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Congress Camp 2009: Recap

As promised, here is my report on the first-ever U.S. Congress Camp. The event was an unconference held in Washington, DC on September 12-13, 2009. Participants were from the civic hacking community, advocacy software companies, advocacy groups, gov 2.0 crowd, academia (public policy), and social media start-ups, with a sprinkling from congressional offices, and one or more from big tech and and other walks of life.

The announced focus of Congress Camp was citizen-Congress communications, although topics related to congressional content in general came up. (See more on the communications topic from the recent CRS report on use of Twitter by Congress.)

You can read and hear about Congress Camp on the web. See:

Congressional staffers participating in Congress Camp were interested in moving forward but provided much-needed reality checks for the tech crowd: congressional offices have outdated hardware and software; they are already swamped with email that is not from their district or can’t be authenticated; they get email that their constituents didn’t even know they sent (automatically generated when they clicked on something unrelated but tempting); in some districts most or many constituents do not even have ready access to the Internet; etc. In spite of these obstacles, some congressional offices are already applying a 2.0 approach. For examples, see the case studies section of this Embracing Gov 2.0 post on the Cangress Camp blog.

Some camp participants seemed to be much more familiar with tech than Congress, or with the political side rather than the governing side. No doubt they learned much in two days of dialogue. Gov 2.0er Noel Dickover summed it up in a tweet: “My overall thought on #CongCamp is that we are still at the awareness and sensemaking stage at #opengov”.