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'Netizen' incubators: TechCamps boost civil groups' digital media competence.

The "Arab Spring" uprising showcased how low-cost technologies can accelerate social change. Innovations such as data mapping, social media and crowd-sourcing can help civil society organizations (CSOs) make progress across a wide range of issues, but traditional CSOs are often unaware of, reluctant to use, or inexperienced with such new tools.

To address this, the State Department created the TechCamp program, which introduces CSOs to technologies that can transform their work. TechCamps take place during two tightly organized, interactive days, where CSO participants listen to stories about projects that relied upon low-cost, easy-to-implement technologies. They are also trained on social media use, online organizing, digital safety, website development, digital citizen journalism and other topics relevant to the CSO's mission.


Rather than tell participants how technology can solve their problems, the TechCamp facilitators listen as CSO representatives describe their challenges, then provide the technology skills the CSO reps needs to develop their solutions. Using their new tech-based tools, the representatives can implement changes to make their organizations more efficient and effective.

The TechCamp concept was developed by the Bureau of Information Resource Management's Office of eDiplomacy and the Secretary's Office of Innovation and Technology. The offices have worked with U.S. embassies and other public and private partners to host 14 TechCamps that have trained more than 800 CSOs from more than 50 countries. The TechCamp held in Chisinau, Moldova, for instance, focused on open government and transparency, helping raise awareness within the Moldovan government of the importance of open data.

Stela Mocan, head of the Moldovan government's eGovernment Center, said the TechCamp represented "the first time that we understood why we would use open data." As a follow-up to that TechCamp, the World Bank and the eGovernment Center held an Open Innovation Week and a "hackathon" to advance several of the TechCamp's open government projects.

The TechCamp in Bucharest, Romania, in December 2011, focused on social inclusion for disadvantaged and isolated communities. As a result of the camp, one CSO participant created the Civic Help Service, which helps Romanians respond swiftly to emergencies by identifying the places or persons that need assistance and using social media to encourage the region's youth to volunteer in relief efforts.


"It was a real honor and pleasure to participate and work with technologists at TechCamp Bucharest," said Victor Chumak, who created the service. "I changed entirely my perspective on how to deal with the problems existing within the communities by using technology." TechCamp Bucharest also connected activists for the Roma people with representatives from American Corners and local libraries, providing the Roma representatives with more access to the libraries' information and services.

The 2010 TechCamp in Santiago, Chile, sparked cross-continental collaboration, as several CSOs focusing on election monitoring identified a need for an online space to collaborate and share ideas. The group developed a statement of need for online collaboration that was later taken up at a Random Hacks Of Kindness event in Africa and received World Bank funding. The resulting online collaboration tool, called "Umoja," is now used for election monitoring and support of other civil society initiatives.

At IRM's latest TechCamp, in Kyiv, Ukraine, in September, Ambassador John F. Tefft spoke of the U.S. commitment to youth development. Under a theme of "Creating a Global Citizen: Building Schools without Walls," the camp brought together representatives of more than 80 civil society organizations, including educators, youth advocates and community organizers from Ukraine and Belarus. Putting technology in the hands of teachers, librarians and youth advocates "gives hope for the future," Ambassador Tefft said.

TechCamp Kyiv focused on forming a community of learning surrounding the creation and implementation of online gaming as a tool for teachers to connect with students. Another project developed and deployed an online map to display extracurricular opportunities offered in a city's secondary schools. Other TechCamp Kyiv projects included developing an online networking platform for citizen journalists and a website for people to report dilapidated houses to the local authorities.

To facilitate rapid diffusion of the TechCamp concept, the Office of eDiplomacy has developed TechCamp-in-a-Box, a do-it-yourself guide that provides all information necessary to organize and host a TechCamp. The first event based on TechCamp-in-a-Box took place in Guatemala in August, hosted by a leading social entrepreneur.

Some Department bureaus are looking at the TechCamp model as a way to engage on foreign policy issues. For example, The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs hosted two Youth TechCamps, which trained youths in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh on using technologies for collaboration on social issues.

TechCamps support peace and prosperity. As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton put it, when meeting with TechCamp Vilnius participants in 2011, "as new networks are built and new avenues for communication open, it's critical that civil society stay at the forefront of these changes. The hands-on training you will receive from technology experts will help you open markets, increase accountability in governments and give women, girls and minorities their voices. You are essential to the progress we hope to see in your communities and your countries in the future."

For more information about Civil Society 2.0 or TechCamps, or for information on hosting a TechCamp, visit techcampglobal. org. TechCamp is on Facebook at TechCampGlobal and on Twitter @TechCampGlobal. The Office of eDiplomacy can be contacted at

Pritam Kabe, technology analyst, Diplomatic Innovation Division, Office of eDiplomacy
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Author:Kabe, Pritam
Publication:State Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2012
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