UKGovCamp 2016


Thoughts on my fifth unConference with some of the best talent in and around the UK’s digital public services.

I’m zombied out as I type this having followed UKGovCamp with a rehearsal with the Dowsing Sound Collective for our gig in Newmarket on Saturday. Which reminds me, those of you in and around London (Camden, Hammersmith and Greenwich in particular) and Brighton who want to sing on stage with lots of people at gigs like the one below, they are recruiting new enthusiasts. (No auditions)

Unlike past UKGovCamps, I didn’t say that much at this event – sticking mainly to filming and photography duties. (I’m uploading photos to this album – they’re all CC as requested by UKGovCamp organisers so feel free to share).

If I wasn’t very talkative on Saturday (or Sunday), it’s because of my mental health – it’s not great at the moment. The side effects of the medication kept me relatively subdued throughout the day, so apologies if I wasn’t very talkative or was more ‘cold’ than expected.

Pitching sessions

I streamlined the footage of the pitching sessions for the benefit of those that didn’t get tickets. It turns out that the video is a nice summary of the issues and concerns that people in the digital public services community have.

The sessions I went to included Dan Slee’s (@DanSlee) one on all things video – in part because hits to my Youtube account have been far higher than I had expected when I launched it – around 30,000 hits in the past 12 months and over 110,000 minutes of footage viewed (not including my Vimeo account).

The most fun session was Jeni Tennison (@JeniT) and Ellen Broad’s (@EllenBroad) open data board game – in particular on how they captured the incentives that force people and organisations to work together. In a nutshell, everyone takes on a role within an organisation and has to decide which apps to build and which of their data sets they should open. The more data sets opened and apps that are built, the more ‘points’ you get for the categories of ‘the economy, society and the environment’. At the same time, you have event cards that take points away. Such as a stock market crash. If you lose too many points, the world metaphorically ends unless people come together to open data sets and build apps that save the world from doom. Puffles and Kara Langford of the University of East Anglia found themselves in precisely that position when the stock market crashed.

Helen @SocialSoup from HMRC facilitated a thought-provoking session on what I can only describe as persistent cultural problems inside the civil service, seeking input on how to overcome these. Being first-timers and with a group of colleagues from Newcastle, it was a timely reminder that there is a world outside of London. One thing that really hit me at UKGovCamp was the growing gap between London and the rest of the country on all things digital. London seems to have ‘won’ many of the battles of 2011 that I still seem to be fighting – for example still having to make the case for social media to people and organisations. From a public policy perspective, there will be gaps in deliver if policy makers assume that the rest of the country is racing at the same speed that London is. We’re not. Even somewhere such as Cambridge with the reputation it has, the structures of our public administration is Victorian & utterly out of date for the challenges that our city faces.

Talking of all things Victorian, Tracy Green (@GreenTrac) of Parliament’s new digital service ran a workshop on how to increase the digital literacy of MPs so that they are providing better scrutiny on bills relating to digital. The problem we faced there was that we could not get away from structural problems around MPs in safe seats lacking any incentive to become knowledgeable in what can seem a new and complex subject area. As a result, we never got into some of the detail – such as exploring some of the basic data around training that MPs and their private offices undertake, or the ratio of staff of select committees to the civil servants that support ministers. (Several years ago I blogged that select committees needed to increase significantly their staffing and resources to help MPs scrutinise effectively departments of state and organisations they are charged with overseeing.

Five years of Puffles – what’s changed that’s been positive in digital public services?

I put this question to a number of people at UKGovCamp 2016. Here are their responses based on their observations and working experiences.

Any thoughts?

One final thing to add:

There were a number of regulars from past years that were conspicuous by their absence. Combined with changes at the Government Digital Service since the last GovCamp, I wonder whether this contributed to a slightly different dynamic this year. (For example I didn’t get the sense of everyone being magnetically drawn towards plans set out by individual Whitehall depts compared with one or two past gatherings). That said, the turnover/churn was at just the right level to maintain the collective memory of the Govcamps while at the same time bringing in some very interesting new people from far beyond London and the South East.


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