Digital for all now

#BarCamp, participatory workshops and “a new way of working”

Econocom 4 Dec 2015

On 5 November, the European Commission launched EPALE (Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe), a multilingual collaborative platform whereby education and training professionals all over Europe can share news and resources and communicate online.

A number of workshops are being organised alongside the launch. To run them, Jean Vanderspelden, a consultant specialising in open, remote training, has opted for the BarCamp format, a “giant brainstorming session” designed to boost collective intelligence. The maxim of the event is “No spectators, only participants,” with members being encouraged to contribute actively to the proceedings. Online magazine Le quotidien de la formation took a look at this participatory event.





The first BarCamp took place in California in 2005. Organised by a company that produces enterprise social software, it was put together in under a week and attended by almost 200 people. Since then, the concept has taken off all over the world and is used to debate topics as wide-ranging as social media, public transports, healthcare and real estate.

So how does it work? The basic concept is very simple: all the participants run the workshop and as such have to contribute something – an idea, a suggested service, even just expressing a need. Another characteristic of BarCamps is that they are mainly run using digital tools: social networks and open applications, such as Wikis, for example.


According to Jean Vanderspelden, who describes BarCamps as a “short participatory workshop, in which the content is provided by participants”, it’s a “new way of working”:


“Everyone has answers to someone else’s questions. BarCamps are a way of implementing collective intelligence.”






Basically, there’s just one rule: give the floor to the participants. Jean Vanderspelden was in charge of running the series of four BarCamps for the launch of Epale. Standing next to a whiteboard, he started by presenting the concept before handing over to the participants. He explains:


“The format is much more open in that once the subject is raised, anyone can volunteer to say anything they want, anyway they want: they can speak of their own experience, ask a question, present a tool or approach, etc.”


The workshops, which are about learning environments, were also attended via a live linkup by around ten other people. Participants could share photos, videos and notes via a digital corkboard. According to Vanderspelden, the exercise:


“Enabled us to implement the concept of digital proximity and show how easy digital can make things.”




quality training = INNOVATIVE training?


Jean Vanderspelden summed up the workshop – a perfect illustration of the BarCamp concept, thus:


“In order to be good, training should be innovative: and innovation is what the participants brought to the two series of four workshops.”


With open innovation playing an increasingly important role in organisations’ strategic thinking, BarCamps are very much in the spirit of the times and will be the subject of a conference at LearnInnov, a training event on 9 December 2015.

In education and training, as in other sectors, top-down approaches are increasingly being replaced by bottom-up, thus allowing greater involvement from the various people concerned and favouring collective intelligence. The advent of new technologies and digital tools facilitates synergies and introduces a new dimension to collaborative work. We need digital to move ahead together – now!

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