With economic woes besieging local governments, among the last things cities are inclined to spend money on is sending employees to distant conferences. But the organizers of CityCamp are looking to help municipal public servants get to Chicago later this month by awarding $500 scholarships to four innovative city IT project leaders.
CityCamp, a so-called unconference hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation, takes place in the Windy City over the weekend of Jan. 23-24. An unconference is a relatively new description of an event that eschews high admission fees and industry-sponsored keynotes and sessions. Instead, unconferences are user-generated affairs that revolve largely around workshops and networking.
"The point of CityCamp is to get a dialogue going between city officials, people working in city government, and the civic hacker community or the transparency community or journalists or whoever is interested and get them all talking to each other," said Jennifer Pahlka, one of the creators of CityCamp and a director at Code for America, an organization that aims to leverage Web 2.0 technology to help cities out from economic turmoil.
CityCamp is the brainchild of Pahlka; Kevin Curry, chief scientist and co-founder of Bridgeborn, a Virginia Beach, Va., IT solutions company specializing in Extract, Transform, Load and Visualize (ETL-V) technology; and Pam Broviak, city engineer/assistant director of Public Works of Geneva, Ill. Having met at various government 2.0 and transparency conferences, the trio felt that local government IT was getting lost in the discussion.
"It was at a transparency camp at Google where a bunch of us with similar interests realized all this focus on the federal government is good, but what's really missing and where government really intersects people's lives on a daily basis, and especially where technology may intersect their lives, is locally," Curry said. After suggesting via Twitter that they develop an unconference for local government IT, CityCamp was born.
The problem was not in organizing the event. Sponsors like Microsoft, Socrata and iStrategyLabs are already on board. The challenge has been getting cash-strapped cities to send their technology innovators to the event.
The solution, at least in part, was pitched by government 2.0 pioneer Steve Ressler, founder of government social media juggernaut GovLoop. Ressler's prospering site afforded him the ability to dole out some funding to help get a few of the country's leading IT innovators to CityCamp. With matching funds from Code for America, a simple contest was devised to award four people $500 to attend.
"The idea is to have a fair way to give away the scholarship funds," Pahlka said. "It appears to be much harder for city officials to attend an event, especially an unconference. Most of our sponsorship money is going to go toward getting public servants to attend. This contest is a way to shine a spotlight on innovative projects and make some funding available to get public-sector attendees."
Submitting or nominating a project is easy, said Andrew Krzmarzick, community manager of GovLoop.
"Go to http://govloop.uservoice.com/pages/37190-citycamp-challenge. You don't even need to login or sign up. You just submit a person or project -- we're really seeking projects -- submit the project and a brief description. We encourage people to include a link so people can learn about it. This could be innovation happening in any way. Maybe there's some innovation related to performance management in government or something happening related to streamlining acquisition or procurement. Or some kind financial management activity that's saving thousands or millions of taxpayer dollars. We want to keep innovation applied as broadly as possible and see what we get."
Eligible candidates must be current U.S. public employees. Submission and voting is open until Jan. 9.