Yet again, that was a lot of fun.
Last Thursday, we had the great pleasure of helping to organise this year's Transport Planning Camp, taking place in Manchester. 50 passionate a committed people (and not just transport planners) spent a day in Manchester talking about transport planning and the climate emergency.
And boy, did they talk a lot.
Despite it being an unconference - and you not having to arrange speakers - a lot of organisation still needs to go into it. Sorting out the sponsors, booking the venue and catering, sending out reminder emails, buying stationary, preparing the presentations, briefing the volunteers. It all takes time. But after our experience of 2018, we were expecting all of that.
So what did we learn this year? Well, let us first start off with what we relearned. The first being that the format of the unconference works. Some of the feedback that we have received since last Thursday showed that the format was a great hit, as people were able to talk about what they felt most passionately about, as opposed to what is the standard industry view. When you tell someone to say what they think, and provide the means for them to do that confidently, they take it.
Secondly, if you change up the format, you get a different audience. Whilst the majority were transport planners, we had many more voluntary organisations present this year. Each of whom spoke with confidence and assurity through the day. There are a number of factors that may be behind this, including the messaging used to promote the Unconference as an unbiased event (and the chance for attendees to personally influence it), the low cost of a ticket, the non-corporate branding and also perhaps that the people organising the event (us) were visible and also relatively diverse.
Third, was how giving people free reign to discuss what they wanted really was a licence in diversity. You may think that transport planning and climate change is slightly niche. And it is. But topics that were shortlisted included changing the law, smarter travel choices, and male dominance in decision making. All covered within 9 sessions.
We also learned plenty of new lessons this year too. We learned how tricky it is to translate ideas into something to commit to quickly. We had intended for people to use an area of the venue to brainstorm ideas following the sessions. But the reality was that people were so taken in by the sessions, that they simply did not do this. The only action planning time was during the final session, where participants had a specific time to reflect.
Another big lesson for us was that the venue contributes a lot to the day, and is often the hardest thing to get right for an unconference. Too polished and it comes across as stiff and corporate. Too rough around the edges and it looks unprofessional. The two venues we have used over the last 2 years - ODI Leeds and etc.venues Manchester - are at the opposite ends of the scale. But both worked well in their own way.
We also learned the valuable lesson of room tempurature when crowds are present. Do not rely on the air conditioning system to save it all the time, and make sure that you can open a door or window. When it started to get a bit stuffy after 30 minutes, we were glad to open the doors!
As for what was said, we are still processing that. A lot of content was produced by everyone.
And we mean a lot.
But what we can say is this. Transport planners are passionate about climate change. They know what needs doing. They are chomping at the bit to do it. They just need an injection of radicalism. We hope that Transport Planning Camp has provided just this.