Come to UKGovCamp 2013!


It’ll be fun! (But don’t expect it to be the same as years gone by – the world has changed). 

(Updated to add, the tickets are being released in batches. If it says ‘sold out’ you can add yourself to the waiting list here. You’ll receive an email when future batches are released). 

UKGovCamps? Like Glasto for geeks as Dan Slee says. My first UKGovCamp was in 2011 – while I was still in the civil service. My reaction was:

“Why isn’t my department like this?!? A huge group of people who seem to be on a similar wavelength to me!”

The following year, having left the civil service, I hosted a workshop on the impact of social media on Whitehall, along with bringing Puffles with me (pictured here with Nick Halliday and Anke Holst).

This January sees UKGovCamp 2013. I’m not entirely sure what I’d like to do workshop-wise, but the borrowing the Gamesmaker idea from the Olympics and applying it to GovCamp is splendid! So Puffles and I have offered to be volunteers for this coming event. So if you can be a steward, fixer, receptionist, guide, reporter, photographer, interviewer, please get in touch with Steph and the team!

Much has happened over the past two years

During my first GovCamp, the Government Digital Service was still an idea, DirectGov still existed, mainstream media still assumed that retweets meant that the retweeter fully agreed with what was being retweeted on Twitter, Puffles was little more than a pixelated picture and I still had a full time job. Since then, The Government Digital Service has emerged, trailblazing a path through Whitehall. DirectGov has been replaced by GovUK, seriously big money has been thrown at various social media platforms and firms (e.g. Facebook’s floatation), the mainstream media are now sourcing stories through social media – in particular quotations, I’ve swapped my job for a very real dragon fairy and said dragon fairy has now been quoted in a parliamentary debate. (See Q231, Q235 and Q242 of this evidence session of the Public Administration Select Committee discussing public engagement in policy making & note each mention was from a different MP from a different party too!)

For those of you more familiar with GovCamps, Sam Smith’s excellent blogpost goes into more detail – with some challenges for you. The big one being that the people who were the outsiders looking in, are now the insiders with far greater access to the levers of influence and power than before. As Sam says, the challenges are just as great – possibly greater – but not the same.

“So Pooddles, what are the challenges?”

Not becoming a clique

I’d say the first one to be aware of is the risk of being seen as a ‘clique’. I don’t believe we are – all things GDS has been the most open and welcoming programme in any sphere of work I have ever seen. People don’t give up their Saturdays or weekends unpaid to improve public services while choosing to shut people out. Yet at the same time, there are a lot of us who have become very familiar with each other because for quite some time, we’ve been communicating through social and digital media. How then, do we ensure that we are welcoming to those who are possibly both first timers and are much more nervous about using social media in a manner that identifies them and their employer? What I’m going to look to do is to make the introductions – introducing the newcomers and first-timers to those who are already more established in common fields.

Diversifying with our growing numbers

This is already being pushed by a number of people which is good to see, but it is worth restating. Having people from more diverse backgrounds brings different perspectives. These perspectives allow people, ideas and approaches to be challenged over things that might have been overlooked. The nature of the workshops allow people to raise both the problems but also possible solutions too. e.g. “In our area, X won’t work because of Y – but we’re working on Z to try and overcome this”. Hence why I’ve been encouraging people from beyond normal policy and social media circles to come along. It would be lovely to see (as mentioned last year) some local councillors coming along, as well as people who have experience delivering frontline services (whether public, private or voluntary) to those who are service users that take part in forums that help improve services.

Beyond GovCamp – reaching beyond London and connecting us up

This is very much a ‘How can we help those areas that might be being left behind?’ sort of challenge. The West Midlands and London are two powerhouses in public sector social media. But my stomping ground – Cambridge/Cambridgeshire/East Anglia – is not. I imagine that there are other people from other parts of the UK who might be feeling similar – that they feel a little isolated or that there is not a critical mass locally to start driving things forward in the way that other areas have done. There are a number of excellent people to learn from in this field – the likes of Will Perrin and Catherine Howe being particular wizards on all things community digital/social media.

Livestreaming, livetweeting and live-blogging

I’m sure this is in hand, so this point is probably more applicable to future events as well as those that cannot make it. Earlier this year after a bout of #Sleepfail I switched on my laptop and noticed a few tweets coming in from what turned out to be our sister gathering in Australia. They were livestreaming a whole host of talks, debates and discussions at their event, as well has having a system for people outside the main halls to feed questions via Twitter. Hence them picking up on this strange dragon fairy creature asking  what sounded like very well informed questions given what you’d expect from a dragon fairy. (What would you expect from a dragon fairy if you’d never seen one before?!?) It was mindblowing for me because it reminded me of just how far we had come in such a short space of time. Here was an event being broadcast live on the other side of the world, I was able to watch it from my bedroom and was able to submit questions, watching them being asked on my behalf and answered in real time.

A dashboard for outside followers?

Having seen some of the ideas shared at Nick Halliday’s gathering of analysts at National Audit Office not so long ago, I wonder if we can borrow an idea from National Archives and have a ‘dashboard’ for UKGovCamp 2013 for people who cannot attend but want to follow and take part. Wouldn’t it be lovely if on that dashboard we could have a choice of workshops to livestream from, a Twitter stream flowing down the side and some live blogs and live photofeeds too. Perhaps a specific facebook fanpage too where people can post up all of the various links.

Could we develop some very basic posting conventions in advance of the gathering so that people are aware of how to ensure those outside the building have access to the content? I’m thinking that for all of the content that lots of people have posted at and after previous Govcamps, is there something we can do that can collate all of it in a manner that makes it user-friendly? (Especially for those not familiar with the people or subject areas). I don’t have anywhere near the level of technical skills to put something like this together, but am happy to help co-ordinate something if such a dashboard is technically feasible and is not too much effort for those with the technical knowhow and the time to help put one together.

East Anglians – one for you

It would be LOVELY to have some people based in East Anglia coming along. If you know someone who works for a public sector (or even voluntary or private sector) organisation who is interested in digital and social media for the public sector, please let them know about this event.


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