Camps: Lessons from the Pilot

Amy Sample Ward's picture

After a few years hosting a Global Conference in conjunction with our open innovation Challenge, we found that we had a room full of interesting, smart, excited changemakers. But, we also had a huge portion of our global community that couldn't be in the room. In the summer of 2010, we tried something different: NetSquared Camps, a pilot in regional events. Working with a small group of motivated NetSquared Local Organizers, we distributed all of the resources associated with organizing our annual conference. In this two-part post, we want to share some of what we learned in the Pilot this summer and get your feedback on what we could do next year.

Is Local the new Global?

As the NetSquared Local network grows (events currently happening in 79 cities and 25 countries) we continue to explore the potential of a distributed event model for organizing and community building.

Highlights from the Pilot

Throughout the 2010 Pilot, we shared thoughts, notes, and ideas in real-time with weekly blog posts in the Camps Notes tag. We also connected with the participating organizers to get their feedback, ideas and insights to help mold the program for next year. Some of what we learned from those organizers includes:

What worked:

  • Vetted participation: The NetSquared global network reaches tens of thousands of individuals. In order to vet participant engagement for trusted, community leaders we sought out pilot participants from Local organizers who already hosting monthly face-to-face events. We cast the call to the 135 volunteer organizers to join us for a Camp orientation call. A sub-set of about a dozen from the network joined us to discuss scope, roles and responsibilities and worked with us to develop a formal contract for the pilot. We plan to continue this process with our Local Organizer Network in the coming months, as organizers said it was easier to work in an environment and with people they already knew and trusted.
  • Resources: NetSquared team translated the lessons learned from organizing our annual conference in an easy-to-use format so that others could build on what we had already tried and tested. Specifically, all organizers had access to the planning guides, templates, examples, and files via an online handbook and we continued to developed additional resources as new needs emerged.
  • Accessibility: Our team remained accessible to organizers throughout the process, to ask hard questions, and address issues as they came up. Organizers had access to TSG staff via email to support Camp organizing efforts throughout the process, as well as well as weekly ‘coaching’ conference calls focused on addressing obstacles standing in the way of organizing the event. Coaching calls focused mostly on recruiting participants and volunteers, sponsorship and logistics.
  • Promotion: We created separate pages on the site for each Camp event and promoted events across our online (and offline) channels. Organizers confirmed the value and the attention this support provided and we plan to expand outreach efforts for Camp organizers in the year to come.

Where we can improve:

  • Unconference model: Some people attend unconference-style events all the time, and are comfortable with the format. Others, are less comfortable with a format that is more informal and demands participation in a way that traditional conferences do not. We’re still working on balancing the strengths of “unconference” model with its limitations. Strong facilitation, and a participatory culture where actors have a clear sense of (a) What they want to discuss (b) How to orient people around their work in an unconference-like setting. Moving forward, we’ll continue to integrate programmatic support to the unconference model in order to help organizers develop a framework for an agenda that maps to the local community’s expectations to be sure people at all levels of experience can participate.
  • Shared planning: Everyone works a little differently, so even with a shared planning process (developed via Basecamp and the wiki), we struggled with finding the sweet-spot in supporting organizers with enough structure to organize tasks and milestones in a way that harnessed the diversity of needs from organizers. Moving foward, our planning efforts will focus on activities at the “Milestone” level in order to simplify communications on the project, while making TSG staff avail to organizers interested in tapping expertise when and where they need it.
  • Language barriers: The NetSquared network reaches all around the world. To this end, we hope to tap into the knowledge of the community to translate documents and reuse for Camps organizers and participants beyond the English-speaking world.
  • Sponsorship: This is the area with the most opportunity for new partnerships and engagement both at the global (sponsors that support the program or all Camps events equally) and local (sponsors that support the event/s nearest to them) level. We are thankful to our sponsors, SAP and Blackbaud, who took a leap of faith in supporting the global program last year, and are eager to work with them and other companies and funders interested in community-driven models. More details to come regarding plans for 2011 shortly.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can review the Camps Pilot pages, check out the Camps Notes series, or stay tuned for part 2 with details about Camps 2011 later this week!