For the past four years, the State Department has cultivated a program called TechCamp, a two-day workshop designed to allow participants and trainers to co-create strategies and solutions to challenges using low-cost, easy-to implement technological tools. TechCamps are hands-on, interactive, participant-led, and highly adaptable to the issues and technology available in any given region.
On April 1, the TechCamp program officially moved to the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) in the Public Diplomacy branch of the U.S. State Department. IIP connects people to U.S. policy priorities through dialogue both online and offline – which is clearly tied to the mission of TechCamp. TechCamps originated in the Bureau of Information Resource Management’s Office of eDiplomacy in 2010 and the eDiplomacy team is deservedly recognized for their terrific leadership of the program.
The Idea Behind TechCamp Civil society organizations, journalists, and other key target groups are doing outstanding work on the ground in local communities. There are many low-cost technologies (such as mobiles, social media, interactive voice response, data mapping) and concepts (such as crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, gaming, micro-tasking) that have taken root in recent years and are readily accessible to many people. There is also a vibrant technology community around the world knowledgeable about these easy-to-implement technological tools.
These groups do not often intersect, and TechCamp is just that catalyst they need to achieve their goals. TechCamps blossomed from a day-long “let’s try something new” event in Santiago, Chile to a full-blown program that’s completed more than 40 events with over 2,300 participants from 125 different countries. The results of those events are summarized on the TechCampGlobal.org website.
Moving to New Heights
The TechCamp program’s expansion was triggered in the fall of 2014, when the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel participated in a TechCamp. Like many, he immediately discovered that the “TechCamp bug” was contagious - knowing from the start that the enthusiasm, new ideas, and possibilities for solutions could not be overlooked.
Recognizing the power of TechCamps and their value as a diplomatic tool, Mr. Stengel helped to secure the program within the public diplomacy realm at the Department. In IIP, TechCamps will continue its successful model while expanding to create new follow-on projects and programs so participants and trainers can keep connected after returning to their home countries.
TechCamps’ transfer to public diplomacy provides an opportunity to directly support those who have made the program successful through hard work and commitment – the technology-trainers whose dedication and determination fostered innovative ideas; the participants who were willing to explore, learn and implement something new; and our U.S. diplomats and staff overseas for their vision, execution and continued work on the projects and connections.
The next TechCamp will be held in Riga, Latvia on May 18 & 19, 2015 and there will be many more coming down the pipeline this year. Learn more about TechCamp by following us on twitter @techcampglobal and connect with us on Facebook (techcampglobal).
Congratulations to all those who are part of the TechCamp community. May this be just a stepping stone in the possibilities of what we can do together going forward!
About the Author: Jamie Findlater serves as a Senior Consultant on the TechCamp Team, in the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.