BarCamp is a new and innovative way to organize and run events, particularly on topics related to new media and the Internet (however, the BarCamp format is now beginning to spread beyond the tech topics, with BarCamps dedicated to such topics as social innovation, public finance, local governance, etc springing up all over the world). Peer-learning lies at the heart of the BarCamp philosophy: all presentations are given by participants themselves, with no formally invited guest speakers and the formality of traditional conference (tellingly, the schedule of the event is being “produced” by participants of the conference and gets formed only after the conference opens, as participants add the presentations they want to hold on a white board). Furthermore, BarCamps are traditionally produced by volunteers using the philosophy of “peer production”, where a core group of organizers coordinates the volunteer efforts of dozens andoften hundreds of volunteers. In a fast-changing field like new media, BarCamp offers the most suitable format to get a broad picture of all the recent developments. The unique feature of a BarCamp are 4-5 simultaneous presentations given by participants, which ensures a diversity of presentations and also gives the audience “vote with their feet” and freely move between the rooms.
BarCamps in the former USSR
The first ever BarCamp in the former Soviet Union was organized in Kyiv in October 2007. It brought together about 300 people from Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, and other countries from the region and featured around 45 presentations. The Kyiv event was instrumental in seeding the BarCamp movement in other countries of the former Soviet Union, with delegates from Latvia and Russia announcing international BarCamps in their own countries. BarCamp Baltics took place in February 2008 and brought together about 500 people from an even greater array of countries (delegates from Azerbaijan, Moldova, and all the Baltic states were present, in addition to delegates from USA, UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, etc). BarCamp Baltics was even more successful in seeding the next wave of BarCamps: five more international BarCamps were announced during the event in Riga (in Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and two in Ukraine). Furthermore, the Riga event was instrumental in generating several local BarCamp initiatives; two local small-scale BarCamps have already been held in Riga since early February and there is a big BarCamp for the local NGOs scheduled for late April.
The event will take place June7-8 in Tbilisi and will bring together bloggers, new media professionals and any other groups interested in using technology and the Internet in their work. The event will have an international focus, with participants coming from all over the former ex-USSR and beyond, with a particular stress on participants from the Southern and Norther Caucasus. Tentatively, around 350 are expected to attend the event (roughly a third will be locals from Georgia, another third from other countries of the Southern and Norther Caucasus, and the final third from the rest of the ex-USSR). Just like with the two previous BarCamps, significant travel funding would be provided to ensure that the maximum number of participants could attend. Potential partnerships with universities and hotels would be explored to select the ideal venue for the event. The organizers of the two BarCamps in Riga and Kyiv would assist a local “production” team in preparing the event. There is a preliminary agreement with PrivatBank (a Ukrainian bank that cofunded the event in Riga) about providing some significant funding for the event in Tbilisi. Other commercial and non-commercial funders would be approached in the next few weeks. There are several potential candidates for the role of “local producers” at the moment (some of them are prominent Georgian bloggers); the final decision would be taken by mid-March.
Objectives of BarCamp Caucasus:
I. “Seed” the BarCamp culture in the Caucasus, preparing grounds for the local (and smaller BarCamps) in both Northern and Southern Caucasus II. Facilitate cross-border knowledge-sharing and peer-learning about the complex field of new media, putting bloggers and other new media professionals in touch with each other. III. Introduce traditional media and NGOs from the region to new media and also help them establish contacts with bloggers
The two previous BarCamps in Kyiv and Riga have been rather successful and gave birth to several local initiatives. Thus, the culture of regular mini-BarCamps appeared in Moscow, Kyiv and Riga; the organizers of the BarCamp Baltics have also formed an NGO and are working on promoting new media and the BarCamp format around the ex-Soviet regime full-time. Thus, it's expected that similar regional initiatives would quickly follow after BarCamp Caucasus.