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The republic of UKGovcamp

Philip John at UKGC12

Dan Slee’s  excellent suggestion of a ’20 thoughts’ format for reflections on UKGovcamp seems to have caught on, so here’s mine – more about the format than the content, in many cases. That I think Dave Briggs and Lloyd Davis are the very finest of fellows goes, I think, without me saying.

  1. No royalty: we’ve been queasy about ‘keynote’ slots for the likes of Chris Chant or Mike Bracken, and while they invariably deliver interesting stuff and I’m glad they made the effort to come, I’m coming to the conclusion that format isn’t what UKGovcamp is about.
  2. Leave the crowd wanting more: two days was a fun experiment. One would keep up the energy levels more, and make it a more manageable endeavour.
  3. There’s a right size: it’s a great venue, and while we weren’t physically squashed, 260 people is a very big Govcamp. 130ish on day 2 felt quite laid-back. 200-220 would be just right.
  4. The grid needs managing: if it’s a one day event, with that many folks, we need to think about the grid a bit more. Tim Davies getting it online was a masterstroke, but we still had sessions in the wrong size rooms, and avoidable clashes. Thinking caps on, there.
  5. Talking is doing: the ‘doing day’ concept on Day 2 wasn’t quite right, even though some great things did get done. What makes UKGovcamps special are the serendipitous conversations and real-world encounters of online friends, not apps built or hard skills learned.
  6. Porous boundaries are what really matter: ditto, those serendipitous encounters are possible because the normal barriers between central and local government, supplier and commissioner, senior and junior, don’t intrude. So it’s a shame the name badges had organisations and not Twitter handles on them, for that reason alone.
  7. Moral support matters: we don’t put enough emphasis on the value of Teacamps, Brewcamps, Govcamps etc in just bringing likeminded folk together and winding up their their springs. Of course it’s a worth a Saturday if it gives you the courage to face the next 12 months with a grin and Twitter-stream of encouragement. Talking in small groups beats listening in big ones, mostly.
  8. More kids please: thanks to Maya (4) for being our youngest (and frankly, best behaved) govcamper. We need to find ways to make it easier to bring kids along; they suffer us checking Twitter at home when we should be playing with them, after all. Kids should never be barrier to govcamping.
  9. We’re building up some lovely oral and visual history: five years on from the virtually pre-hashtag #ukgc08, we’re building up a phenomenal archive of govcamping on Flickr (this year’s special thanks to David Pearson, Ann Kempster, Harry Metcalfe and AShropshireLad) and in the last couple of events, audio, thanks to the splendid Cathy Aitchison, who was quietly interviewing folk throughout – her lovely 2011 interviews are here.
  10. Govcampers change: from the very start of day 1, some seasoned govcampers set up camp in the corridors, and barely ventured into sessions. For them (me included), we got a huge amount from chatting to friends old and new, without necessarily doing the full grid-sessions-timetable thing: “a year’s worth of meetings in a day” as I heard someone describe it
  11. There are plenty of (better) places to hack: UKGovcampers are a different crowd. We didn’t really expect a hackday, and we didn’t get one.
  12. Microsoft have ‘got’ it: whilst SharePoint and IE are tough to forgive, Microsoft’s UK Government team in Charles Eales, Ian McKenzie, and Dave ‘Mr Bing’ Coplin, have got behind the event in just the right way. They’re spending thousands supporting UKGovcamp, approaching it with humility and good humour, and I for one salute them.
  13. You can’t go wrong with retro sweets: I’m no affiçionado, but our supply of Maoams didn’t last long, and elicited some squeeing.
  14. The Govcampers are way ahead of the politicians (and policy officials?) on open data: while the consultations and speeches are talking in vague generalities about the commercial potential of open data and the political imperative of transparency, it looked like the debates at Govcamp 2012 had moved on to data cleanliness, real-world semantics and public engagement with data and data portals.
  15. WordPress is a way of life now: There wasn’t the traditional Simon Dickson session from what I could see, but there were sessions throughout the two days which touched on WordPress – from its role in ‘radical’ website deployment, to how to make it mobile. It’s out there, people are getting on with using it. I didn’t even get to present my slides on ’5 strategies for managing WordPress multisites’, which I’ll have to blog here at some point – but we’re at that sort of level now, I think.
  16. We need our own pub: Saturday’s whole-pub experience (admittedly with smaller numbers) was a lot more pleasant than Friday’s. Bravo Hadley for finding us such nice places, and we need to bargain on almost everyone turning up to Govcamp (a free event, on a workday… truly remarkable).
  17. The rules of Open Space are there for a reason: time is limited, and when I found myself in sessions which weren’t quite doing it for me, I exercised the Law of Two Feet now and again. We should make really sure all Govcampers and session leaders are cool with those rules, so everyone gets to the end of the day feeling in control.
  18. There are still some tyrannical bosses out there: a sad but spirited email I received on Friday morning read: “I’m sorry, I’m not going to make it today. I will see you tomorrow though: luckily the boss can’t dictate what I do on Saturdays”. If Fridays remain part of the programme, maybe we need an alternative prospectus for use by such Govcamping heros to persuade recalcitrant bosses that it’s the most productive day out of the office they could possibly spend.
  19. We need more govcamps: and there’s going to be another healthy pot available, as there was in 2011, for people to run their own events either based on an area or an interesting theme. More details about how to access it soon.
  20. We’re growing up and calming down: I didn’t expect the brainstorm on a digital maturity model/assessment tool to be as well-attended as it was. We came up with a load of stuff, from digital literacy and organisational engagement to staff policies and the basis for decision-making. But as Shane has remarked, the crowd this year didn’t feel as nervous or angry as we did back in 2008. Happily, things have moved on.

