Thoughts on a Successful CityCampSF (Industry Perspective)

On Saturday, Jan. 10, more than 200 people arrived at the Code for America headquarters to share and take action for a better San Francisco.

by Lawrence Grodeska / January 29, 2015

On Saturday, Jan. 10, more than 200 bright, shiny citizens showed up at the Code for America headquarters to share, listen and take action for a better San Francisco. In this alone, CityCampSF 2015 produced by CivicMakers was an unqualified success. But more so, as one of the event organizers, I was struck by the beauty of what emerges when a group of passionate people come together to talk about what is most important to them. Here are a few highlights from the day, and don’t forget to check out some photographic evidence.

The creative energy was palpable as CityCampSF kicked off with bagels and coffee. A straw poll revealed that attendees broke down into equal parts public, private, and nonprofit sectors, as well as an equal contingent of cross-sector folks.
After a welcoming remarks from myself and Scott Mauvais from event sponsor Microsoft, we launched into a series of inspiring talks from change-makers at the city and county of San Francisco. During the opening panel hosted by GovFresh founder Luke Fretwell, San Francisco Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath praised the work of this new class of “intrapreneurs.” Chief Data Officer Joy Bonaguro’s comment that “tools that aren’t [user] friendly are another form of disenfranchisement” exemplifies the ethos of the pioneering innovation work afoot at San Francisco City Hall.
Supervisor Mark Farrell spoke next about his efforts to bridge the digital divide, noting that 12 percent of San Franciscans don’t have home Internet service. Because of the increasing utility and predominance of Internet services in our lives, Farrell said Internet access should be an economic right. He also shared the ReimagineSF Challenge that awarded a $1,000 scholarship to five Bay Area students who had the best ideas for improving San Francisco’s legal code.
Kristin Hogan and Francis Zamora from the S.F. Department of Emergency Management highlighted their excellent work using tech for socially aware disaster preparedness at  Fun Fact: we learned that you really don’t need an earthquake kit, just extra supplies, inventoried and organized at home where you can find them.
Joaquín Torres, deputy director at the S.F. Office of Economic and Workforce Development, closed the morning talks with Dan Parham, founder of Neighborland, to talk about community development and the recent community activation at UN Plaza. “The city is always talking to us,” Torres noted, and Central Market is the lead actor in the play of San Francisco. Parham left us with the sage advice that “you can’t buy buy-in from a community, but you can build it within a community.”
Then the fun began! The room was quickly transformed from theater-style seats to an open floor plan, and CityCampers clustered around the “connection corner” for an informal meet and greet, as well as the “unconference” agenda board to start planning the afternoon. Watching the session board being built was fascinating to watch unfold, as scores of ideas were shared, merged, rearranged and finalized into nearly 30 sessions across three time slots. It was a job well done; participants really earned their lunch break of delicious banh mi sandwiches.
There is really too much to recount from the afternoon of unconferencing. The sessions ran the gamut from universal childcare to 3D printing, and the conversations were spirited, as evidenced in the notes from the unconference posted on Etherpad. Better yet, the sessions were productive. I’ve heard that at least three of the groups have planned additional meetings, including #civicfunsquad and reactivation villages.
The day ended with a closing circle for attendees to report back on the major takeaways from the unconference sessions, followed by beer, wine and appetizers during the CityCampSF closing party, sponsored by Twilio. Now would be a good time to say thank you once again to our platinum sponsors Microsoft and Code for San Francisco.
All told, CityCampSF was a fun and productive day of community and action for a better San Francisco. It was a true honor for CivicMakers to host such an inspiring group of citizens from all corners of our City by the Bay. We’re proud to be producing events like CityCampSF that bring together passionate citizens looking for solutions, and we’re ready do it again! Stay tuned for more civic tech goodness in the coming months.
Lawrence Grodeska co-founded the democracy and technology community CivicMakers and is a product manager at Accela. He formerly was affiliated with and the San Francisco government. He can be reached at
This story was originally published by TechWire
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