Vancouver Change Camp Where Web 2.0 Meets Politics
A Face to Face between Geeks & Government
From the VanChangeCamp website; "Vancouver ChangeCamp is a participatory web-enabled face-to-face event that brings together citizens, technologists, designers, academics, social entrepreneurs, policy wonks, political players, change-makers and government employees.
The event is a partly structured unconference. One track of the conference will introduce the kinds of projects that harness new ideas and tools for social change. Other tracks at the conference will be participant-driven, with the agenda created collaboratively at the start of the event, allowing participants to share their experiences and expertise."
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson popped into an afternoon session of VanChangeCamp and did a short bit for the crowd in support of the event, and I commend him, but it's too bad he didn't participate throughout the day more actively – hopefully next time. Click his name above and watch a short video of the mayor explaining how important it is for "unaccredited" journalists to (his words) leverage Olympic momentum during 2010 next year. You might not realize it, but anyone who blogs, Twitters, etc., is a potential unaccredited 2010 Olympic journalist and it was historic for a Host city mayor to acknowledge it publicly.
I was also impressed with the number of government employees who did attend and contributed to sessions. Kudos to VanChangeCamp organizers for enticing people who work in government to participate in a public gathering that had potential to turn into a public stoning of government employees. Fortunately, no government employees were hurt in the making of this movie. On the contrary, I'm pretty sure a few were healed.
Before I address further who attended, and what was said, let’s take a quick look at who was missing. Considering that small and midsize companies make up 98% of the Metro Vancouver landscape, it would have been great to have more non-tech business people attending who were representative of this group. A recurring theme in sessions I attended was that big corporations fund politicians, which consequently fosters an element of bias and even corruption.
If small and midsize business had more involvement in politics in general, and in sessions like VanChangeCamp, it would inherently counterbalance the influence large companies wield.
The other rather obvious missing group was mainstream news media, but if you know how they operate it's no wonder they didn't file follow up reports. Announcing the event as a public service is much different than reporting about it. I did another search a week after the event to see if local mainstream journalists did a story, but came up empty. If you know of anyone please let me know. You can do so in the COMMENT section at the bottom of this page, or send me a direct message.
Unconferences like VanChangeCamp are threatening because a free flow of information challenges mainstream news media's monopoly. If citizens do their job in the political arena what's left for them? Real estate? It was a good story left unreported, and if you are smart, you'll ask why?
Now, on to who was there, and a bit about their contributions.
Larry Colero deserves special mention for being so sensitive and proactive regarding issues that might upset the VanChangeCamp applecart. When I initially registered for the unconference I used the word “radical” in my description on the VanChangeCamp website to describe why I was interested in participating in this event, and within a day Larry called to carefully feel me out to see if I was a “radical” anti-Olympic protester. I assured him I am not, and that radical referred to radical change, not process. Everyone who knows me knows I am Pro-Olympic and actually “anti (traditional) protest.”
Civil disobedience / street protest do not work in and of itself to affect change. Granted, protest does attract attention, but attracting attention and actually influencing change are far apart on the results scale. If protest did work, we would have happier people and more stable governments. In this era, the best tool we have to drive change is to tell the truth, and to do it in public, online - with your name attached to it. Basically, follow the money and quit cooperating with corrupt government, either abroad, or at home.
In the contemporary world of protest, social media is the new Molotov cocktail. Look to Iran for proof where much is being accomplished using social media to bring global attention to their plight. Iran engaged the world by “outing” their government using blogs and Twitter when the Iranian government shut down normal forms of communication.
Ironically, shutting down mainstream news media backfired, because it demonstrated to the world how easy it now is to SocMed the Truth.
A similar event occurred in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics when the Chinese communist regime also tried to censure news regarding atrocities against Tibetans. Average people whipped their phone cams out and sent the IOC a message that collusion with the CCR wouldn't work. Truth, like water, flows downhill and wants to be free. Governments, whether politicians or civil servants have lost the monopoly to manage the message.
It was illuminating during VanChangeCamp sessions to hear government employees ask that participants cut them some slack, and not heap all the ills of government on the shoulders of "civil servants." They feel that too many people criticize them already, and the slights are taking a toll. On one hand they obviously want to participate in an endeavor like VanChangeCamp to help improve the relationship between people and government, but they were quite clear they would not sit back and listen to participants in the sessions criticize them unfairly.
Most would agree that the public would be less hostile to civil servants if they had a better track record for “whistle blowing” when they saw something unfolding that wasn’t ethical, and that harmed our community.
Many civil servants articulated, and rightly so, that like everyone else they were little more than cogs caught in the system. They said, “many times we see problems, but we are not in a position to make changes due to bureaucratic stonewalling by bosses.” Welcome to the real world kids. Everyone in every company and organizations has this exact same challenge. Some handle it more ethically than others.
