Karen Quinn Fung likes to think of herself as a “community facilitator”. The 24-year-old Mount Pleasant resident is helping organize and will present a session on mapping at Vancouver ChangeCamp, which will take place tomorrow (June 20) at the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s downtown campus.
A ChangeCamp is an “unconference”—a participant-driven conference—which asks attendees to “re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation”. The first ChangeCamp was held in Toronto in January, and it was followed by a second event in Ottawa last month.
Born in North York, Ontario, and raised in Vancouver, Fung attended the first Toronto Transit Camp in February 2007. The experience inspired her to help organize Vancouver Transit Camp later that same year. In October 2008, she facilitated the TransLink-sponsored SkyTrain Security Unconference. This September, the Simon Fraser University graduate will enter the master’s program at the University of B.C.’s school of community and regional planning.
What is Vancouver ChangeCamp?
ChangeCamp aims to bring together people who are interested or work in technology, as well as people who are really thoughtfully thinking about the role of government. So, there’s sort of two sides, and this is sort of our event tag line. There are two questions: one is how do we work with governments to become more open and responsive, and the second is how do we empower citizens to get better outcomes through collaboration—by collaborating with each other.
What do you hope will be the legacy of ChangeCamp?
I think the legacy of ChangeCamp is to really bridge some of the understanding between, say, nonprofit groups and the possibilities of technology and on-line organizing. For people in government, I think, we want to be able to facilitate the start of an ongoing conversation, cooperation, and perhaps collaboration around their systems becoming more open and accessible.
So, for instance, one of things that I’m really happy to do at Open Web Vancouver tomorrow is to find out from the City of Vancouver staff what their challenges are going to be with implementing the open-Web, open-standards, open-data policy. To me, that’s the sort of challenge that I find really ripe for collaboration with communities.
In terms of the City of Vancouver, how do you think it should proceed to follow through with its support for open source, open standards, and open data?
I think the first thing they can do is really, from upper management, start a conversation with their staff. I think it’s sort of two sides. On the one hand, the City of Vancouver staff probably need to hear a sort of thumbs up from upper management in order to start really feeling like they can have conversations about how they can open things up and really contribute to the communities. At the same time, communities—people out working in the community—need to sort of not, and this is a generalization, where there’s a possibility, to sort of outsource blame or focus on the power relationship of, “You know, you’re the city and you can do everything, and I’m just the citizen and my role is to complain.”
I think we need to throw that kind of dialogue style out the window, and say, “We’re all in the community. We all want things to get better.” City staff work in within a certain framework that, as citizens, it’s difficult for us to understand. So, let’s help work toward that understanding, and as community members we can understand what framework they’re working in. At the same time, the city can start to understand what, as community members, we can do, and feel like we’re in a partnership that way.
How do you think Internet and mobile technologies can be better used to connect with transit riders?
Well, mobile definitely is one of those technologies that is very important in the transit-riding experience. I think that, as information becomes more available on mobile and mobiles also become more popular just in terms of their general uptake, I think they may actually have a big role to play in terms of being able to convert drivers into transit riders possibly. It’s one part of it. Obviously, transit service also needs to be fairly tolerable for that to happen.
But I definitely think that, as mobiles also become data-collection devices, they can also be used for things like possibly customer and rider feedback but also just people feeling like they are able to connect with others in their communities who share their concerns on all sorts of levels. So, not only to do with transit but whether it’s the pothole on their street or the funding to daycares in their neighbourhood or the state of the Mount Pleasant outdoor pool, for instance.
Are there other areas of interest that you think could benefit from BarCamp- or ChangeCamp-type conferences in Vancouver?
I definitely think that any issue that is wrought with certain amounts of—where the perspectives are entrenched and where there’s any kind of bridging required and dialogue—I think the energy and spirit of listening that the BarCamp and unconference methods embody can be useful for any of those topics. But I also think that there’s a certain angle around technology that BarCamps bring to it, as well. The technology means we talk on the level of what can happen and what does happen and how to move things forward, and at the same time we can talk about how the technology affects the issues but still try to keep it moving and keep it solutions oriented.
Can social media be used for social change?
If we’re believing that social change comes from the people, which I certainly believe—and social media is definitely about people—it’s about individuals having conversations with the people in their lives around the changes that they want to make or these things that they see that are wrong in their lives, in their spheres, in their communities. Whether a change is something that you need to do on a personal level or in small groups or with larger groups, I think social media scales on all those levels to help people have those conversations and to organize themselves to make those changes actually come true.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.