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?

Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Lloyd on GovCamp

The group blog collecting people’s thoughts is really good reading.

Lloyd hits the nail on the head here:

We do it this way because it works and because we’ve seen the alternative really fail big time again and again.  Because it’s unusual for most of us and outside of our everyday experience, it’s tempting to make two mistakes.  One is to think that because it’s the first time we’re doing it, that this is the first time it’s being done – nope – it’s a well-established technique that is probably used somewhere in the world every day to help large groups of people organise their own experience.  Secondly it’s tempting to look back at bits of the day that didn’t work for us and think it didn’t work because we got the grid work wrong and therefore we should do it differently next time.  This mostly comes up as a suggestion that “just a little bit more structure or pre-planning” is introduced.  While I’m sure that we do get things wrong sometimes and there are ways that we can make the process serve us better, I don’t think that it’s a reason to introduce pre-planning.  All that pre-planning does, in my experience is make people who are feeling anxious and don’t trust the process think that they will feel better.  The answer is to trust the accumulated experience that the process works well – this will give you much more relief from anxiety and will truly make you feel better.

My 20 GovCamp 2012 thoughts

I had an exhausting time at GovCamp this weekend. We had lots of people. There were lots of discussions. There was much tweeting. Many photos were taken. Lots of blogging has happened.

Dan Slee had the fab idea of just posting 20 quick thoughts and take-aways. So let’s have a (somewhat delayed) go.

  1. I don’t think the two day format worked, overall. I’m pleased we tried it, but it’s just too long and the second day didn’t feel sufficiently different to the first. Also, everyone who attended both days were totally exhausted by about lunchtime on the Saturday.
  2. Steph Gray is not just brilliant at government webby stuff, I think he’s also one of the best human beings currently on the planet.
  3. Some people have written of the need to further the range of people that attend. I’m a firm believer that the best people to attend are the people who want to, and don’t need to be convinced. It is, I assure you, entirely coincidental that this is also the path of least effort.
  4. Another excellent post looked at the differences between the event this weekend and the original, in 2008. I agree: they’re very different. Some might prefer the way it was before, others prefer the way it is now. I think the event just reflects the environment in which we are all operating.
  5. Maybe there’s space for a new event that’s more specifically geeky. I dunno.
  6. The Government Digital Service has changed the nature of discussions and the whole government geek ecosystem, as others have mentioned. The responses to that from folks in central and local government are interesting, including in the way they differ.
  7. Lloyd Davis is a legend, a master facilitator and the most calming influence ever.
  8. Looking through all the photos from the event afterwards made me feel like there were about 6 different GovCamps happening, none of which I attended.
  9. ‘Keynotes’ at Govcamps make me feel funny. I personally don’t see why Friday’s closing session couldn’t have happened as a normal pitched session during the day which would have felt more a part of the community spirit of the event. It could have been sorted pretty easily. But still, I hope people found it useful.
  10. Hadley Beeman is excellent at organising drinking sessions, amongst other things
  11. The fantastic reading material following the event is a sign of just how vibrant and useful a medium blogging is for telling stories, sharing knowledge and learning
  12. Someone on Twitter derided the event as a ‘talking shop’. I don’t see why that’s a bad thing. Where talking reinforces learning and allows for reflection and the teasing out of effective ways of doing things, it’s got to be good. I’m pleased GovCamp provides a framework for that to happen.
  13. Even better, let’s run an event that’s even more informal than an unconference. Ditch the agenda entirely. Just have rooms in which people go in and talk about stuff. Use things like Twitter to let people share what’s being discussed in the rooms, so people can move around to the conversations that interest them. Chatcamp?
  14. Thinking about all this, my interest in organisational learning and knowledge management is piqued once again. Can’t help but feel that very few organisations in the public (or indeed any) sector have this right. Too little learning from previous experience, too much hoarding of knowledge. The answer is only kind of digital, of course.
  15. I do look back at 2008, with the smaller community, sitting around showing each other how to use Twitter, with quite a bit of nostalgia. Knowing where one fits in these days is tougher.
  16. A few people have said what a good thing it is that GovCamp isn’t organised by government itself, which is interesting and perhaps indicative of something or other
  17. They may not see it this way, but many of those I saw and chatted with last weekend weren’t colleagues, or customers, or whatever, but friends.
  18. I suspect that if actual organisations were run like GovCamps, nothing would get done. But all those who attend could bring some of the spirit of the weekend to their work, encourage others to be thoughtful, and open. The result would be that small changes would happen around the edges, which might then lead to bigger and better things in the future.
  19. The challenges government faces these days are much bigger and more difficult than in previous years. Digital is part of the solution but only a small part. The innovations that matter will be in the realm of policy and service design. Technology will play a vital role in making that happen but perhaps more as an enabler than a driver in itself.
  20. As always seems to happen after GovCamp, I’m faced with the realisation that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

