Since 2016, Tomas Rakos and Katya Petrikevich have participated in over half a dozen TechCamps around the world from Zambia to the North of Norway. However, the last time they engaged in a TechCamp event in Tbilisi, Georgia earlier this year was dramatically different.
This time, the Participation Factory was invited to suggest and test a different methodology that would help participants develop more flashed-out ideas for their future actions and projects. But before we discuss the methodology and outcomes of TechCamp Tbilisi, let’s explore what TechCamps are.
What are TechCamps?
TechCamps are part of a public diplomacy program run by the US State Department. In essence, they are usually three-day events focused on specific topics and gathering key stakeholders such as civil society advocates, activists, journalists, members of NGOs, and many others. In the course of their program, participants are invited to take part in hands-on workshops and training sessions that provide them with skills essential to their work in a given focus area.
The goal of each TechCamp is not only to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and skills and to encourage cooperation but also to achieve tangible results in the form of mapping challenges and coming up with concrete solutions. Each TechCamp ends with a presentation of those solutions or project ideas and provides an opportunity for participants to get the funding required to pilot a winning idea as, for example, was the case with the My School, My Vote project in Kitwe Zambia, conceived and implemented by Moses Mwansa under supervision and support of Tomas Rakos.
Even though the project or idea development is one of the key goals, traditionally participants were left with a flexible way to work on it, which resulted in a handful of proposals being developed in the course of those three days. In addition to this, due to the lack of clear guidelines, the level of development of ideas varied greatly. The situation was different in Tbilisi, Georgia this year.
What about TechCamp Tbilisi?
TechCamp Tbilisi took place on February 16 – 18, 2023, and focused on Countering Disinformation throughout the Caucasus region. It brought together around 40 participants – educators, journalists, influencers etc. specializing in disinformation and media literacy, – from Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
The main difference of this TechCamp was that its program was tailored to provide participants with the space and tools for not only clearly defining the main challenges and opportunities of tackling disinformation but also for developing detailed project or product ideas. It was also meant to increase participants’ chances to get funding upon the completion of the TechCamp program and to acquire them with product or project development skills they could re-use in the future.
The methodology implemented by Tomas and Katya over the course of three days is called “Assembly Line” and it includes designated space for ideation, idea development, and feedback gathering. During these three days of grind through Assembly Line, participants identified such challenges as:
- Limited reach of trusted media;
- Biased journalism and fake news;
- Manipulation of the public;
- Ethnic, linguistic, and religious divide;
- Hybrid warfare and Russian propaganda;
- Fast information flow;
- Lack of resources;
- Insufficient fact-checking.
Following the suggested methodology and responding to identified challenges, participants came up with 16 ideas and then presented 10 detailed solutions and products that specified their target audience, expected impact, an approximate timeline for implementation, and desired budget. The list of solutions included, for example, a fact-checking aggregation platform and a board game for school students to learn about disinformation and fake news.
The participants left the TechCamp excited about the skills acquired, connections made, and ideas developed as well as determined to continue their work on countering disinformation in their region. At the same time, organizers of the TechCamp went back with a clear idea on how to increase the impact of their events in the future through the introduction of a more structured approach towards project and product development and thorough mentorship of the participants during their TechCamp journey.