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TransparencyCamp 2012: Reflections, Next Steps, and Thanks

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Sunlight closed its doors today to take a rest after last weekend, but still I find myself pouring over Twitter and through Flickr, soaking in TransparencyCamp. TCamp 2012 was by and far the best Camp we’ve ever held, if your tweets and notes and contributions and photos and energy and exclamation points and vowed next steps are to be believed -- and I think they are.

Consider: The earliest TCamps brought people together who defined the leading edge of “opengov” in the US at the time, drawing together about 100 to 150 Campers. In 2011, we leapfrogged, gathering 200+ Campers together and opening the door to more local and international conversation. But this year was something else: Over April 28th and 29th, we brought together over 400 people from 27 countries and over 26 states to discuss the present and future of government transparency in the US and all over the world. At this point, the numbers no longer just reflect TransparencyCamp: They show that the movement as a whole is growing. For a good snapshot, check out this most excellent TransparencyCamp 2012 recap video:

Unconferences really are fueled by the participants, and so I don’t say lightly that it is because of each and every person who attended that the TCamp experience was so positive and promising. In our staff debrief this week, Sunlighters were enthusiastic to point out that the level of dialogue and debate at this year’s Camp was like nothing before. Many people shared with me variations of a similar story, one that exemplifies one of my favorite rules of unconferencing: “Everyone who is in the room is supposed to be there.” The story usually goes that in some mindblowing session about legislative data or crazy opengov tactics or the future of journalism and government accountability, one attendee or another begins to tell a story about what they’ve heard about the opengov situation overseas, in a country like Malaysia, only to have someone tap them on the shoulder and say, “I’m from Malaysia.” After this weekend, I think it’s safe to say that’s an authentic TransparencyCamp experience.

This is the new wave of TransparencyCamp: leveraging the power of face-to-face interaction to bust borders between countries and fields of work, overcome technical and procedural hurdles, and get into the kind of creative problem-solving that actually solves problems. We took a lens to these and other themes in our concluding session where we asked those Campers brave and caffeinated enough to last to the very end to share what they planned to do in the next week, month, and year after TCamp. Here are some gems I picked up from this session and throughout the conference:

  • Based on a conversation driven by a representative from Wikimedia, several Campers are going to look at how to create a global multilingual TransparencyCamp wiki to log resources, conversation, and best practices.
  • Kevin Curry, creator of CityCamp and Program Director of Code for America’s Brigade team, said that he’ll be launching a FOIA Brigade to help cities open data related to their FOI laws.
  • Jeanne Holm, the evangelist for Data.gov, launched a new website at TransparencyCamp: Developer.data.gov and discussed Data.gov’s investment in exploring open sourced technology.
  • mySociety.org's Tom Steinberg announced his intention to develop an open source, collaboratively built platform between now and TransparencyCamp 2013, with the hope of showing it off at next year’s unconference.
  • Matthew McNaughton, a TCamp11 veteran from Jamaica, shared that he's going to explore how to bring the Open311 system to his home country.
  • An army of people -- women, men, old, young, US nationals, and others -- stood up and told the crowd “I’m going to start coding.” And the folks who were already coding, like one of our lightning talk speakers, Juan-Pablo Velez, said, “I’m going to try to build the civic hacking movement at home.”
  • And to underscore a point I'll make below, many folks expressed their interest in bringing TCamp itself home. Here are the various dream Camps that we might see coming into the world in the next 12 months:

TransparencyCamp Malaysia
TransparencyCamp Latin America
TransparencyCamp Georgia
TransparencyCamp Europe
TransparencyCamp Hawaii

I shared a commitment of my own, too: After this Camp, I’m going to publish all the documentation we’ve created about how to run a transparency unconference online on the TransparencyCamp website. Inspired by the participants who, like Pedro Markun and Daniela Silva, were so excited to bring TransparencyCamp home, they made a session out of it, and by the participants in my “Meta-TransparencyCamp: Unconference Organizing” session, it seems like the logical next step.

What will you do after TransparencyCamp? Let us know. From planning to implementation, we’re interested in following these projects and others. Whether or not you joined us in DC for Camp, be sure to share what you're up to by joining and posting to the TransparencyCamp Google Group.

Being exposed to all the great minds at TCamp -- representing local, state, national, international, journalistic, academic, technical, and political interests -- was an incredibly humbling and inspiring experience. Thanks for reminding me why I do the work I do. Hope to see you in 2013.