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The Gov 2.0 Camp LA Drama: Lessons for Community

Community events have become very common these days. Ever since the days of the first BarCamp – an unconference event that caters mainly to developers and techheads and is organized around attendees picking time slots to speak in on the day of the event – and transitioning to other similar style events,  like PodCamp, WordCamp, and now Gov 2.0 Camp, these events have become a catalyst for grassroots movement in the areas they focus in.

As a WordPress guy, my roots are with the WordCamp events that are held around the country. I just got back from WordCamp NYC 2 and we’ll be announcing details on WordCamp Mid-Atlantic 2010 around the new year. I’ve been to a ton of these kinds of events. I flew to Boston for PodCamp Boston 2, attended the inaugural PodCamp Philly a few years ago (still the best of its kind, in my opinion) and been involved with a variety of other events like it.

One thing I can say is that through a variety of events, in a variety of communities, with a variety of organizers… the same consistent lessons about community always shine through. If you have a motivated community that is supported by each other and encouraging each other to champion on and grow; if there is a sense of collaboration and alliance; then and only then, the greater community of artists, developers, innovators, business owners, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts can thrive.

To this end, I’m disappointed by the negative turn that has been aroused around the Gov 2.0 Camp LA.

Picture A Day September 13, 2009 - Heaven Community Rules

Mark Drapeau, referred to commonly as @cheeky_geeky, has been the target of many blog posts around the ether including on this blog. He comes out swinging hard at Gov 2.0 Camp LA for no apparent reason that is suitable or conducive to growing community:

My opinion can be briefly summarized as the following: I think it’s thrown together. I think it’s careless. I think it’s Mickey Mouse. I cannot figure out what the objective is beyond getting a bunch of hyped up people together in one place to drink kool-aid, despite seeming to promise the opposite. I see blanket statements and marketing slogans, but very little original thought. I see remarkably little tie-in with the mainstream conversation about what Government 2.0 means philosophically, experimentally, and practically. I don’t believe the word “policy” is even mentioned in the blog post above that describes the event – how can you describe a Gov 2.0 event and not mention policy? When what the conference stands for is dissected, it is difficult to determine how anything will be advanced by it, or how it will truly differ from numerous other mundane events sprouting up around this hot topic.

I understand Mark is passionate about Government 2.0. He wears that mantle very publicly and seems to, after a regression into a fairly normal existence in the greater community, rear his head again to slap down a localized community event suited for the LA government community, not DC.

A major problem here is that community is not built through attack. Through this entire article, he seems to be on the defensive in what can only be described as a territorial fear for the loss of stature. Or perhaps, it’s his affiliation with the O’Reilly Media folks who put on a competing event. Either way, Mark’s position in the Government 2.0 community is perceived to be threatened here. There can be no other explanation for the vitriol that goes into the intentional effort to relegate another Gov 2.0 community event into a vilified event. Is there a blacklist that future events can sign onto in advance?

Instead of attacking, which is apparently the modus operandi in this particular fight, let me offer some constructive criticism from my experience as a community event organizer. Mark, since this will undoubtedly appear in front of your face, let me go on record and say that you have publicly asked for people to respond to your comments and not ad hominem. I cannot do that because I can’t speak with any authority on your comments. I can speak with authority on community and community events, though, and that is what I will do.

  • Local events are local events. Unless there is a foundation or organization of some sort, as is the case with Social Media Club, that dictates formats and expectation, leave the local event to the local organizer.
  • The local organizers know their communities better than you ever will.
  • Local events are meant to be local. Not national. Not international. If you want national or international, throw a full conference, not an unconference.
  • Lead by example. If you want your event to be the model for other events, then make sure the public face on the event is approachable and well-liked. It’s not a popularity contest, but people shy away from polarizing people. Like me, trust me.
  • Yield the floor to any competing views or events. What’s good for the Gov 2 community somewhere is probably good elsewhere. It may not be what we need in DC, but maybe it’s exactly what is needed in LA.
  • Support other organizers. Don’t shoot allies. You may need them at some point.
  • The coworking communities of Independents Hall in Philly, New Work City in NY, Citizen Space in San Francisco and the Beehive in Baltimore all thrive because, as communities, they all recognize that they feed each other and are built in that way. What one person lacks, someone else brings to the table. Innovation and collaboration birthed out of working together.

Now that I have criticized (hopefully constructively) Mark’s reaction, it is only fair that I make some (hopefully constructive) observations about the Gov 2.0 Camp LA effort. First, they do seem to take the approach that G2CLA is the same event as G2CDC and that it is just “going on the road”. This is not the case. They are two different events. Fix this and remove any question. The LA event is the LA event. The DC event is the DC event.

Secondly, stop posturing against G2CDC. As mentioned above, the two events are connected in that they are both catering to government professionals and contractors as well as vendors and others looking to revolutionize the government interaction with citizens. This should not be toned in an us and them (LA vs DC) framework. LA should take what makes sense from DC and put their own spin on it. Leave what doesn’t make sense.

If I were the LA organizers, I’d keep the whole event tightly focused on state and local politics – specifically California and southern California. Additionally, with no offense intended toward whoever designed the official site, it needs work including schedule, sessions, etc. We will not go live with WordCamp Mid-Atlantic’s new site until we’re good and ready for it.

Community is only as good as the participants in it. Pissing on fire hydrants and shelling people based on personalities? Not so much.

Photo taken by Matt High

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