Many mainstream news journalists complain the same way, but instead of acting responsibly when they feel pressure to report in a manner they feel is unethical, they often toe the company line to protect their career and livelihood, and basically look the other way. Mainstream news media helped George W. Bush sell the "weapons of mass destruction" myth, for which we are all eternally grateful. War debt soon turned into recession.
Newspapers are going bankrupt at a steady rate with no end in site, and it's basically a result of two issues; the advertising model has imploded, and people lost trust in mainstream news media. The moral to this dilemma for civil servants is to “be brave, and when you see something wrong bring it out into the open,” because if you don’t and you continue to tacitly support corruption you add to the problem, not the solution.
Today, if you don’t fix it, the public will do it for you. Average people now have a strong voice through social media, and they are using it to do your job. If you don’t become more holistically ethical and get with the Web 2.0 program you will suffer the consequences. For some, VanChangeCamp was a wake up call when it was brought to the attention of participants that ironically, “civic employees” are complaining about something they help create and perpetuate.
Transparency and accountability go hand in hand
and are central to playing in an “open” environment.
Technologists (Geeks) often fail to recognize and sometimes ignore completely the "side effects" of Web 2.0. I heard a few tech-types complaining they can't understand why politicians and executives don't embrace more eagerly Web 2.0 and unconferences like VancChangeCamp.
They're oblivious that many companies do many things that are less than ethical and harm our community, and any application that makes it easier for the public to see it, will get buried - indefinitely. Ethics courses should be MANDATORY throughout the entire educational system.
Transparency is not welcome in many companies and organizations, and those that do embrace Web 2.0 it often do so tentatively.
It was heartening to witness government employees admit their frustrations, but unfortunately non-gov participants tried to take advantage of this vulnerability. With this in mind I have a suggestion to help civil servants move towards a more positive model. First, they, and we, should quit referring to you as "civil servants."
We all know you're not servants. It was a backhanded condescending term coined in the day to fool a naive public into thinking government was actually working in an “unbiased” manner to improve our communities. Granted, that is the expected roll of government, but we all know it hasn't played out in this fashion. How do we know? Well for starters many people during the event, and on both sides of the fence talked about how government wasn’t working as expected, or needed.
The official central theme of VanChangeCamp was, “How can we help government become more open and responsive?” and, “How can we as citizens organize better outcomes, ourselves?” I also participated in a session entitled, “What is the new role of government?” and co-led a session that addressed issues of accountability and transparency.
It’s naive for VanChangeCamp organizers and participants to think government will become more open and forthcoming on their own, but I do applaud them for putting faith in the belief that you usually get better results with honey. In this case however, and from personal experience, I’m not convinced government will move too quickly, if at all without "truth serum incentive," but it is a start and I was excited to be a part of it.
Here’s a big take-away for me;Instead of referring to politicians and government employees as "servants," we need to start thinking of them as "facilitators," as in, “people elected, appointed and hired to move the needs and expectations of the masses to fruition.”
At one session we discussed that social media could become a tool to collect information, and just as importantly a tool to monitor how our governments use the information, and to do it in an “open” concept with transparency being the rule, not the exception.
Facilitator has a positive connotation, and in most cases is more accurate than servant, especially in this blog/twitter era where average people can go online and comment to thousands of people about their interpretation of the job government is doing.
It was also interesting to see political science students and experienced political practitioners participating side by side. Some participants are relatively fresh out of school, and have not yet become jaded by the frustrations of actually working for a municipal, provincial, or federal government. They injected enthusiasm and fresh thinking into the conversation, so much so that many times I caught senior politicos rolling their eyes in a “just you wait” fashion. Talk about a buzz kill.
Many people impressed me in the ramp up and during the event. One was Lisa Mighton who was quick to help me figure out how to add information to the Wiki. Another person was Amelia Loye, a young woman full of optimism and ideas who brought a fresh way of thinking to the discussion. She's from Australia and as a result can more easily see some of the challenges we have in Vancouver. Many Vancouverites have become so acclimatized to substandard mainstream news media reporting and government corruption they are complacent.
Interestingly, a couple of people who recently moved here from Ontario had the same “fresh eyes” and also brought suggestions to the table worth considering. They too have not yet been blinded or unduly influenced by our biased local news media, and can more easily see that something is fundamentally wrong in BC.
Corruption was addressed in a couple of sessions I attended, and this time when the issue was broached, as opposed to times in the past when I or others brought it up for discussion, no one disagreed it is a serious issue. It seems people who at one time were stridently protectionist, are now beginning to recognize we have a special problem in BC.
Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega, originally from Mexico, but now living in Vancouver, even used the words "corruption, Mexico, and Vancouver" in the same sentence, although he was careful to say he was NOT making a direct comparison. He did infer jokingly however, that Mexico could even be less corrupt than BC. He’s a smart, sensitive guy, and it was a nice way of saying “algo apesta en el paraíso, a fin de despertar la gente” - “something stinks in paradise, so wake up people.”