Remember – if you want to run a public service related ‘camp style event, you can. It’s dead easy. If you need money, Steph and I can help out with the fund contributed to by the lovely GovCamp sponsors. Just ask.

Thank you, LocalGovCamp sponsors!

Since my last desperate begging funding drive, several companies and organisations have leapt to support LocalGovCamp, namely:

Many thanks to them. They join those who had already stuck their hands in their pockets:

We’re still not quite there yet though, and if anyone out there still has a bit of marketing budget they’d like to lavish on the coolest (ok, joint coolest with the FutureGov stuff…) event in local government, please do get in touch.

Spreading the GovCamp love

A quick cross post of something Steph put up on the MoreOpen blog, highlighting the great events funded in part by UKGC11.

At the beginning of March, we announced a small grant scheme using sponsorship from the UKGovcamp in January 2011 to help seed-fund a batch of further such events around the country. We had some great applications, and here’s the list of who we’ve funded so far:

We Are What We Tweet
8 April 2011

As part of the Social Media as Practise course as MA students of Social Media at Birmingham City University, the class staged a one day event looking examining the context of social media use and how it can bring governments and citizens together.

Recipient: Chioma Agwuegbo
Received: £300

19 April 2011

Focused on communities and services. How can we use social media and open data to help service providers to work more effectively at a local level?

Recipient: Ben Proctor
Received: £600

12 May 2011

MailCamp is a free, one-off show & tell event on 12 May for people interested in how the public sector uses email marketing, newsletter and alerts to engage its audiences.

Recipient: Steph Gray
Received: £600

YouthWorkOnline unconference
21 May 2011

This one-day free open space event brings together practitioners from youth work, participation and voluntary youth projects with digital media developers and experts to share ideas and practice, to explore what the digital world means for young people’s lives, and for services seeking to support young people as they navigate growing up in a connected world.

Register at:

Recipient: Tim Davies
Received: £600

18 June 2011

LocalGovCamp is coming back to its spiritual home, Birmingham, this June – and it’s going to be bigger and better than ever. 200 of the most innovative and creative people in the local government sector will be coming together on a Saturday to talk about making things better – sometimes with technology, sometimes not.

Register at:

Recipient: Dave Briggs
Received: £1,000

13 July 2011

LearnPod aims to debate the use of technology and innovation in learning, predominantly in the post-16 education context.

Register at:

Recipient: Kevin Campbell-Wright
Received: £500


July/August 2011 TBC

A one day pratical & sharing event for those who don’t quite fit in with central gov, are a long way from local gov and also don’t quite click with the events in higher education, museums or the charity sector. Reclaiming the word ‘quango’ for a positive, rather than a focus for scorn.

Recipient: Matt Jukes
Received: £400

September 2011, TBC

ScotGovCamp is a self organised unconference for people who work in and around government in Scotland.

Recipient: Lesley Thomson
Received: £500

North London LocalGovCamp

A North London localgovcamp event, inviting people who are involved with related projects, focusing on North London boroughs – Camden, Islington, Haringey, Barnet, etc.

Recipient: Anke Holst
Received: £300


Recipient: Dave Briggs
Received: £200

Ten spin-off projects ain’t bad going, touching maybe another 1000 people and keeping the govcamp buzz and optimism going through the year. Good luck – and thanks in advance – to the organisers above, and another big thank you to the original sponsors of UKGovcamp whose patronage helped all of these get off the ground via MoreOpen. An organiser of one of the events reported:

You were the first people to offer us sponsorship and that managed to convince other people to take us seriously. Without your help we probably wouldn’t have been able to deliver the event at all.

