A few years ago, we attended an unconference. It was such a great experience that we wanted to find a way to continue those discussions we’d started throughout the year. With initial support and funding via the Knight Foundation and Webbmedia Group, we worked for six months to launch what has become Spark Camp.
We envisioned Spark Camp as an intimate gathering of smart people who we could bring together around a central theme. But we didn’t want to create just another conference. Instead, we conceptualized working groups, where peers would come together in virtual spaces and in real life to identify critical problems around that theme and work together to identify and craft solutions for the greater good. We would spark projects and research together that would continue to pay dividends throughout the year and, hopefully, for many years to come.
Conferences and meetings are one of the defining ways that the media industry organizes itself around new ideas. We founded Spark Camp with the belief that conferences can be re-imagined as efficient, creative gatherings that further innovation and spark practical solutions to the challenges the industry faces. We believe that what happens during conferences should be continued once everyone returns home. Too often, people get together to present and talk, but then nothing results after the conference has ended.
Most conferences we attend include many of the same panelists and attendees, who don’t often have new information or perspectives to share. In other cases, media/ tech gatherings include only managers and C-level members of large organizations. Rather than assembling the usual suspects, Spark Camp takes a drastically different, highly-personalized approach to provide participants with access to other creative, brilliant minds. Spark Camp has no hierarchy. There are no panel sessions or keynote speeches, and you won’t find any ribbons on our nametags. Campers are selected for their personal interests, personalities, professional achievements, dedication to problem solving and reputation among our alumni. Each Camp session is a focused intimate discussions, where all Campers come to the table as equals, with equal amounts to learn from each other.
About 60 invitees attend Camp. Once confirmed, Campers soon realize that they’re each uniquely connected to everyone assembled, whether it’s through a shared hobby, or favorite book or even a past workplace. By deeply connecting our Campers not just professionally but on a number of different levels, we catalyze long-lasting relationships.
Three years (and five camps) after we set out to rethink in-person events, we’ve put pen to paper and laid out some of the lessons we’ve learned. In that time we’ve seen growth in the number and scope of gatherings. We’re sharing this widely so that other conveners big and small, across all industries, will share their own lessons and reflections. We believe in collaboration and we know that expanding our personal and professional networks with diverse voices will beget a more enlightened, enlivened and inspired society. Read the report here.
Spark Camp is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It was founded in 2010 by Amy Webb, Amanda Michel, Jenny 8. Lee, Matt Thompson and Andrew Pergam.