I met Armine Bekaryan when I was writing the case study of UtopianLab and during our interview she mentioned a cool project she is involved in and I decided to meet her again and talk to her about it. She came with Ach and Gayane - two other girls involved in Psycamp - a non formal psychology unconference which includes a free choice of topics, exchange of thoughts without barriers and limits, presentation of new proposals and ideas. The aim of Psycamp is to start a free dialogue about psychology being open and comprehensive to all the members of our society. This is a platform for professional psychologists, students and amateurs to communicate and share information, academic knowledge and experience.
The uniqueness of Psycamp is that not only professionals but anyone can run a session/workshop - psychologists, students as well as anybody interested in psychology, thus the currently important and actual topics emerge that need to be discussed and elucidated .
Psycamp can be of interest to professional psychologists, professionals from correlating fields, students as well as amateurs who are interested in the subject. Below my interview with the girls:
How you got started and current situation
“We started in 2012 after attending Barcamp in Yerevan when we decided to create something similar in psychology and to raise awareness of people about psychology and its importance. We were 5 girls in the beginning and we had our first unconference at YSU psychology department platform. It was a 1 day event and we invited people from our networks using Facebook, Tweeter, word of mouth and some posters. We tried to get some sponsors or providers but other than Simply Print that helped us with printing the posters(a psychologist that we know had a connection with them), we did not succeed.
During the first conference we had 3 rooms which had blackboards with agenda - everyone was free to fill it in and propose a session/presentation/workshop. Around 100 people attended this event.
We organised the second Psycamp in 2013 again at YSU psychology dpt premises but there were less participants(around 80 people) due to late notice as we had some invited speakers who changed their schedule last minute.
Our 3rd event was in 2014 when we received a grant from The Ministry of Youth and Sports to have the Psycamp in Shushi, Nagorno Karabakh, as we did not have the funds to take it there otherwise and we were in love with Shushi from a previous visit and wanted to spread our camp elsewhere as everything in Armenia is based in Yerevan and we do not like it. So we decided to have 3 events: one in Vanadzor, one in Yerevan and the 3rd one in Shushi, Nagorno Karabakh. We had the event in Shushi at Naregatsi Art Center with around 40 participants, in Vanadzor it was held at HK Kentron NGO (around 100 participants) and in Yerevan we had at UtopianLab(approx. 150 people) back when it used to have a bigger space(they are renting another place right now). ”
Who’s involved: Who is in the team? Roles and responsibilities? Skillsets (what are individual team members good at?) Any partnerships?
“Currently there are 8 members in our team. Here’s what each of us is good at:
- Armine, Ach - texts, administrative stuff, public relations
- Gayane - Coordinating, Presentations, technical stuff
- Lusine(Armine’s sister) - media(photos, videos, etc)
- Alex - graphic and web design(logos, web page, badges, posters, etc)
- Shushanik - negotiations, trouble shooting
- Zara - Event coordination ”
Hypothesis guiding the work: “I believe that to achieve x, we need to do y, through z”
“We need to start inviting international specialists to run sessions/workshops and do more events in the regions and why not in other countries(we can start with Georgia). “
What your main objectives are/why you do this?
“We want to spread awareness about psychology and involve more people in our events.”
What you enjoy about the work and what you enjoy less?
“We enjoy the feedback we receive from people, participants’ input during the events. We enjoy less the formalities, dealing with bureaucracy, commercialization of our event as some suggest (we do not want this kind of sponsorship). We also do not enjoy the negative feedback from some people who think we are not well organised - mostly the ones who do not manage to participate in our events.”
What kinds of tasks do you do on a regular basis? Yearly, monthly, weekly, daily
“We dedicate around 2-3 months every year to planning and organizing Psycamp. Usually one of us starts the conversation about the upcoming Psycamp. Then we start looking for a place to hold the unconference(we’ve done it at the YSU premises twice and in the former UtopianLab space once in Yerevan). Then we fix the date and time at least 1 month before the event and start spreading the word on social media and mailing lists. We make a facebook event, invite all the friends and participants from previous Psycamps as we already have a large online community. Then we design and print the posters, badges, flyers and stickers. We also take care of the logistics - finding the best accommodation and transportation options for the events outside Yerevan. We give our suggestions to the participants but everybody is free to choose their own transportation and accommodation. Lastly, we take care of the event management - supplies, equipment, participant list, agenda, etc. ”
What, other than money, do you think could help you in your work?
“It would help us a lot if we could have more international professionals host a session during the event. We would also like to exchange experience with other existing camps from abroad. ”
What help could you offer others and under which conditions (assuming no money is involved)?
“We could help others with advice on how to organize a conference without money.”
How do you go about doing this- what steps are involved? Technologies or processes used?
“We use Pirate Pad and Wordpress for hosting our website. Nothing sophisticated. ”
Costs: What expenses are involved? Who benefits from the work? Who currently supports it, how and why?
“We do not spend money on the event, except for paying the website fees which we share. The flyers, stickers and posters are all designed by Alex and printed in a friend’s printing house free of charge. Young psychologists, enthusiasts and students from co-relating branches benefit from our work mostly. We do not have any long term collaborations or partnerships. ”
Existing alternatives: Who else is doing similar or relevant work/offering similar things- locally and or elsewhere?
“We do not know about any other groups doing similar activities in Caucasus. YSU sociology department organized a similar but much more official sociology camp lately. Everything else is very official and closed for public. We would very much like to spread and become international, starting with Georgia perhaps, as it is the closest. ”
Important players affecting the work? (locally and internationally)
“Barcamp in Yerevan affected our style of work. EOS Psychology Development Foundation in Yerevan is one of the only players locally, we’ve collaborated with them on several occasions. We organised a week of seminars in partnership with EOS in 2013 ”
Long term perspective: any Business or sustainability plan?
“We want to spread throughout the country and organise more Psycamps in different locations. We partnered in Vanadzor with HK NGO last year for the event and we hoped that we would find partners there to self organize the next camp without our assistance, but it didn’t work out so far. We also want to invite more foreign professionals to become more popular. This year we are organizing 2 Psycamps - one in Yerevan and another one in Gyumri in collaboration with KASA foundation. ”
Transportation and logistics?
“We received a grant(our first and only) to organise the event in Shushi, Nagorno Karabagh and we took care of the transportation and accommodation for the participants in this case. Otherwise we only give suggestions of the best options of transportation and hotels to stay at and our participants are free to choose for themselves. ”
Regulation and policy affecting this?
“Universities in Armenia are not used to collaborations with “outside” projects. We find it really tough to collaborate with them but we do not have an alternative as there is always the problem of finding the space for Psycamp. ”
How about the concepts of Collaboration …and Mutual Support?
“We have never thought of long term collaborations as there are no relevant projects in Armenia, but we would definitely like to collaborate with similar projects from abroad, however our main focus is the engagement of local youth.”