Normally I would just provide a link to this in my daily Links post, but this is such a great example of how Open Space technology (e.g., BarCamp, MashupCamp) can be used for more than just holding geeky tech unconferences: last year, three people from the TorCamp community organized TransitCamp to provide a place for the Toronto Transit Commission (North America’s third largest, serving 2.4 million riders each day) and the local community to come together and generate new ideas about how to really make the TTC “the better way”. Today, the story of TransitCamp, “Sick Gloria Transit”, hit the Harvard Business Review as one of their breakthrough ideas for 2008. The article is written by Mark Kuznicki, Jay Goldman and Eli Singer; Mark’s post also contains a number of reference links, including a page of links on the TransitCamp site covering both unconferences and TransitCamp itself.
I’ve attended several unconferences, although I missed TransitCamp last year, and I’ve been promoting the idea of the unconference as a format for business and technology conferences in the BPM space, but it’s a hard sell. One group of conference organizers that I approached with this had many reasons why it wouldn’t work, even though they have never attended an unconference, and most didn’t know what it was before the subject was broached. One response: “hopelessly techie.” I disagree: the unconference format has been used for many non-technical gatherings since Open Space Technology was first defined in 1986; it’s just that the tech community made it popular in the past few years. To quote the Wikipedia article, it “has been used in over 100 countries and in diverse settings, industries, cultures and situations – for program and product design, knowledge exchange, interdisciplinary thinking, conflict resolution and conferences.”
TransitCamp is a great example of how unconferences can be used with a primarily non-technical group of participants to generate ideas for a definitely low-tech endeavour: improving our local transit.