Gov 2.0 invades Harvard: A report from #gov20ne

Politicians, advocates, techies and citizens discuss open government

Last Saturday (March 6), several hundred folks gathered at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government to spend the day discussing open government. O’Reilly’s own Laurel Ruma was one of the organizers, and she sends in this report:

To geeks, bar camps are nothing new. But what we’re seeing is a surge in civic-based camps, including Transparency Camp , Participation Camp, Change Camps in Canada, City Camp, Congress Camp, and the ongoing Crisis Camps. However, there is one overarching topic that includes all of the granular subjects: Gov 2.0. The Camp scene is not without Gov 2.0 Camps. Started in Washington D.C. last year by the Government 2.0 Club, Gov 2.0 Camps are popping up across the country. These camps are free and open to the public, and are helping to connect citizens to government officials in a casual and engaging format. Organized by groups of community members from across many fields and experiences, each camp is unique to its geographic area.

Gov 2.0 Camp D.C. hosted close to 500 engaged campers, including policy and government folks, technologists, nonprofits, and government contractors. Gov 2.0 Camp Los Angeles was held in downtown L.A. last month with a focus on “work[ing] to make ‘Gov 2.0’ more accessible to the public, share advice, and solve common problems.” Now, we’ve just held Gov 2.0 Camp New England this past weekend at the Harvard Kennedy School, and we’re just hearing about Denver’s own Gov 2.0 Camp Rocky Mountains coming in June.

Gov 2.0 Camp New England was brainstormed one late night, as many good ideas are, with Yasmin Fodil (a masters student at Harvard Kennedy School), Sarah Bourne (Mass.Gov technology strategist), and yours truly, Laurel Ruma (Gov 2.0 Evangelist for O’Reilly Media). We pulled in our friends Rob Goodspeed, who’s finishing up a PhD in urban planning at MIT, and Jess Weiss, who works for Mass.Gov as a project and social media coordinator.

Gov 2.0 Expo 2010We were extraordinarily fortunate to have the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, as the primary sponsor and host for the event. As soon as the invitations went out, we were close to capacity (300 seats) within one week.

Although participants came from all backgrounds, we had a concentrated amount of representatives from local municipalities and universities. The “govies” included small-town city councilors like Karen Liot Hill (@NHKaren) from Lebanon, NH and representatives from the city of Boston, the state of Massachusetts, and various agencies.

Gov 2.0 Camp New England was not a strict unconference, but it featured six lightning talks from New England companies such as SeeClickFix and people who are bring Gov 2.0 to their agency, like Brad Blake, the director of new media from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s office. The 24 sessions were created by attendees on the spot and most were live streamed. (Videos will be posted here soon.)

For my part, I found the day very informative. Like most Foo/Bar camps, there was a minimum of boring, because the sessions represented the very real interests of the attendees, rather than a prepared set of talks pushing someone’s agenda.

The lightning talk from SeeClickFix was especially interesting, because it represents a concrete example of how open gov can provide greater citizen access to government functions, and also make the work of government employees more rewarding and efficient. I plan to interview the SeeClickFix folks for Radar in the near future.

The break-out sessions were the usual mix of high interest and niche topics, and the “vote with your feet” paradigm meant that no one got stuck listening to something they didn’t want to hear about. I attended sessions on mapping in open gov and on replacing the federal Pacer system with something more open. I also led a discussion on how the new media interacts with open gov. There was a nice mix of mid-to-high-level government representitives, as well as developers, graduate students, open gov advocates and private citizens.

Archived notes and links from Gov 2.0 Camp New England can be found here.

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