Why is #virtualgovcamp a good idea?

Quick update – there’s now a placeholder site for #virtualgovcamp live at http://virtualgovcamp.org/ (it currently forwards to a wordpress.com blog) and a Twitter account @virtualgovcamp. At some point I will get all the content from the blog posts here replicated on the VGC site.

So why do I think #virtualgovcamp is a good idea?

  1. Scale – we can get the message to a lot more people by not having to fit them all in a room on a particular day
  2. Scale – we can have a lot more discussions and a lot more varied discussions by not being limited by the size of a grid and the number of breakout rooms available
  3. Diversity – we ought to be able to attract a much more varied bunch of people by running the event online
  4. Travel – no need for people to travel longish distances to the event – they can access it from wherever they are. That might even mean people not in the UK! Wowza!
  5. Time – we won’t be asking people to give up a whole day, whether in the week or the weekend. They can dip in and out as they please
  6. Serendipity – the law of two feet exists, but not many exercise it. Much easier online, and the existence of search means people will be able to find something else to get involved in much more easily. Or they could just do some work instead.
  7. Anonymity – still not sure where I am on this one, but being online means that there is the potential for people to be involved anonymously, which they may be more comfortable with

Do these things mean that the traditional GovCamp model is dead? No! Its just different. Both are needed.

It’s just that this one means I don’t have to get out of bed.


I’d like to propose VirtualGovCamp.

I’ve just been made aware that the lovely folks at LocalGovDigital are themselves working on a local version of a virtual unconference type event. That should be awesome, but I think my idea is sufficiently different to make it worthwhile running both. I will of course be doing everything I can to help LocalGovDigital’s event a success – and hope you do too!

It will be an online event, lasting a month – probably in February. The sessions will not be synchronous, that is, you don’t have to be online at the same time as a bunch of other people to get involved. So I’m not talking webinars.

Each session will have a page on the event website. The page’s content will be built by the person running that session – who’ll be called the facilitator. They can write some text, include some links, record and embed a video, or a slideshow, or Prezi, or whatever.

Each session is open for a certain number of days, which will be displayed on a calendar on the website. Whilst the session is open, the facilitator helps manage a conversation in the comments on that page. It isn’t real-time, so people can drop in and out as they choose and don’t feel under pressure to be online at the right time.

Before the event, I’ll run an ideas competition site to bring in ideas for sessions, which can be voted on to see which ones are most popular and will be included.

Everyone involved will be emailed on a regular basis throughout the month so that they can keep up with what is going on, and where they are part of a discussion in a session, they can sign up for alerts when new comments are added, and so forth.

There’s lots more to think about and get sorted, but that’s the idea. Is it a good one? If you think so, please complete this form and let me know how you’d like to be involved.

New free Think Digital webinar – 8th September, 11am

There was a lot of interest in my last webinar on Think Digital, where I talked through the ten principles fairly briefly, just to give folk an overview of what I am on about.

I think it’s time to go into more detail about how you can make this happen, so over the next few months I will be running a webinar on each principle.

The first of these will be taking place on 8th September at 11am BST. It’s on the topic of strategy, leadership and capability which are the foundations of the Think Digital approach and are vital to get right if digital transformation is going to take place.

Sign up for your free place here!

CommsCamp14 session ideas

I’m looking forward to CommsCamp14 in a week’s time, and have pitched a couple of session ideas on the event’s Ideascale site:

User centred comms

What does user centred comms look like? Who actually is the customer? How do we find out what they want to know and how they want to know it?

Online community management

A session on online community management – what it is, how to do it well, and where it fits in the public sector comms kitbag of skills.

If you’re interested in either of these topics, please go and vote for them!

Let’s do the LocalGovCamp again

Photo by Mark Braggins.
Photo by Mark Braggins.

It’s probably about time we sorted LocalGovCamp out again!

For various reasons it’s going to be running after the summer rather than before, as has previously been the case.

So, the two potential dates are 21st or 28th September. Let me know if you feel strongly one way or another in the comments.

Location will be Birmingham as usual, although I am on the lookout for another (cheaper) venue than Maple House, which rather busted the budget last year and made the vein on the side of my forehead swell to an unpleasant degree.

It will be an interesting time to run the event, as cuts bite deeper into local authority budgets. I’m hoping there will be some discussion about how digital can help councils deliver better services for less, and also how we can tackle some of the digital inclusion issues that will emerge around welfare reform.

