2 months ago (seems so long ago!) I had the pleasure of being invited to Cambridge to take part in a social-media driven civic engagement gathering called “Be the Change Cambridge” as their lead facilitator for the day. I’ve known Antony Carpen for several years now (both the man and the dragon fairy), first meeting in Cambridge back in April 2011 when I was speaking at an event about networked politics, which resulted in some plotting and scheming over alcoholic slush puppies in a bar near the conference venue instead of y’know, eating dinner and other things you should be doing on a school night.
I’ve been following the process of #changecamb for a while, originally I was meant to be in Cambridge for the first event prior to the independence referendum to run a workshop on community journalism, but as you can imagine, it was all a bit .. hectic … back then (all of 6 months ago!) – so when the event was rescheduled for March 2015, I was delighted I could attend and without my indyref hangover clouding my brain.
So after a 3.30am alarm call, a 5am taxi and a rather sleepy flight to Stansted, I was greeted outside (a very different) Cambridge train station by Ceri, who took me the scenic route to the venue via a lovely coffee shop to Anglia Ruskin University who had kindly donated space for the event to go ahead.
The event was designed as an ‘open space’ event where the participants are asked to come prepared with issues that they feel are important to the future of Cambridge, which they are then asked to pitch to the rest of the group. Each pitch lasts only 30 seconds, and then is added to the timetable within 45 and 90 minute slots. The event organisers had pre-prepared several of the workshop titles ahead of the event and invited some local experts to help facilitate the chat, mainly to ensure that some of the previous discussions from past events were addressed on the day. They also had the chance to give a 2-5 min pitch for the their event.
From this the event schedule was constructed and organised by participants around the available time-slots and locations, with each session being allocated a volunteer to minute and report back on the discussions through a final feedback session in the main lecture space.
For me, the open space aspect of the event meant that there could be space to discuss issues and topics that were brought to the event by those taking part, but provided enough structure to ensure that people weren’t left without guidance or momentum around the day. If anything, some wanted to carry on beyond the allotted times – which says a lot for a grassroots event happening on a Saturday afternoon.
You can find out more the Be the Change Cambridge event on their website, twitter account @BetheChangeCam and they have some great videos (like the one below, introducing the open space format) on Antony’s Vimeo channel. The photos from the event (and used in this post) were by Lucinda Price Photography, you can check out the full set here.