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Home / Resources / News / To camp or not to camp

To camp or not to camp

I’ve organised different types of events which bring people together to uncover issues, develop ideas and prototype solutions.

With such exotic titles as Visual CampCreative Campaigns DaysMake Your FestivalOutcome FestTranseuropa Festival and Transformed by You. I’ve taken part in many more! They were all designed to achieve different purposes and were all bound by usual constraints of space, time & money. They’ve incubated new ways of involving people and helped rethink how we interact with issues and solutions altogether.

I don’t want to use up this post to describe all the examples of where this events have produced social impact, but a project we’re just about to kick offwas born out of an innovation workshop we had at our festival.

There is never a perfect way of helping people come together to make sense of the issues and develop solutions to them that they can take forward. Different event formats work better in different circumstances and what I’ve tried to do is either really focus on one of those outcomes – i.e. making sense of the issues (Visual Camp) – or hacking different event formats into one (i.e. Creative Campaigns Days).

In thinking about an event I’m helping co-design, I thought I’d share my “thinking out load” on each of the event formats. It would be great to hear what other people’s experiences are!


Unconferences – of which the best I know are @ukgovcamp and @localgovcamp – are great at surfacing challenges and ideas that people in the room want to work on together, but they favour people who are confident enough to be in the spotlight to put forward their idea to people they don’t know. The following Storifys by @dosticen put thespotlight on this issue and how to tackle it head on.

Because of the time taken for people to get under the skin of the challenge and the intensity of thinking on the spot, the ideas developed often ignore existing evidence / initiatives on the issue/s they are trying to tackle.

It is also difficult to produce outputs that people not at the unconference can relate to and get involved in after the event. Visual Camp tackled this through the use of visualisizing, but it’s still difficult to pick up where someone else left off.

They also create the space for people to build teams, as except the person putting forward the idea, everyone is coming with equal status, while people can move to other teams if they feel they aren’t helping or getting value from the group they are in and can contribute more to another group.

What you can take from unconferences into hybrid formats:

  • Methods that enable people to respect and value each other’s insights and experiences enough that they can all shape the understanding of the challenge, which can then be translated into a brief that sets out the issues / problems to be tackled and the assets that can be mobilised to develop the solution.
  • Methods that play to different learning / communication styles in such a way that everyone feels comfortable and confident enough to contribute and influence the process and feel part of the team.
  • Methods that get people to want to take forward shared understanding developed at an unconference and develop them into solutions
Innovation camps

Innovation camps – of which the best I know are @sensecamp and @g00dfornothing – set challenges in advance, which gives people the time to identify what’s already been tried to tackle the issue and the lessons learnt, avoiding people reinventing the wheel.

There is a risk that by the innovation camp team describing the challenge, they don’t give the space for participants to contribute to what the challenge / issue actually is and therefore may feel less ownership over it.

Innovation camps are very good at helping people develop solutions to challenges – with varying levels of support provided to do this – whether through the methods used (design process with service jams) and prompts / inspirations (walking tours, masterclasses, mentoring), as well as the incentives of prizes / further support.

They will also set criteria to ensure that people develop solutions that produce specific outcomes (might be criteria specific to the challenge or criteria specific to the sustainability of the solution developed).

What they have in common with unconferences, is that the innovation camp is the end of the process and they sometimes lack the incentive and support to help people want to and be able to take forward the outcomes of the event. However, Made in Lambeth has created regular meetups to tackle this.

What you can take from innovation camps into hybrid formats:

  • Methods that enable people to help shape challenge in advance – both online & face to face
  • Methods that enable people to describe what support they’d like on the day and after the event
  • Methods that enable teams to select what support they want on the day, but also to be challenged to think differently
  • Methods where stakeholders set criteria for how solutions to challenges should be assessed
Pow Wows / Visual Camp

Due to the recognised importance of needing to bring people together to make sense of the challenge and build a shared understanding of the issue to be tackled, which can be taken forward to be developed into solutions to these, programmes have been developed that link the two.

Pow Wows created by @geovation start with a challenge and then invite key stakeholders to bring their insights and experiences to flesh out the challenge into a brief that can be given to people to come up with ideas and develop solutions.

These events will attract people that are more interested in getting to the bottom of the problem before developing ideas or even services.

Many of these events focus very much on people analysing the issues, but less so on enable people to relate to the issues in an emotional way. But there are events which dofocus on empathy.

What you can take from innovation camps into hybrid formats:

Methods that bring together people to shape the challenge brief – through face to face and online interaction – as well as the use of different forms of content – combining data and stories – and text, audio, visual formats

Accelerators / Incubator

Accelerators – like @hublaunchpad or @campaigncamp – provide a structured process over a dedicated period of time which gives people the space and time to go through the process from understanding the issue to developing the solution through to working out how to sustain it. Festivals – like the Transeuropa Festival – also try to achieve this – in a more immersive way – albeit over a shorter time.

It also creates the space and time for people to find themselves and build their teams to the point of wanting to invest their own money with other people in a service which they are not the only people to have control over.

Accelerators benefit from having the physical space, support team and time to be able to not only include the different ways of helping people develop solutions to challenges and build teams, but also to iterate in response to the needs of the people taking part.

They also will have the investment to be able to seed fund people during the process and select within that pool services that can scale (which often attracts external investors to those services).

Due to the investment needed to resource accelerators, they can only support a minority of people involved in wanting to tackle an issue and require significant investment to resource.

Be great to hear your experiences of taking part or organising these different event formats, and even better hybrid formats! 

…And watch out for a forthcoming Found Camp, whatever event format/s we use

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