A Big Day Out – UK Gov Camp 2011 #ukgc11

25th January 2011

Govcamp agenda

I had a big day out down in London on Saturday at UK Gov Camp, held at the Microsoft offices in Victoria. This event has been running for a couple of years now and is billed as being a self-organised unconference for “government types with an interest in how the public sector uses technology”.

This might need a bit of explaining if you don’t know what an unconference is. Essentially, it is where the agenda for the event is decided on the day and there are no keynote speakers, just workshop sessions.

Anybody can propose and lead a session.

So, the first thing that we did was to introduce ourselves. Now, there was a turnout of 178 people, so these had to necessarily be brief and we were each allowed to use just one word to describe what we were there for. Sharon O’Dea has produced a Wordle of this introductory session.

#ukgc11 introductions wordle

Next, the people who had come along wanting to run a session each had a short 30 seconds to stand up and say what they wanted to do, then stick a Post-It note on the board. this board then constitutes the running order of workshops for the rest of the day.

The photo by Paul Clarke at the top of the post shows how that ended up looking.

I chose to go to workshops on the following topics:-

There is no way that I am going to be able to capture all of the ideas that were explored in all of those sessions. These are the nuggets that I have come away with.

Online consultation tools still aren’t perceived as being that user-friendly, nor are they encouraging the civic activism that has been hoped for them.

Will Perrin told the group that when the Cabinet Office were specifying the design of the Number 10 online petitions site they explicitly excluded the ability for

the lead petitioner – ie the person who puts it up in the first place – from communicating with the people who sign the petition.

He made the point that the 1.8 million people who have signed the most popular petition on the site outnumber the members of all the main political parties and the two largest unions in the country combined.

Now, that could have become a significant pressure group if they had the ability to talk to one another.

I came back to work yesterday and spoke to Annette in our team, who helped to put the city’s online petition site together. I was really pleased to hear that our lead petitioners can contact the people who sign their petitions.

Also, the city has the ability to email all lead petitioners and so Digital Birmingham will be encouraging our Democratic Services team to contact everybody who has used the service since it went live last year and remind them that they can do this.

The Unlibrary is a co-working/learning/collaboration space that Anke Holst and Chris Meade have been running in Crouch End Library.  It has hosted sessions with artists and local small businesses, has arranged events with local authors and held skillshare activities.

Anke’s speciality is in helping people to run their social media stuff, while Chris is the director of if:book which is “…a think and do tank based in London exploring the potential of new media for creative readers and writers & the future of the book in the digital age.”

Anke’s presentation about the Unlibrary on Prezi is <—— there. Ooops, you nearly missed that.

Anyway, I made a mental note to put Anke and @BhamLibrarian together as I thought they would probably have a lot of common ideas to discuss. I noticed today that James Cattell has already done so. It will be interesting to see if anything comes out of that.



I spent most of lunchtime with the marvellous Dan Slee from Walsall. We have been talking, along with some other colleagues, about running a regular Tea Camp style affair in Birmingham. Hopefully the first one of those will be in February, so keep your eyes peeled.

I’ve always fancied running a salon. Got a smoking jacket and everything, I have.

The other wheeze that we’ve been knocking about has been a follow up event to HyperWM to be held in Birmingham. Well, it looks as though a Brum Bar Camp is on the go now, as Dave Briggs has started up a BigLocalGovCamp group over on the UK Gov Camp site.

The first session after lunch was Making a Difference With Data with Will, Kate, Janet Hughes from the London Assembly and Vicky Sargent from Boilerhouse.

Both Will and Kate have written excellent write-ups of the session. Each conclude that we need to get the activists closer to the data geeks in order to make the most of open data. Kate’s idea of a social media surgery with data is one that I hope we can pursue further.

I was flagging a bit by now and so rocked up quite late to Carrie Bishop’s session on Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Adults.

I do know that she has being working with Future Gov on their Safeguarding 2.0 project which is part of Nesta’s Reboot Britain programme that “seeks to understand how children’s safeguarding services might be made more responsive to both frontline workers’ and families’ needs by using features of web social networks”

The final session I attended was the public sector blogging and Tweeting one with Ingrid and Louise. And the best advice that I picked up from that was when David Allen Green said that you should have the bottle to write one sentence paragraphs.

I’ve tried.

I really have tried to do that.

Apart from that the session spoke about persevering with blogging as you are unlikely to pick up an audience overnight. Also, Carl Haggerty spoke eloquently about the virtue of blogging as an exercise in reflective practice, which I thought was a worthwhile observation.

Claire White‘s idea of using Twitter with her team to record points for their personal development review is a lovely one and appears to have made a relatively unrewarding administrative exercise into something worthwhile for her staff.

And after all that, we went to the pub.

I had a marvellous big day out. I met lots of old friends and made a few new ones. I came away with lots of ideas, some of which I may get to implement. And that will make me happy.

A big thanks to Dave, Steph and Lloyd (aka ¬Dave) for all the arranging of a great event.

And a thank you to my travelling companions Kate, Karen, Andy, Nick, Nicky and Dan.

One last reflection is that things are moving on and that we are starting to see some results with our work. One of the things that most people at #ukgc11 have in common is a just get on and do it attitude. Events like Saturday are an example of this.

But, we are starting to realise that we are in this for the long haul and that the organisations we work in are often slow to adapt to change. Many of us are impatient at this, but still persevere.

In summary, I think as well as a can do attitude we also have a stick to it one as well.

Lots of other people have been writing up their experience of the day and it is all being collected on this site

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