GLASTO FOR GEEKS: Bullet points from UK Govcamp 2012

Like an apple tree planted in the Spring a good thing can give you a fine harvest of fruit years into the future.

Events like barcamps and unconferences are the lifeblood of innovation in government. Ideas spark when you put good people into a room.

Heading for work on Monday morning it can give you the zeal of a convert. But the beauty is that many of those seeds of ideas take time to take root and form an idea.

Trouble is that some of those those valuable moments of inspiration and insight can be misplaced.

UK Govcamp is a grand daddy of an event staged at Microsoft in it’s fifth year and has expanded into a two day event drawing more than 300 people to London.

I went for a day. A family celebration stopped me from staying for the second (at which Stoke City ended up losing). The morning after my visit I had this exchange on Twitter:

So here is my list of bulletpoints, in no particular order (and I’ll be adding to them in the days to come):

  1. It’s like Glastonbury for government geeks. It’s big. It’s brilliant. You plan to see a big act on the main stage. You end up in setendipity.
  2. A Saturday barcamp is what good people would do every day if bad people, obstacles and emails were removed.
  3. There are town centres whose shops and shopkeepers are connected digitally.
  4. There are creative people who work in their back bedrooms who could be connected digitally.
  5. We don’t put inspiring people in a room often enough.
  6. Suits won’t ever come to a barcamp. Some will. Most won’t. But half way house events that have a bit of both can work.
  7. Nick Booth is one of the Holiest Saints who ever walked this earth.
  8. Archant are a newspaper group in London who ping out daily emails with headlines and links in. As well as print. That strikes me as being like news 2.0.
  9. Philip John is a bright kiddie.
  10. Dave Briggs and Steph Gray should be revered as Lennon and McCartney for organising this.
  11. Talk is good. But doing something on Monday morning is more important.
  12. Use local government services like a resident would to see how you can improve things. Then tell someone how it can be improved.
  13. The golden bullet answer is there are no golden bullets. Just lots of different solutions.
  14. People in Ludlow were behind a hyperlocal site that celebrates their town.
  15. People in central government don’t have a budget for photography.
  16. Everyone is paranoid of releasing Flickr images as creative commons in case someone does something silly. But people scratch their heads when asked if they can come up with an example.
  17. People would love us forever if local government came up with a way to issue digital bin night reminders.
  18. People in central government talk about strategy and policy lots. Less so in local government. They tend to talk of case studies and doing.
  19. Nobody has come up with a killer solution to return on investment for social media. That’s the score that looks at what you spend you get as a return. Followers are a bit important. But it’s what you and they do together that matters.
  20. The new single Alpha gov platform .gov.uk website will save pots of money. My 50p says that it’ll be offered / handed to local government next.
  21. The idea of a two day event gives space for people to come up with problems to fix. That’s a compelling thing
  22. The people at Microsoft are jolly good hosts.
  23. I’ve come away with a list of people I’d wish I’d met / spent more time with. Again.
  24. Don’t ever give in being an optimist. Ever.
Useful links:
The UK Govcamp 2012 buzz page.

Creative commons credits:

Puffles the dragon and friend by David J Pearson  http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidpea/6736374453/sizes/l/in/faves-danieldslee/

Writing on a sticky by Ann Kempster http://www.flickr.com/photos/annkempster/6730392597/sizes/l/in/faves-danieldslee/

Discussions over lunch by Harry Metcalfe http://www.flickr.com/photos/annkempster/6730392597/sizes/l/in/faves-danieldslee/

Govcamp logo shadow puppet by David J Pearson http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidpea/6735824359/in/faves-danieldslee/


SESSION LESSON: A DIY guide to running your own small Barcamp

There’s a great quote about learning not being compulsory, but neither is survival.

For the public sector learning and survival are vital in 2011.

No doubt, there’s a place for paid training.

But 2011 will be the year unconference as they expand in size and number.

What’s a barcamp? It’s bright like minded people coming together, booking a venue and running some sessions to exchange ideas.