There’s a few quid left (really, not very much) so if you’re inspired to run your own event and would like a bit of help getting it off the ground, you know where to go.


Fancy sponsoring LocalGovCamp?

LocalGovCamp isn’t far away – just over a month. So far 150 tickets have gone and we have another 50 which we are looking to distribute in a new way to get a few different faces along!

So we’ll have 200 of the most innovative and creative people in local government in one place, on a Saturday, ready to talk about how we can improve the way we do things. It’s going to be ace.

One thing we do need though is money. Bringing the event out of London made finding a free venue impossible, and so we face a bigger bill than usual from the get-go. On top of that we have some extra money to find for some unexpected expenses.

So, if you would like to help this event out and ensure it’s the success it ought to be, please get in touch with any offers of cash you might have spare.

  • £250 gets your logo on the website, the ability to bring a pop up stand and some marketing literature with you, and lots of vocal thanks throughout the day.
  • £500 gets you all the above plus a logo on the t-shirt.
  • Anything substantial over the £500 mark means I’ll also give you a piggy back around for the day (or something).

Thanks go to those who have already put their hands in their pockets: the MoreOpen fund, Huddle, LGIU and Podnosh. Also Digital Birmingham who have helped massively with organising things. Oh, and Kind of Digital of course 😉

UKGovcamp: 5 days to go!

The biggest get-together of folk in the UK with an interest in how the public sector uses technology happens on Saturday, just 5 sleeps away. The list here says 204 people are coming, not counting our sponsors and hosts. Gulp. It’s just as well we have a proper grown up in charge of getting us all organised for the opening session.

Here’s a few things you might find useful in the meantime:

  • Stay tuned to the UKGovcamp site and jump into the UKGovcamp 2011 group or follow the #ukgc11 hashtag on Twitter where people are starting to talk about session ideas and more.
  • In terms of logistics: yes, there will be wifi and should be projectors in most rooms. Remember to bring a Mac->VGA adapter if you’re presenting from a MacBook, and people with spare 4-way extension leads are likely to be very popular.
  • The event registration opens from 9.15am, with kickoff at 10am, and will run until around 5pm. The venue again: Microsoft UK Customer Centre, Cardinal Place, 80 Victoria St, SW1E 5JL (that’s the entrance near Pizza Hut, not the one nearest Victoria Station)
  • The day itself will be run on ‘open space’ principles, without a pre-planned agenda etc etc. But given some of the people who’ll be there, we’re keeping one room aside this year as a ‘Demo Room’ with a bit more of a schedule. So for example, if you’d like to see Huddle in action, or kick the tyres of Delib’s CitizenSpace you’ll be able to go along at a predefined time and chat to the team behind those great apps. If you’d like to demo an app, it’s not too late – just drop me a line and we can get you on the running order for that room.
  • For years we’ve banged on about ‘but how do we get this stuff in front of the real decision-makers?’ To an extent, I’ve always tended to feel we should just get on with it for now, and those guys can catch up in their own time. But we’ve got a great bonus opportunity this year to showcase some of the ‘highlights’ from GovCamp to an invited audience of senior IT folk in government, at a smaller, separate follow-up soirée on a weekday evening hosted by Microsoft during February. So keep that in mind if you lead or participate in a great session on Saturday…
  • I’ve put together a quick aggregator for UKGovcamp stuff, and we’re hoping to be able to livestream the main room during the day for people who can’t be there in person. Fingers crossed on that one.

Finally, spare a thought and a click for our tremendous sponsors – 16 so far – who have really stepped it up a gear this year. The great news is that as well as having the normal Govcamp experience with t-shirts, nibbles and all that jazz, we’ve been able to build up a little kitty to keep the Govcamp love going on throughout 2011.Under the auspices of MoreOpen, we’ve been able to help our friends at ShropCamp get off the ground, and we’ve got a thematic Govcamp on email marketing in the public sector on the cards for Spring too thanks to the generous GovDelivery. But there’s more in the pot, so if you find yourself inspired to Govcamp in your part of the country or part of public sector, let us know and we might be able to help get the ball rolling.

Remember, if you now can’t come to UKGovcamp but have a ticket, please let us know and we’ll offer it to someone from the waiting list.

Phew, I think that’s it. See you there!