CiviCamp London wasn't my first rodeo.
I’ve been a Civi user for about 5 years had been along to CiviCamp Leeds earlier in the year. But, London was particularly exciting for me personally as I was a week into my new job at that point, and seeing things differently from a new organisations perspective.
I’m a big fan of the general principle of getting users and developers in a shared space to essentially just chat, and that’s why I love CiviCamps. The term networking makes me cringe a lot of the time, and nerding out over a CRM system would have caused a similar reaction in me not long ago. But, here I want to celebrate some of the reasons I think CiviCamps are better than any other conference-style event I’ve been to. Starting with the way these events are so much more than just being talked at. Sure there are fantastic speakers and workshop leaders, but these people exude a genuine willingness to acknowledge flaws or issues head on (and highlight them in some cases - to kick off some discussion on how to be better) and be practically helpful not just theorise and provide a nice day out of the office for people to catch up on their emails in peace...
I’m not a techy.
I’d say I’m pretty much self taught when it comes to digital, especially CiviCRM where I have cobbled together talks at camps and the North East user group, stackexchange tips and bits and bobs from the documentation page. Because of that, I’ll describe things rather than name them for the most part. Most of my questions start with ‘you know that thing you use when..’. I missed the talk at this time around on the background to open source, but it was one of my highlights from the Leeds event. It hammered home the fact that people with expertise in all things can have a say and add value to CiviCRM - whether you understand developer language or not!
The workshop on documentation was so refreshing - those who’ve compiled it accepted what has been written is not always perfect, and made a genuine plea for input from attendees. (And to remember to scroll down to review documentation for Civi extensions too!)
We heard about how the process for reporting edits is much improved of late. Exciting to have the opportunity to contribute eh?
Well I’d say it goes further than that, I’ve made a mental note to suggest to colleagues in future - when they ask how to do stuff, to see if they’ll have a go trying to use the documentation, and make suggestions for improvements if they spot any. And as a bonus, letting those naysayers in our teams who have criticised the complexity of the guidance online in the past, to use their frustrations constructively so things improve for more than just themselves
Everyone's a good egg.
The Civi community is supportive and welcoming. My background is campaigning, I got into comms through my last job in the community sector and got to know civi that way - but everyone has a different story to tell. I prioritised the ‘ask the expert’ session again this time round, despite not having any burning questions, just because it's interesting to hear what other people want to know, and it warms the soul when, like I did, you stumble across a fellow “Civi-lian” in Bristol thats been battling with the same issue as you for the past 6 months and you think you can offer a suggestion for a workaround.
In our discussion group we talked about all sorts - but for me the most comforting thing was our resident expert Rich encouraging people to be vocal when they discover something isn't working quite right. Someone will always do their best to help, or at the very minimum sympathise - which is an invaluable comfort sometimes! But - as Rich reminded us - always best to take a step back and cool off before reporting an issue in your SHOUTY-EST TYPING - remember there are real people on the other end coming up with fixes often pro bono so patience is as always, a virtue!
Its not just about the day itself.
I went to more workshops and talks, on events, custom fields, upcoming new development and feedback from users around the world as well as the key note from Amalia Nwagbara (Member Engagement Manager at Royal Statistical Society) and her team.
But as I write this, obviously a month has passed since I was down in London chatting face to face yet the legacy of those discussions continues. We’re lucky in the North East to have a user group locally that meets quarterly - which gave us a chance to update those who couldn't make it to Civi camp this time round, just the other week. But more than that, I’m following more people on twitter, lurking on the mattermost discussion boards, and posting more to stackexchange and just generally being more Civi active and can confirm - its true that the more you put in the more you get out…
Don't sit on the side lines, get involved.