Sunday, April 11, 2010

What the Charette could do for BarCamp

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Yesterday I attended BarCampCLT III.  Again, an energizing experience.  Too bad I'm a city planner... all this web app development stuff is a bit far removed from my typical day-in and day-out.  I feel like I'm missing out in the real action in this city.  ...Nevertheless, I have a suggestion as a planner who deals quite often with community participation.  BarCamp, I think, needs to take advantage of all the latent talent in the room through participatory strategies that involve team-building and idea-generating. BarCamp needs to employ a Charette, an intense design and problem-solving session.  Charettes prove very useful in getting informed groups of stakeholders to propose novel solutions to problems while also steering them to share visions and create ownership in the project/solution/plan.

Here's my suggestion:

I think BarCampCLT should try out a "Start-Up" theme next time around. 

Keep the morning round of sessions the same, but for the second (afternoon round) have everyone in the room pitch ideas instead for start-up business concepts...perhaps based on what they heard in the morning sessions. These could be serious concepts or totally joke concepts.  Just as sessions are typically voted on, then, the actual start-up concepts compete right from the bat to become sessions. (An aside to my planner readers: We planners could also take a lot of great ideas from the BarCamp "unconference" participatory process. See also other related "unconference" approaches). The more successful ideas will then be able to attract an eclectic and informed and expert crowd of creatives to put their mileage on the start-up least for an hour and half or so.  Instead of having individuals lead session topics, let them instead hone their start-up management skills by leading the participants to outline a business plan and marketing strategy.

If the start-up session is well-attended, have the participants divide into smaller groups of 5-8 people so that everyone has a chance to participate and have those sub-sessions come up with their own approaches to the same concept.  (Alternatively, you can follow the Charette Procedure, but that would require a really adept organizer).  These sessions, easily, will be more convivial and interactive than your typical BarCamp session (except for those sessions that involve massage-therapy or D.I. von Briesen, of course).  Dedicate the last 20 minutes or so of a session to have the session participants practice their "live commercial" skits of the hypothetical product launch ...Face paint, "costumes" (made out of flip-chart paper), and-AHEM-balloons might come in handy here...(we all missed you Balloon Boy!!).

At the end,  have everyone gather to view the live-demos.  It would make for a fantastic conclusion to BarCamp that's for sure!  Which is what is TOTALLY missing in BarCampCLT.  I mean, ok, that post party was nice...but think what a beer party could be right after a total laugh-fest of a "concluding ceremony"!  (Again, live-demo commercial skits.  Enough said.)

Admittedly, the kernel of my Start-up Theme idea is totally stolen from Startup Weekend (one of the sessions I attended was about the lowdown on Startup Weekend)...only the "speed-dating" version of Startup Weekend.  Who knows if one start-up idea is serious enough to fly off the bat to become an actual start-up in hunt of an angel investor, but maybe in these interactions BarCampers will quickly discover the complementary minds and skill sets they need to actually create a formidable start-up team in real life.

NOTE: The important thing about a Charette session is that it has a time-limit.  You have to time it and announce the count-down. It should be an intense period of activity...particularly the last 5 minutes.  Like in Iron Chef, you have to wrap it up at the cut off, except, traditionally, the only alterations allowed in a Charette product are done "en-route" to the presentation/judging venue.  Unfortunately, planning "charettes" have lost the non-mechanical, intense spirit of their original conception over time, and now what planners call a "Charette" is a period lasting two or three days which often result in products that are often very polished, predetermined/formulaic that make their way into final deliverables ....I believe this approach to charetting is totally lacking the ("unconference", fly by the seat of the pants) spirit of a real Charette and, worse, often ends up leaving stakeholders suspiciously out of the actual decision-making process.  Charettes should not be an abbreviated stand-in for the planning process.


Jim Van Fleet said...


I think you should suggest this for how to Spend Barcamp's Money in the Optimist Park area.

This would have the benefit of potentially pulling in those from the community who weren't part of Barcamp in the process, as well as sounding great for pulling in multiple viewpoints.

Eric Orozco said...

Nice idea BigFleet! On it right now. You are totally right ...What does the community want/need should be part of the decision process. Doh!