This is one of several posts about the first CityCamp London. I am writing about my views and thoughts about the event rather than reporting the fine details of the event. The CityCamp London site gives more detail about the speakers and the presentations, and has links to other blog posts about and video of it.
Day 2 Participate
I had never been to the Brick Lane area in London before and was looking forward to it. I did not even have a clear image in my head of what it looked like. I knew it is or has been a place where bagels were made 24 hours a day because glossy magazines recommended it as a place to get food on one’s way home from clubbing. In the past, I had ordered oil paints with wonderful names from an art shop with a Brick Lane address.
When I got there, I found there that the street was narrower and the buildings mostly lower than even my vague mental image. There was a scruffiness and human scale to the place. I loved the ‘quirky-designer-meets-former-industrial-space’ interior of the Lost Boys International place where we met, although some of it made me smile with its consciously hip, zany eclecticism. The snarling badgers looking down on anyone who dared to sit on the seats below them were a little creepy.
The building layout contributed to how the discussions worked. People gathered in small groups in the larger space downstairs, or some sat on their own for a while as they worked on their laptops. It began to feel like a natural home for our sort of people (the have-laptop-or-smaller-wifi-device, will-work-wherever crew). My work had involved going out into the field (often literally into fields) from when I first had a proper job so I am used to working al fresco.
I loved the play elements of this space, designed to encourage creative thinking. If I had not been ill (and trying to avoid passing on my germs to others), I would have loved to make things with the special Lego, and Plasticine. The idea of making something physical whilst talking was an excellent idea. I would like a creative unconference/workshop/camp/thing where we collaborate to make physical things while discussing issues. I photographed the Lego group several times during the day and noticed that people found it irresistible to stop and watch, and to talk to those sitting and making.
Maybe we should find sponsorship to buy sets of this special Lego for every local authority in the land? Maybe there would be rapid prototyping of service design if they had the special grown ups’ Lego to help them work things out in a more physical way?
I drifted in and out of the various sessions. I tried to participate a little in a discussion about politicians using social media. Some of the people talking seemed not to understand how many politicians had not understood that the social web is not about simply broadcasting messages to an audience; nor about the very basic elements of good, accessible website design. My voice was physically not strong enough, however, to be heard amongst the much louder male voices in such a lively debate.
I am not that shy about joining in lively discussions – even rigorous debate – and worked for years in a predominantly male environment, but I find this ‘shouting up’ approach in unconferences quite difficult. Other women have told me that they also find it intimidating, especially when it comes to suggesting sessions at the beginning of the day. I am sure that some men also find it a bit daunting. However, there is more of a cultural difference between how women and men are trained to behave from early childhood, Also, many women’s voices simply are not as loud as most men’s. I wish I had a magic answer to this problem. The informality of the unconference is great, but I think that the quieter people do not get heard or are nervous about trying to be heard in larger group sessions. We could be losing out by having only part of the group participating actively in the debate.
CityCamp London did offer an alternative to the bear-pit of debate in sessions (and the bears were very civilised), of course. The space we were in was not just arranged in such a way as to facilitate small groups but also provided sufficient conversation starters. Having help-yourself coffee and tea on tap all day and in a relatively confined space meant that the unfailingly polite people offered to pour for the person behind them or exchanged information about how much coffee was left etc. The snarling badgers, the old radio, the serious Lego all provided even the shyer people with easy conversation openers. FutureGov had made a brilliant choice of venue. It would have taken a lot of effort not to participate in Day 2 of CityCamp London.
If you have reached this post without having seen the posts to which it connects, the others are:
CityCamp London (blog post that provides links to my posts and Flickr sets of photographs of the whole event)
CityCamp London – Prelude (introduction)
CityCamp London – Stimulate (Day 1)
CityCamp London – Collaborate (Day 3) – yet to be published