I’m more pragmatic, so let me expand on the good doctor’s sentiment - Vancouver and BC are little more than one rung below Mexico on the corruption scale. Don’t believe the fluff in the Economist that Vancouver is the most livable city in the world. Granted, Vancouver is visually stunning, nestled between the mountains and the Pacific, and it is certainly very livable for the wealthy who can afford gated estates and bulletproof vehicles, but average and marginalized people are experiencing undue stress in our region every day, and the recession is only partly to blame.
Each time a shiny Escalade with tinted windows rolls by I look to see if a phalanx of hit men are circling and preparing to shoot up the now iconic “Black SUV.” It’s unsettling. Here’s a story I reported in 2007 about a gang hit that occurred only one block from my home. The alleged, and still unknown hit men dumped their vehicle, an SUV btw, in front of my house less than a minute after they blasted gunshots through the windows of Quatro, a high end restaurant on 4th in Kitsilano, a burb of Vancouver.
Per capita, corruption is more prevalent in Metro Vancouver than anywhere else in Canada. The illegal drug trade in BC employs a conservatively estimated 110,000 people and generates $5 billion in revenue annually. No other province comes even close. We also have a frequency of gang slayings that, per capita, rival the violence in Mexico. Gangbangers tied to the drug industry here kill half a dozen people at a time and don’t hesitate taking out innocent bystanders in the process.
Politicians, law enforcement, and local news media only made a serious issue of our illegal drug industry when they realized the world would be peering into our living rooms during the 2010 Olympics. It's not a coincidence that as soon as police put pressure on drug gangs and tried to clean up our region in a rush that all hell broke loose. Local mainstream news media, who are official Olympic partners and well paid by the IOC to tell the Olympic side of the Olympic story, looked the other way for decades while the illegal drug industry grew unchallenged. Not only is it unethical, it breeds corruption. If it were not for citizen journalists putting pressure on local mainstream news media, we would still be sweeping much of the criminality that occurs in BC under the proverbial rug. Thankfully, we now have Twitter to add to the blog arsenal.
For the first time in history, and because social media has recently grown to such epic proportion, average people in our 2010 Olympic Host region have a unique and incredible opportunity to bring issues that harm our community to the world stage, and force not only the IOC to manage their business more ethically and treat Olympic Host regions with more respect, but to also allow frustrated government employees an opportunity to speak out and make radical change in how we govern ourselves.
The 2010 spotlight has been shining brightly on our region for many months. Take advantage of it and leverage Olympic momentum. Once the 2010 torch is extinguished, the IOC’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will be snuffed out in Vancouver and move to London and elsewhere.
Keep in mind all three levels of our government, municipal, provincial, and federal are Olympic partners, and that they are extremely nervous average citizens have control of the Web 2.0 reins while the world crosses our threshold for 2010. It seems the only people who don't recognize the power they wield yet, are average citizens, but in a few months and for the first time in history it will become very apparent.
Let’s not allow Vancouver’s 2010 legacy to be one of government mismanagement and corruption, but instead a legacy recognized for making fundamental changes that better our community over both the short and long term.
Be brave and speak out online, and do it in a measured respectful tone.
And the next time VanChangeCamp rolls around, participate!
The video below was taped two days
before the Beijing 2008 Olympics. It becomes even more relevant each passing day.
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Own the Podium?
The official creed (guiding principle) of the Olympics is a quote by the
founding father of the modern day Games Baron de Coubertin. He said, "The
most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part,
just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.
The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
The Olympic motto consists of three Latin words Citius, Altius, Fortius,
which means, "Swifter, Higher, Stronger." The 1924 motto is meant to encourage
athletes to embrace the Olympic spirit and perform to the best of their
No where does it imply that winning the most gold medals for your country
is part of the agenda. In fact it implies exactly the opposite.
The IOC maintains that it doesn't actively encourage countries to collectively
win the most gold medals, but on the other hand they also don't institute
anything to ensure that the Games are not turned into corporate money
In fact, IOC sponsorship and partnership business models encourage a win-at-all-costs
mentality. It is the reason they have doping, fraud and bribery scandals.
The IOC invites young people to compete in the Olympics using the original
Creed & Motto. But when it comes to delivering on the promise they
fall incredibly short.
The Olympics today isn't as much about sport as it is about money and
Priorities changed over the years and so too should their Creed &
If athletes go for the gold, and the IOC goes for the gold, and corporate
sponsors go for the gold, and governments go for the gold, and considering
that you will have to foot the bill for their gold, why should
you be edged out of the race?
Move to the starting line.
Own the Podium?
Own Your Home?
Real journalism consists of
what someone doesn't want published,
all the rest is public relations." George Orwell