UK Govcamp in London drew more than 170. It created an explosion of inspiring thinking on the day and after.

For this organisers Dave Briggs and Steph Gray need to be revered as heroes.
But that’s not enough for them. Oh, no. They’ve gone and created More Open. A fund to help start-up barcamps in other parts of the country. What a pair of dazzling gents.

Shropcamp is one of the first to benefit. Others will follow.

Last October I joined Si Whitehouse, Stuart Harrison, Andy Mabbett and Mike Rawlins to put on the comfortably laid back and low level Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands.

Around 70 people came on a Wednesday afternoon to Walsall College with tweets and reaching a potential audience through the #hyperwm hashtag we were surprised to learn of 56,000.

Now, I don’t for one minute suggest we’re now fully fledged event planners after one gig. Nor is what we did remotely in the same ballpark as UK Govcamp.

But that’s the point. It wasn’t trying to be. We just fancied doing something in our part of the world that we’d want to go to.

So, in the spirit of doing and sharing here are some things we learned. It feels like the right time to post this.

PLAN AN IDEA

1) Have an idea. Kick it around with some conspirators. If it stands up to the scrutiny of a couple of people you’re on a winner. Rope them in too. It’s good to share.

2) Think of a list of people you’d like to be there. Get their support for the idea. Now you’re on your way.

3) Check Dave Briggs’ 10 things to do for a barcamp. It’s indispensible.

START TALKING ABOUT IT

4) Think of a name for your event. Get yourself a Twitter account. Spread the word. Don’t wait until you have a venue or location. A name will do at first.

5) Get yourself a presence on the UK govcamps site that requires sign-up. There’s already a community of people there.

6) Get yourself a basic WordPress site to host a Google map with venue, parking and other locations.

7) Use your Twitter to flag up potential sessions and sponsors. Build momentum.

8.  Use your offline contacts to raise interest. Email. Talk. Cajole. Enthuse.

PLAN A VENUE

9) Get a venue within striking distance of a train station if you possibly can.

10) Use any contacts you may have to get it at cheap rate or free. Is there a public sector venue that fits the bill?

11) Rolling tea and coffee is a must. Catering is a cherry on top bonus, frankly. It’s 2011.

12) If it’s a public sector thing, think of a venue near a council building.

13) Having it away from the council itself is liberating. It helps people loosen up and makes it a slightly non-work thing.

PLAN SPONSORS

14) Briggs’ guide wisely suggests banging the drum with web companies. There may be some public sector cash knocking around too.

PLAN A DATE

15) There’s a debate on what works best. A Saturday? You may get people who can’t come along midweek. Midweek? You’ll make it part of the day job for less committed nine to fivers. There’s a role for both. Friday isn’t always great, apparently.

16) How about the length of it? All day or half day? How about a post event drink too? You may find people want to chat a bit afterwards.

PLAN TO GET PEOPLE TO COME

17) Use Eventbrite for tickets. Release them in batches to build up a sense of momentum. Give a build-up via Twitter to each release.

18) DM people to invite them to sign up. Don’t think that just because its posted on Twitter at 9am the world is all watching at 9am.

PLAN FOR ON THE DAY

19) Venues often have wifi on lockdown banning access to social media sites. Test what they may offer beforehand.

20) Bring lots of extension cables.

21) Bring sticky labels people can write names on.

22) Have one of your organising team always floating around to sort any problems.

23) Do something different. We invited people to bake a cake.

24) Have a couple of volunteers signing people in. Sounds obvious.

25) You’ll need someone like Andy Mabbett to compare. He’s loud. He has a big beard. He’s good at explaining.

AFTER THE EVENT

26) You’ll need to take the next day off. To recover, but also to capture the resources that have come out of it.

27) You may want to pay for a Tweetreach report to get a seven day snapshot of tweets with your hashtag. It’s handy to see the size of things. It’s also handy to pass on when you’re thanking sponsors.

28) You may want to capture some of the things that came out of the event too. Like Pelsall Common People blog that started in the wake of ours.