As always, I’ll be on the lookout for sponsors once I have an idea around costs – the usual benefactors will get an email soon, but if anyone new wants to chip in, just let me know. An Eventbrite page will be up once the details are all confirmed.

You went to UKGovCamp, what next?


Image credit: David Pearson

UKGovCamp happened on Saturday at the second time of asking and I think it went rather well. Take a look at the chatter on Twitter or the photos on Flickr and make your own mind up.

The mixture of attendees – government folk, suppliers, activists and the merely curious – and the relaxed atmosphere seem to create an environment that enables conversations to flow, and ideas to be exchanged.

Every year there is much talk about what happens next. Where are the outcomes? What are the measurable outputs of the event? What projects happened that wouldn’t have done if we hadn’t all met up?

Usually my answer is simply that I don’t care. It’s not about what happens next, it’s about what happens on the day and that’s it – what follows is up to individuals and self organised groups, if they want to. There should be any pressure to actually do anything. Seriously!

But often times, people do want to know what’s next. They enjoy GovCamp and want work to be like it all the time! I don’t blame them.

Of course, how you get open, collaborative working practices going within a large organisation is jolly tricky and the answers probably won’t be found in a blog post. However, start small and you can achieve great things. So, the most obvious thing to do, I think, is to run your own GovCamp.

It doesn’t have to be big or too wide ranging. It could just be your team or department. Or open things up a bit more by running a place based event that brings together public servants with businesses, civil sector organisations and individuals. The important thing is not to feel you have to replicate GovCamp, but to run an appropriately scaled event that meets the needs and culture of your organisation and of course your resources too.

Shropcamp back in 2011 was a lovely example of this, or the regular Hyperlocal West Midlands event, or Brewcamp. Different scales for different sets of requirements, but always open and collaborative.

So if you wish your boss ‘got’ GovCamp, or even came along now and again, don’t delay. Bring it to them. Show them the magic.

Confessions of a justified camper

A little while ago, Paul Coxon wrote a blog post querying the long term viability of unconferences in the public sector. I didn’t respond, because I felt I couldn’t do so without sounding defensive and chippy.

This evening, the weekly Twitter chat, #lgovsm, was based on Paul’s ideas. I did decide to involve myself, and it turned out that everything I said was defensive and chippy. Ah well.

Paul’s basic point is that there are a lot of unconference type events going on – perhaps too many – and that this saturation means people will soon get annoyed that they don’t get enough out of all these events, all these Saturdays that they have to give up and so the ‘movement’ will implode and the sector will be no better off.

I think my issue here is not necessarily with what Paul is saying – he is of course perfectly entitled to his opinions. Nor am I touchy about criticism of these events – after all, I am only vaguely responsible for two a year, and there’s usually some critique of them afterwards, which doesn’t tend to bother me.

Instead, I think Paul is perhaps criticising a group of events – and I can only speak for the ones I am involved with of course – against a set of criteria (ROI, measurable outcomes etc) that we never aimed to meet – which strikes me as being a trifle unfair.

Unconferences for me are social learning events. People learn from each other. But it’s just one type of learning event, and there’s room for many. I get involved in traditional conferences too, and they can be extremely valuable when done well (e.g. when they have me speaking at them).

So here’s a quick overview of how I see this stuff and why I think that some of the things Paul is talking about don’t matter for me all that much.

1. When I am involved in these things, I have no objectives other than people turn up, sessions are pitched, people talk to one another and there is plenty of smiling. That’s it. Others may have their own outcomes in mind – good for them!

2. The content of the event is of course driven by the attendees and that can have variable results. I’ve attended some sessions at ‘camps that were frankly rubbish. I’ve attended others that were simply a room of people telling one another how great they are. The point is that I could leave, and I did.

The other point is that if people want to spend time discussing how great they are then of course that’s fine and I am delighted to have provided a space for them to do that in.

3. The echo chamber argument is true to a certain extent and not in another. The attendance of the events I am involved in grows all the time and there’s roughly a 50% churn in attendees each time. So new people come, veterans come, and they all add what they feel comfortable with. There’s a lot of agreement, because it’s a self selecting group – and again, that’s fine. But it’s not true to say it is a load of continual back-slapping, because it isn’t. There is debate and disagreement – albeit very polite debate and disagreement.

4. I feel no responsibility for anyone else’s personal development. If you got nothing from an event, then that’s a shame, but at least you tried.

5. The best people to attend an event are those that attend the event. I don’t like the idea of trying to get specific groups along – it’s a melting pot of the enthusiastic, the curious and the weird. Let’s keep it that way.