Photo credit: David Pearson

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  1. Great list Steph…I agree about the ‘no royalty’ thing but it has to be said it worked well keeping the crowd from drifting away to the pub early and it was nice to end the day in a room as busy as the one that started it..

    Also the ‘grid’ is something that needs a little thought – it is difficult though..

  2. Great reflections all.

    On the grid – I think we can do a lot with just a little user-experience design on the paper thing itself. Grid boxes big enough to leave a good margin around post-it notes; clear descriptions not only of the room size, but also style (e.g. Round Table; Good for presentation-led slots / Small discussion group room) and then encouraging people to use this to think about the sort of session they want to run too.

    If we wanted to trust the technology to stay stable, then after the paper-mapping, shifting to the autoritative copy of the agenda being online in a user-updated form somewhere, and getting people to indicate on it what they are interested in to indicate demand, could be handy – but I suspect just giving people more information to make original room choices, and making sure people can easily find out what else is on – emphasising the law of two feet, might be enough.

    The other element I’d love to encourage would be giving each slot a clear session hash-tag so that it’s clearer from the tweets what’s happening in each session at the time. My experience from the Internet Governance Forum is that adds to the law of two feet – supporting people to move as they realise they could be contributing more in a different session.

    • Really good points Tim.
      The only addition to that would be someway (perhaps using hashtags?) of indicating potential attendance at a session. That would allow collation of numbers against room sizes/facilities.

  3. Thanks for posting this quickly after the event. There’s a huge amount here I agree with. I think that Day 2 came across to many (me included) as if it was planned to be a hack day, or at least similar. I agree that it wasn’t one, but it did lack something. I wish I could put my finger on what.

    The turnover of people between the two days was big. The show of hands on Saturday suggested maybe 40% hadn’t been there on Friday. That was an enlarged figure because there were also many Friday people who didn’t turn up on Saturday. My own conclusion is that there must have been plenty of folks who, for whatever reasons, didn’t see the two days as “all of a piece”.

    Thanks for your credit to the photographers who are,bas I posted yesterday on the ukgc12 Posterous thing, keen to give the Camps a visual identity and history. My own stuff isn’t on Flickr, but at http://www.tomphillipsphotos.co.uk/ukgc12/

    I hope your post sets a good discussion running. Whatever anyone says, it was an amazing two days from my perspective.

  4. Excellent thoughts Steph. It’s rare I agree with someone so much. Please keep the constant, competent humility up. In a world of hubristic change you’re still the North Star.