TransitCamp for Social Change Fuelled by Communications & Web 2.0

Burdened by frustrated riders, cash shortages, a dysfunctional website and a declining reputation, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), heeded an innovative idea from the city’s local bloggers in early 2007: leverage the community’s network of transit and IT geeks as a vehicle for innovative ideas.

The result was TransitCamp, a day long out-of-the-tunnel thinking “think tank-like initiative” on how to improve the TTC – or more specifically its website, shelters, subway cars and the way it communicates with its riders.

The event was modeled on the California-born “BarCamp” format, which is an open-ended gathering where participants think creatively, across disciplines and about a specific theme or area of concern. In this forum, which can become a sleepover of several days duration, leadership emerges from the group but all participants are equal and all sessions are meant to be complaint-free crucibles of ideas that belong to the collective, not individuals. It sounds like a throwback to a 60 commune but appears to have merit in addressing today’s issues.

TransitCamp was held on February 4, 2007 and attended by 120 ‘campers’ comprised of IT geeks, communicators, artists/designers, web developers and university students – all united by a passion for transit. They used a range of Web 2.0 collaboration tools to engage with each other live and in person. Some of the ideas to emerge from the session included: setting up designated quiet cars and an ESL car; a design competition for metro passes; and distinct maps for each street car line showing its intersection points.

A more telling result was following the session, a previously issued RFP for a new website was canceled and a new one developed based on the needs and principles identified by the community of interest that collaborated at TransitCamp.

Buoyed by technology and social media tools, this communication initiative fostered cooperative problem solving between two potentially antagonist groups, and comes close to the ideal of 2-way symmetrical communication.

Was it 100% successful in terms of achieving flawless-transit? No, but it initiated constructive dialogue with riders about which trade-offs are most feasible – and set the stage for positive social and community change.

Interestingly enough, the TTC is currently in tense contract negotiations – but word is they are open to less disruptive alternatives if resolution can’t be reached by a strike deadline. And the second TransitCamp is set for this Saturday, April 5. The only sad note for communicators is searches of the TTC website could not uncover any mention of past or future Transit Camps – while blogs are full of them.

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