Metronauts Event #1

After much planning, discussion, speculating and sweating, the first face to face Metronauts event took place on Saturday at MaRS. In case you weren’t there, you can absorb all of the fascinating content on the wiki page. Based on the spirit of BarCamp, or the Open Space Technology model, Metronauts is an offline/online community that is committed to using the spirit of the community powered unconference to help inform and shape the Regional Transportation Plan that Metrolinx is responsible for producing.

Check out some pictures from the event.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the idea of Open Space, it’s a cool methodology that simply introduces a question or broad statement to a group of passionate people, and people can volunteer to lead a 1 hour discussion on a topic of their choosing, so each 1 hour time period has a bunch of conversations occurring in parallel. And that’s how the agenda gets set. 

One thing that I found of interest during the planning process with Metrolinx is how they referred to a typical public consultation event as a “formal” consultation and the events that we were proposing as “informal”. However as the day unfolded, I noticed that the jargon seemed to be making a switch to “traditional” vs. “non-traditional”. I like this switch because I personally feel that “informal” seems to connote “less important”, whereas “non-traditional” seems to imply “different” as opposed to better or worse. Hopefully this perceived shift is true, pervasive and sustained.

My hope is that after the community begins to really take off in an online and offline way that there will be additional richness and perspectives offered to the policy makers and planners within Metrolinx and the Regional Transportation Plan will reflect the conversations in some way. Rob MacIsaac, Chair of Metrolinx, made it pretty clear that they won’t be able to integrate every single recommendation.  And of course they can’t. I think the challenge that Metrolinx has is listening to all of the conversations that are occurring and being able to recognize high level themes and trends and being able to shape their plan accordingly.

It seems to have potential for a classic “Wisdom of Crowds” scenario where nobody in the community has the one right answer, but if Metrolinx can pull of the wisdom together and come up with something that is greater than the sum of the conversations, they will have done their job as a (arms length) government agency. (Take a look at “The Scorpion” example in James Surowiecki’s “Wisdom of Crowds“.)

All in all, the effort to engage the citizenry in a “solutions” environment rather than an adversarial dynamic is an important shift in how government engages with people.  Here’s hoping today’s “non-traditional” is tomorrow’s tradition.

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