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Participation Camp 2009: Change the Rules

The first ever Participation Camp unconference took place on June 27th and 28th, 2009 in New York City.  The event focused on new ideas and tools to support citizen participation in government.  Over 100 attendees came to the physical space, and more than 2000 checked in virtually.  Participation Camp featured workshops, presentations, games, a hack session, a collaborative sculpture, and more.  Archives of the live webcasts can be found at http://participationcamp.org

-Matt Cooperrider, PCamp Organizer

[background music] [Collage of voices]
Matt Cooperrider: [0:10] Participation Camp is an un-conference, which means that the people who attend are actually, also the presenters. Our focus is on citizen participation in government. Open government has become a really popular buzz word, and President Obama has been a big advocate of open government, which in the first place, means transparency. [0:30] So, this event was actually inspired, in part, by a transparency camp, which happened in D.C. earlier this year, and was all about how do we free the data that the government has? How do we make it available? And Participation Camp is like, once we have that transparency; how do we invite the citizens in to take advantage of it?
Peter Corbett: [0:49] As citizens, we should have access to everything we pay for. So, if there was some study done, if there was data collected, as long as there is no secure information or personal identifying information, we should have the ability to access it. And hopefully, in a standard way, so it can be shared and re-mixed, and mashed up.
Mary Joyce: [1:05] I think, particularly, countries that are non-democratic, that are developing politically, where there's a lot of ground that needs to be covered in order to have an accountable government; that extra institutional movements have the most capacity to push governments in the direction that they need to go; to push societies into being more responsible to their citizens.
Craig Newmark: [1:28] People in government, who are trying to use technology to serve the public better; they're having a lot of the same issues everywhere. The technology: not so hard. The buy-in, dealing with multiple partners, multiple stakeholders, financial issues, privacy issues; those problems are universal.
Philip Ashlock: [1:47] In the session going on right behind us is the Open 311, [background noise] focusing on the Open 311API, coming out of Washington, D.C. And it's part of the last leg of the Apps for Democracy, Community Edition Contest.
Peter Corbett: [2:01] Apps for Democracy is an innovation contest that we put on for the D.C. government. And what we do is; we ask talented citizen technologist to mash up the district's data. And what has resulted; last year, the first time we did it, there were 47 web, iPhone, and FaceBook applications that were created over a 30 day period. [2:21] It cost the City $50,000. It generated $2.3 million dollars in value. And now, we have an Apps for Democracy, Community Edition, that ends July 1st, 2009, which focuses on leveraging D.C.'s Open 311 API, for submitting and receiving service requests. And that's the first Open 311 API in the world. It's inspiring other cities to think about opening up their 311 systems, as well.
Gale Brewer: [2:50] We have a legislation in phone number 991. It's an open-data piece of legislation. What it basically says, we hope that you'll be supportive, we'll be talking about it. In this age of being able to put everything on the web, it should go off on the web. In other words, all of the reports; official reports go up now, but not with raw data. And, not necessarily in one place where you can manipulate it and use it.
Gale Brewer: [3:17] An example would be. How much mold in the city of New York, layered on top of kids who have asthma? What kinds of issues do we have in terms of the homeless; families who are in private hotels versus families who are in tier two shelters, which are run by the non-profits. I could go on and on. [3:35] And we would be the first city in the United States to be able to have this kind of open-access data. There are other cities, like Washington, D.C., where it's a policy, but it's not legislated. To the credit of the President, Obama, he understands that and has been trying to initiate it on the federal level.

[3:54] But we in New York City really need it. We have so much data. And I think it would be great for people in this room to be able to use it for whatever research you're doing. And, goodness knows, there're plenty of other people who would like to do the same.

[music]

Speaker: [4:11] And also, we're trying to make a camp that's hands-on, fun, "workshoppie," practical implementation, as much as possible. We've got a collaborative sculpture [?] going on.
Mark Elliot: [4:21] The underlying idea with collaboration, in this context, is in the more, nuanced approach to defining collaboration, being that it's a shared space, where the contributors have add, edit, delete rights. This is considerably different than how collaborations often referred to, as in people working towards a shared outcome. Addition, easy, it doesn't really disrupt.
Mark Elliot: [4:44] To delete something, means it has to go away. [music]
Mark Elliot: [4:52] One of the great aspects of collaboration is that co-creation is one of the most significant points for innovation, where building on other people's ideas is obviously so easy, because their ideas are already there, to be built upon. And if it's in a collaborative environment, then it's even easier, because you can re-mix this one. Camelot. [laughs] I'll have to let that dry a little bit. [laughs]


Robin Urban Smith is a multimedia storyteller who prefers to go by bike.

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