At future UKGovCamp gatherings, civil service policy officials and elected representatives – councillors and MPs – should come along.
At the 2011 UKGovCamp I was one of the few ‘policy civil servants’ who came along – and it was an eye-opener. Unfortunately in my final six months in the service, I never made any traction with fellow policy people within my department as to the impact that digital and social media is going to have on their day-to-day work. (See my slides and the previous post for my thoughts on this.)
Early on in proceedings someone commented about the lack of elected representatives there. While there will inevitably be an issue of mixing civil servants with party-political types, I think there is space for elected representatives to come along to events such as this – not least because a number of elected representatives hold executive office – whether as ministers or as executive councillors with responsibility for delivering public services. For the next gathering, my strong view is that representatives from the Public Administration Select Committee should be invited to attend. (Greg Mulholland for the Liberal Democrats, Robert Halfon for the Conservatives and Michael Dugher for Labour are all on that committee (as is Bernard Jenkin, the Committee Chair) so you could start with them).
What difference would their presence make? For me, the next challenge for the UKGovCamp community is to branch out beyond its current audiences. For the excellent ideas that emerge from such gatherings, too many can get lost in the black hole that can be the policy-making processes along Whitehall and Victoria Street. Can politicians with a national profile bring some of these to the forefront of policy-making? Can elected councillors take some of the ideas on public service delivery and make them work in their own councils and communities? This is particularly important in the area of hyperlocal issues, the which I defer to the expertise of Dan Slee and Will Perrin.
In terms of policy officials, the mindset I wanted to see changed (but didn’t have a hope in hell’s chance of doing so) was trying to get policy officials to think about digital and social media as integral to what they did, rather than a bolted-on thing that formed part of the press office or directorate of communications’ operations. By maintaining the current mindset, ever-shrinking digital teams end up having to answer the same questions over and over again. Or we end up with problems such as poor consultations that go through the motions of asking about something that’s going to be done anyway.
That said, the impact that Mike Bracken – the head of the Government’s Digital Service seems to be significant in terms of changes that are already happening to government websites, and the changes that will be happening. MPs, peers and councillors that follow/interact with Puffles and/or this blog may want to consider asking Cabinet Office Ministers if Mike can give MPs, Peers and the Local Government Association a briefing on what he and his team have planned. (Also, to webcast that briefing if possible so as to get it to a wider audience).
I imagine the unConference format will make some people uncomfortable. The idea of facilitating a workshop or delivering a speech where over half the audience are tapping away on a super-advanced gadget can be difficult to get used to. The idea of coming along wearing what is comfortable rather than in a suit may strike some that those attending are not taking things seriously. They are taking things seriously – just on their own terms, not someone elses. Finally, what do you do when a dragon turns up to your workshop?
UnConferences won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but they are mine. For a start I get to bring Puffles along. The attendees get to create the agenda. I also can’t help but feel that more problems are brought to the table which are then solved – or at least discussed and debated. This gives a completely different feel to the ‘keynote speakers plus Q&A session” of traditional conferences. That’s not to say organising unConferences is easy. It’s testament to Dave Briggs, Steph Gray, Lloyd Davis and Hadley Beeman who got us all together (again) this year. Let’s go and get some policy people and elected representatives for the next one.