6. What a good unconference is, at the end of the day, is a room full of interesting people. What people choose to do with within the time and space that they have chosen to be in is entirely up to them.

7. There are lots of ‘camp type events going on. I guess we will now when saturation happens because people will stop going. But of course nobody goes to all of these things (I hope!!) and it’s a case of picking and choosing the best ones for you. Nobody ought to feel under an obligation to attend (unless it’s the sort of thing like when you go to the pub with your mates, even though you really don’t feel like it, just in case you miss something).

8. Sponsors see value in these sorts of events, increasingly so. Also, they don’t ask for ROI, or direct sales, or access to budget holders. They come for two reasons, I think. First, it’s to get to talk to people they rarely get to talk to – often the people who actually use their products, or products like theirs. Second, they just want to support the sector, and a bit of the sector that feels dynamic and motivated.

9. If you feel you can do these events in a better way, that appeals to different people, or more people, then go for it! Steph might even let you have some money to make it happen.

10. It might be that nobody will want unconferences any more, which would be fine by me. They are a pig to sort out, and other than a bit of goodwill, aren’t terribly productive. But it seems to be that for the moment, there is plenty of demand and plenty more people who want to be involved, and plenty of interest in more specific, focus events.

Unconferences are an important part of the learning mix for any sector, but it’s important not to think of them as more than they are, nor to ascribe overly high expectations for what they might achieve.

By the way, UKGovCamp is back on 19th January 2013. See you there?

LocalGovCamp 2012 review


LocalGovCamp passed without a hitch, and indeed it went pretty well. I’m sure it’s the best one so far. In the style pioneered by Dan Slee, here’s my list of takeaways:

  1. New people! Every time we run the event, there’s a churn in attendees. New people means new ideas and perspectives. It’s great.
  2. For some reason running this year’s event was the most stressful yet. Even on Saturday morning I was panicking that something disastrous would happen. Maybe nobody would turn up! But they did, and it was fine, like it always is.
  3. I still believe strongly in LocalGovCamp’s lack of objectives. People need an opportunity to get in a room and talk without the burden of some predefined higher cause. Outcomes do come, of course, but the fact this isn’t a requirement frees people up I think.
  4. The conversation has definitely moved on now. Nobody talked about how great Instragram is, for instance. It was all about delivery, and transformation, not tools.
  5. As well as new people attending, newer people are coming to the fore too. Some of those leading sessions this year were hanging around at the back last time. Again, this is good.
  6. Haggerty, Griggs, Mabbett, BeemanPopham, O’DeaCampbell-Wright, Kidney and co were much missed. But it’s a strength of the movement that this wasn’t terminal.
  7. Nobody makes me laugh as much as Nick Hill does
  8. Dan Slee purchases terrible post it notes, but he is a great facilitator of group conversations. Asks the right questions, prods the right people at the right time. Excellent!
  9. I still think more could be made of the fact that we have (often small) suppliers and local government types together in a room talking about problems and solutions. Space for some creative collaboration? I should think so.
  10. I can’t think of anyone better than Jon Foster to be your taxi driver around Birmingham. Book him now. Dom’s got himself a star there, I think.
  11. All councils should be making more use of open space and networky conversations in their processes. Dom Chessum started it the other week with the #digitalday at Breckland Council. Serious meetings don’t need to be boring.
  12. We need to find a free venue for next year, or at least a significantly cheaper one.
  13. One day, I’d really like to work in local government again.

You can see what content others have been producing about the day here on the coverage page of the LocalGovCamp site.

Photo credit: Pete McClymont

LocalGovCamp next weekend!

Next Saturday (14th July) sees LocalGovCamp coming back to Birmingham!

It’s a great opportunity for innovators across local government to get together, share problems and come up with solutions. It’s also an honour (and occasional inducer of panic) to be able to put the event together.

I was ably assisted this year by those titans of the local government web world, Si Whitehouse and Dan Slee, who were my eyes and ears in the West Midlands – thanks guys.

With over 100 people signed up, we’re up to capacity now, but there’s a waiting list on the Eventbrite page if you fancy sneaking in last minute if others have to drop out.

Also props to Vicky Sargent at Boilerhouse for designing and organising the printing of the t-shirts.

Many thanks to the excellent sponsors who are helping to make this event happen:


Talk About Local


…and of course, Kind of Digital have chucked a few quid into the pot as well.

Am looking forward to seeing everyone next Saturday (and Friday night too – news of curry to come soon…) and those that cannot make it can follow the action on the hashtag #localgovcamp.