. No rules, no agendas, just real interactions amongst various types of individuals working in the public sector, private sector, governmental space, social services, consulting, and others.
I think the first session was the most awkward and disappointing of the day probably due to the fact that many of us didn’t know exactly what we were supposed to be doing. Who talks first? What exactly are we going to talk about when it comes to policy-making and the impact of data on that policy? The flow of the first session never really came together for me, mostly due to the fact that there was no moderation of ideas. My only feedback item to the conference was to say that perhaps a moderator needed to ask the first few questions and be available to pull folks back to the topic at hand during discussions.
My other three sessions were incredibly informative and interesting. I got to talk about how to visualize data and the analysis of that data, good tips, good websites, folks who are doing amazing things (Stephen Few, Tufte for example). The most profound things came in short bursts through the exchange of ideas. For example, Marc Drummond who works for the City of Minnetonka, MN, said something that I thought was so clear and simple about PowerPoint presentations – “Presentations should lead to actions!” It’s simple and concise, but powerful in its vision of what all of us who present information should try to remember.
The last session on the advancement of technologies related to data analysis was a small group who were trying to envision where data analysis is going in the future. I got to meet a fellow Govie named Amelia Brunelle and others who are passionate about the power of data. I got to talk about how remarkable a job I have with GovDelivery as the Client Performance Analyst and the investment they make in my abilities to take information and tell credible, important, and relevant stories to our clients and to help build our business intelligence within the organization itself. Always with the mindset of providing insights that provide agencies the best possible chance to drive efficiencies within organization, effectively communicating with their citizens, and helping them understand how to engage their citizens across multiple communication channels.
I would highly recommend attending one of these CityCamp events in your area. I got a chance to network with others passionate about data analysis, digital communications, social media, and the impact we can all have on the engagement of citizens. I loved my first CityCamp experience.