CiviCamps for the Win! Calgary retrospective and lessons learned

Coming back from the Calgary CiviCamp and Sprint, I started reflecting on this fantastic experience and what it takes to create a CiviCRM community. This prompted me to share some thoughts about what makes these events so positive and memorable for all attendees and specifically our end-users.

If you have been connected with CiviCRM for some time, you might have noticed a significant change over the past year. We have moved from hosting a few large scale events per year (ie. CiviCons) to hosting a larger number of smaller events (ie. CiviCamps). This year, Cividesk has organized and/or participated in several of these: CiviCamp Denver, CiviCamp San Francisco and CiviCamp Calgary. There are many other CiviCamps organized worldwide and you can get a full listing of upcoming events at https://civicrm.org/events.

One of the fears I had with this change was the possibility of losing the community-building opportunities that such large events create. They offer space for a lot more participants and new faces, 'birds of a feather' sessions, impromptu corridor discussions, training and sprints which are all drivers for interracting with other like-minded people - de-facto creating and nurturing our community.

On the other hand, CiviCamps are meant to be low-key, regionally-focused and simple to organize (ie. fewer logistics and sessions), so it seemed like these might be antinomic to community-building. While this is true to some degree, there is also a lot of potential to these events:

  • looking at the wider picture, there are overall a lot more attendees to many small events than a few larger ones,
  • a regionally-focused community could be more active as closer together geographically, culturally and in terms of requirements for CiviCRM,
  • who says we cannot have multiple tracks, innovative sessions and Sprints at CiviCamps?

The first item is already verified by looking at the registration and attendance numbers from past years compared to this year. The second item is still to be determined - while the Denver CiviCRM community has not really materialized so far in terms of continuing to be in touch past the CiviCamp, I have been thouroughly impressed by the crystalization of the Calgary community around local issues such as taxes and donation receipts for example. Finally, Semper IT and The Arctic Institute of North America have done an incredible job organizing this CiviCamp over multiple days with varied and interesting topics, workshops and a Sprint, therefore proving that the last item can also be achieved - alas with a lot more dedication and effort, but the sky's the limit!

But more than all of this, what prompted these toughts in the beginning is the prolific and overwhelmingly positive feedback sent by the attendees at the end of the Camp. As Karin was sharing this feedback with the presenters and Sprint participants, I realized she had successfully built a thriving CiviCRM local community, and all end-users in this community mutually benefited from sharing ideas, resources and funding past their organizations boundaries. These discussions had driven the CiviCamp agenda, had drawn in the crowds to attend these sessions, and resulted in a very positive feedback from attendees as they had learned a lot from this event, and wanted to apply these learnings immediately in their day-to-day work.

In short: a perfectly organized CiviCamp, set in a thriving CiviCRM community.