My pal Mark Kuznicki is discussing Toronto Transit Camp as a case study on open community innovation that started with the TTC issuing an RFP for a new website and ended up involving the Toronto blogosphere and local transit geeks in an open discussion about what the TTC website should become in order to best serve the community. This all happened in a short time period: the RFP went out in December; the Toronto blogosphere had a call to action on January 1st; two days later Adam Giambrone, the youthful chair of the TTC, signaled that they were open to any ideas generated; within a week Mark and a few others had picked up the flag and started organizing Transit Camp; and Transit Camp happened on February 4th. The way that the Transit Camp organizers communicated this to the TTC is “we’re doing this, and you’re welcome to participate as equals”, although this was likely a bit too radical for the TTC culture since they were more passive listeners than active participants; they’re still pretty hung up on owning their own intellectual property rather than opening up their data and branding for use by the community in some way.
Transit Camp was labelled a “solutions playground” — no complaining allowed — and involved a number of different activities, from BarCamp-type interactive discussions to a design slam, and several TTC execs showed up including Giambrone: a clear indication that TTC was ready to start tapping into the energy and ideas being created in the community. At the end of the day, all parties were seeing the shift from a previous combatitive stance to a collaborative relationship between the TTC and the community, creating an entirely new model for engagement and communication. It resulted in the openTTC.ca open source project, and provided for peer-production involvement in future generations of the website.
Mark uses the term “open creative communities”: barrier-free groups of individuals with a common interest, producing ideas and inventions. He saw a number of factors that contributed to the success of Transit Camp: people attended for both discovery and play; it created an intersection of communities that touch various aspects of TTC and its community; and it gave people like Mark and the other organizers an opportunity to practice community leadership. He had a couple of great references in his presentation, such as Cherkoff and Moore’s CoCreation Rules and Benkler’s commons-based peer-production.
He sees communities as naturally-occurring social systems demonstrating emergent properties, but also points out that you can create an intentional community with the right framework and rules.
Unfortunately, there was no real written record of Transit Camp (obviously, I wasn’t there blogging 🙂 ) so it was difficult to bring the ideas forward in any sort of formal way to the TTC later; this may have impacted their acceptance of the ideas as much as the inherent cultural inertia. However, it’s a great model for allowing a community to engage (particularly) with a government or quasi-government organization. There was a great deal of discussion in today’s session about what would motivate the TTC to get involved in the ideas generated by Transit Camp, particularly those that involved ceding partial control of planning and branding to the community, but a lot of people miss the point of co-creation: remember that the reason that IBM invests in Linux open source development is because it’s way cheaper than developing an equivalent operating system on their own. The real long-term benefit of co-creation is the new possibilities that are generated by including people outside the organization in the innovation process, but it’s often necessary to hook them with the economic arguments first.