TransparencyCamp Survey Recap

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In preparation for this year’s TransparencyCamp (East), about two weeks ago we asked you what you would want to get out of this sort of an event. We were excited that so many of you (506 total) took the time to share your thoughts with us — and that your feedback fit nicely with the changes and additions that we’ve been discussing here in the office.

In the interest of transparency (!) and to ensure this a collaborative process, I wanted to share with you some results from the survey and give you an idea of how we’re going to move forward with the Camp from here.

First off, there were many new voices in the mix. Only about 23 respondents (again, of 506) said they’d been to a TransparencyCamp before, but around 82% expressed that they would attend or might attend this year.

Geographically, survey respondents were fairly diverse — only 45 folks spoke up from within the beltway. The map below shows that our highest numbers of respondents trend with major metropolitan areas, with a good number of people off the coasts participating (including Hawaii and Alaska). We even had 5 people respond from overseas.

As for the substance of the conference, I was impressed that, despite the fact that many of our crowd had never been to a TransparencyCamp before, a good deal of the feedback rang in concert with those who had attended in the past. Keeping in mind that people were able to select multiple answers from our Issues of Interest category, the top 5 topics people honed in on were

1. federal open government (411 votes) 2. state open government (377) 3. lobbying reform (361) 4. campaign finance (342) 5. local open government (339)

Topics like budget transparency, government spending, and open data also received high marks.

Few people gave feedback as to the structure or particulars of the conference, but of those who did, a quote by one respondent sums up the general opinion nicely: “Less talk, more action.” Many of those who responded to our ask for what we can improve on for this Camp, or what they’d like to see done (around 71 people), voiced a desire to see practical actions they can take to make government more transparent. Of this group, more than half (38) specifically mentioned that they wanted to learn how to apply these steps to local and/or state government. As one respondent expressed, “I would like to hear what groups are doing, right now to make government more transparent. I would also like to know what I can do, locally, to help.”

Some suggested literal takeaways from the event: “Please provide agenda, talking points, conclusions, action alerts, etc. from the conference to Facebook, email newsletter so those who cannot attend can learn what happened…Thanks!”

Others wanted to keep up the good vibes from previous years: “I routinely communicate with the group I met at TCamp and refer to them as my ‘superfriends.’” There was a small chorus of those that appreciate the networking aspects/potential of the event, would like to see that continued at this next camp, and have it be extended to new voices.

Additional common themes were how to deal with public education around transparency issues, how to get lawmakers in the room talking about these issues, and the role of open data in the open government movement. Some respondents addressed data by requesting that developers be given a space to code, or that coding be given its own track. Among the very few who went into detail about Camp structure, tracks came up a few times – tracks for those who want to revisit old themes of the camp, tracks for vendors (“less selling, more teaching”), and tracks for people who want to meet with lawmakers and others and hash out some of their community’s open government issues right then and there.

Let me start Sunlight’s response to the above by saying, “We hear you!” More than hear, actually: we agree. In the early stages of planning this Camp, we pinpointed the need to get more political representatives in the room, to bring in a heavy dose of work from the state and local level, and to focus the event on actionable next steps – real lessons-learned and how-tos that people can carry home with them and can continue working on after the Camp is over.

One of the ways we’ll be looking to make these changes will be through something close to the track system many of you touched on. We’re working on a way to organize this unconference by topic and level of expertise so that those of you who will be new can wade into the conversation and those of you who have been to plenty of these camps already can take the conversation to the next level.

This effort also means that we’re seriously trying to open the door to more folks this time round: both literally with bigger numbers and by including a greater diversity of people, voices and backgrounds. I’m sure a lot of you out there can sympathize with this respondent who would like to get “a better idea of what I can contribute – little time and no money, but I can do something, if offered the chance, and if I can get there.” We get that. That’s why we’re keeping the price of TransparencyCamp low ($10 to register – gets you two days of conference + food! A steal.), and why we’re looking into ways to make it affordable for people who might have to travel to get here.

It’s important to us to showcase the work that’s currently being done across the country for greater transparency, while also building on the great work that’s come out of other TransparencyCamps in the past. We’re committed to pushing farther this year and will keep you up to speed as we continue with our planning.

In the meanwhile, catch up with us on Twitter as @TCampDC, hashtag #tcamp11.

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