This year when the APWA Congress opens up in Chicago the week of August 25th, there will be a new type of session offered to attendees called a Public Works Camp. This event is held in an unconference style where the "presenters" serve more as hosts and the "attendees" create and drive the session. Because our local branch, the APWA Fox Valley Branch, has been holding similar events over the last few years, members of the branch's education committee, myself included, will help serve as hosts. We look forward to participating in this type of session at the Congress and hope other attendees discover the same value we have found in offering this type of educational experience. And we encourage everyone attending the Congress to stop by the camp on Monday and/or Tuesday from 10 am to 10:50 am to check it out and participate!
For those who are not familiar with a camp or unconference style session, here is some background information:
Specifically tailored for the public works community, the Public Works Camp is an unconference focused on exploring ideas, lessons learned, best practices, industry standards, regulations, and patterns that can be implemented within and shared across the profession.
The camp has several primary goals:
- To bring together people from the public and private sector who are either interested in or working in the public works field to share perspectives, insights, ideas about the public works profession and industry.
- To share best practices, particularly those focused on increasing sustainability, effectiveness, and efficiency.
- To foster communities of practice and advocacy on the role of our profession in our world.
- To offer educational opportunities that are innovative, fun, and effective and build on more traditional methods.
- To create outcomes that participants will act upon after the event is over.
The format allows for a more informal atmosphere in which people can bring up the issues or ideas that matter most to them. They can also obtain feedback or information from other professionals who share those same concerns. The end result is a more intense educational experience than is usually found in more traditional presentations.
Although I worked in the office for a few hours today mainly on correspondence and checking with our inspector and engineers to find out the status of some projects, most of my day was spent at our APWA Public Works Camp. This event is our second unconference session that we've hosted, and both have been a great success! Next year another branch is going to host one, and there's been some discussions of expanding it out. We had about 24 people attend and offer some great information and knowledge about many different aspects of public works. I tried to capture the highlights of the discussion using the Cover It Live tool. So if you want to read over the log, pop on over to the Public Works Camp Site!
This year, I have been involved with two initiatives in our county. One is Kane County's Transit Plan which is just ending and the other is our Downtown Master Plan which is just beginning. Each planning process is professionally managed and both have or will go through all the traditional steps of gathering public input. This usually consists of forming committees of stakeholders and having committee meetings and public hearings. Then all comments and input from these meetings are assembled and worked into the plan. But we all know that as much time and effort as everyone puts into drawing out ideas, it is difficult to get a large majority of folks really talking at these events.
In the same time period, I have attended several "barcamps" or unconferences related to government and social media. These events are incredible because they offer the opportunity to learn and share ideas in a comfortable and informal setting. The environment is also conducive to developing networks and connections to others who care about the topics discussed. And the energy at barcamps is usually so intense that everyone, even that normally reserved person, ends up contributing.
One awesome camp I attended in January in Chicago was CityCamp. This event drew over 100 people who spent two days talking about ideas for increasing government performance. And the event format seems to be taking off – over the last few days I have been watching a discussion on the e-democracy site about several efforts to host CityCamps throughout the world. But organizers are also expressing an interest in having something solid come out of each camp. This got me thinking – wouldn't it be awesome to use the CityCamp model as a planning tool. If each planning initiative, like the transit plan or downtown plan, could include a "CityCamp," along with the more traditional methods, we could generate a lot more ideas and discussion. And in the end, everything would get incorporated into the formal plan.
If I worked in a government position responsible for launching community plans, I would definitely try this out because I see a huge potential for success. Instead I can only encourage others responsible for community planning to take the initiative to try out this technique. And I would definitely be willing to help! (Contacting Kevin Curry, one of the CityCamp organizers, for advice is also a great idea – he's an awesome resource!)