Try to imagine 133 activists, campaigners and techies coming together in one place for 7 days. Imagine this event had been in the making for 6 years (six months preparation) and was organised by a small group of people based in Brighton, England and Bangalore, India and known as the Tactical Tech Collective! (TTC) with the added assistance of Allan Gunn (Gunner) of Aspirations. What do you imagine would take place? What would be the outcomes?
I was fortunate to have been one of the 133 people privileged to have been selected to help with facilitating as well as participate in this ground breaking experience — InfoActive Camp 2009 (IAC2009 — the “Camp”).
A week has passed since we all de camped and said our emotional but uplifting goodbyes with promises to keep connected. Normally I would take many of those promises with a pinch of salt but in this case I suspect many informal networks and groups will be borne out of the friendships and solidarities that were built over the 11 days (including 4 days of pre-camp facilitator sessions). Such was the careful planning that even here TTC had thought ahead by providing a board with everyone’s name, location and affiliation. Envelopes and colour coded string meant we could connect to each other and leave personal messages to those we wanted to particularly stay in touch with.
What follows are some reflections based on both my own personal experience and discussions with some participants after the Camp.
The location chosen by TTC, Green Valley, was some 50 kilometres outside Bangalore. A complex with a huge amount of land, about 15 cottages and main building with rooms of varying sizes, a swimming pool, tennis and basketball facilities. Sounds wonderful but in fact the place was pretty drab and looked as if it had been empty for years. Within four days TTC had transformed Green Valley into Happy InfoCamp in what I can only describe as a cross between a “hippie” chill out space, a high tech zone and an offline digital activist network. Special tents had been commissioned to supplement the cottages as well as small one and two persons tents. Bright red and white mattresses, cushions and fabric were spread in the session rooms, around the pool and just about anywhere where there was space. The welcome message gave us all only a very slight taster of what was to come…..
Over the next eight days we will do everything we possibly can to make sure that you feel at home, relaxed, inspired, challenged and invigorated at all times (Perhaps not all at once though) If you did not already know it this is a big moment for us. You might not believe it but we have been thinking deeply about this camp for nearly six years…….. [but] six months preparation
The reality was far more exciting with an amazing attention to detail taken by TTC in gelling us altogether. This took place through the Morning Circle, led by Camp Aspiration/Inspiration Guru, Allan — Gunner — Gunn and was a kind of daily affirmation which could get a bit over zealous but still necessary part of this gathering; a Camp booklet which included highly detailed demographic breakdown of participants as well as a “who is doing what” chart — again design and detail were of essence; a daily news sheet; Camp blog; a small shop for necessities and goodies; Turkish tea and Flossophy; a nightly bar for conversations and solidarity building on everything imaginable; a free day with a selection of outings; entertainment — live bands, performances, a bazaar and two film nights across three screens; video and photographic documenting of the Camp events. With all this going on you may be beginning to wonder when the actual work of the camp took place! The aims as described in the Camp booklet explain the importance of all of the above mentioned activities as supporting the InfoActive sessions and participatory model of the Camp….
Bring together established advocates, experienced technologist and designers. Its aim is to provide an environment where they can all build relationships, exchange knowledge and develop strategies, partnerships and skills
So what is InfoActivism? Here are some of the meanings we all came up with:
These two diagrams express both InfoActivism and the essence of the Camp – its purpose and the outcomes of EVERYTHING which took place. It would be hard to separate what one might describe as the formal ie the sessions and the informal ie everything else that took place as really they where all part of the event and the process. The sessions were organised around 7 broad thematic areas: Strategy – Publishing — Video — Mobile phones — Security — Collaboration and Cooperation — Data Acquisition and Visualization and Storytelling and were designed to begin from the macro “introductory” level moving along as the week progressed to the micro level. In addition to the three sessions per day, there were user demand driven “lab” sessions every evening. The great thing about the “lab” sessions was that anyone could hold a lab and though there was no limit on the number of participants they tended to be small groups and often one to one sessions. One of the problems with the huge choice of sessions offered was deciding on a “route” or direction to take and for some this really never came together.
It would have been helpful though difficult to provide participants with a more pre camp information on sessions and their content. However even if one felt a bit lost sometimes I cannot imagine there was anyone who did not gain from the weeks experience. A little more reflection time would have helped consolidate the sessions during the camp. Nonetheless, the organisers went out of their way as much as possible to meet the needs of participants even if this meant repeating a session or providing a lab. After a week of reflection I am beginning to really appreciate what I gained both as a participator and a facilitator and from just talking to fellow campers. The labs, both ones I was able to offer and ones I chose to attend were particularly useful and enjoyable.
It will take while for me to process all the knowledge and skills I acquired over the 10 days and then to actually begin to put these into practice in my work and campaigns I am involved with. I feel the process is beginning and more than anything I am left with the excitement of being part of a huge support and learning network as well as the urge to pass on to others what I have learned. I want to express my thanks to Tactical Tech for inviting me to participate and to all those amazing InfoActivists I was privileged to meet and exchange experiences and knowledge.
More camp photos here