29) Have fun. Have fun. Have fun. It’s fun. A bit of work but mainly fun.

Creative Commons credits:

Agile session http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/5380789354/sizes/l/in/set-72157625758104141/

Analogue boy http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenniferpoole/5379048924/sizes/l/in/pool-1638817@N22/

Applause http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/5382076388/sizes/l/in/contacts/


BAR CAMP: What’s this Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands?

Some of the best ideas are dreamt up in a pub or over tea and cake.

Many of those pearls just never get past the beermat scribble stage.

Once me and a mate had the idea for beeridea.com. This would have been a site to sanity test great pub ideas that may have emerged after pint number five.

It never got off the ground.

One wheeze that has got out of the pub is Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands.

Staged at Walsall College on October 6 the aim is to be a half day unconference for local government with added flavour.

It’s followed by an uncurry. And beer, naturally.

Who is behind it? some bright people from local government and hyperlocal blogging. Namely, Simon Whitehouse of Digital Birmingham, Stuart Harrison of Lichfield Council, Andy Mabbett of Birmingham City Council and Mike Rawlins of Talk About Local. And me.

What’s the added flavour?

Two things: first, hyperlocal bloggers. These are either an important emerging news platform or untrained citizen journalists playing fast and loose with the law. Depends who you talk to.

The second? The open data movement. Once dismissed as box bedroom anoraks they are now slowly making an impact. In time this will be massive, I’m convinced of this.

For me, in Autumn 2010 Local government people, hyperlocal bloggers and open data geeks are at three points of the same Venn diagram.

It doesn’t make any sense to stage an event that doesn’t incorporate those elements.

The trick, if we can achieve it, is getting the three elements to talk and understand more.

Why a half day? We thought it interesting to see if the unconference format could fit into the day job. Events on a Saturday have worked well in the past but they attract the deeply committed. Would a mid-week event expose the 9 to 5-ers to inspiring ideas?

What is an unconference? It’s an informal conference that allows the agenda to be chosen on the day. I’ve lost count of the number of people who look back at Localgovcamp in Birmingham in 2009 as being a major source of inspiration.

Why Walsall? We’re from the West Midlands and the thinking was it may be good to do something in one of the Black Country boroughs. It’s also a town that does some surprsingly good things online.

Why Walsall College? Because they’re very nice people and they’ve got a Star Trek-esque 100 meg broadband.

Who are the nice sponsors who are allowing this to happen? Big hand for Public Sector Forum, Jadu CMS and Local Government Improvement and Delivery (formerly IdEA). Also very supportive have been: Replenish New Media, Talk About Local, Vicky Sargent at Boilerhouse, SOCITM, Walsall Council, Digital Birmingham, Birmingham City Council and Lichfield Council. And Russell at Walsall College.

What resources are there?

Here is the eventbrite: Ticket info and sponsors.

Here is the Google map: Where it is and where to park.

Here is the govcamp discussion page Right here.

What is an unconference? This is what wikipedia says.

How to run a govcamp The Dave Briggs guide

Yes, but what does an unconference actually look like? Here is localgovcamp in Birmingham.

Here are a couple of places to go in Walsall if you’ve never been before. New Art Gallery Walsall and the Leather Museum (it’s right next to the venue. The cake is very good.)

Creative commons credits:

Logo: James Clarke of Replenish New Media

Walsall College: Dan Slee

Andy Mabbett and Dave Briggs: Jamie Garner


BOSTIN SOCIAL: Is it time for a #hyperlocalgovcamp?

As brilliant ideas go the ‘unconference’ is as good as tea and a slice of cake on a summers day.

Get like-minded people in one place and then decide what you are going to talk about on the day. You’d be amazed at the hot house ideas that emerge.

Believe it or not the first event described by such a term was the XML Developers Conference of 1998 in Montreal in Canada.

How does an unconference – or Barcamp – work? Basically, four or five rooms are used with different subjects being discussed in each in hour long slots. Feel like saying something? Just chip in. It’s as simple as that.

They work brilliantly in and around government where there is a willingness to share ideas without being hampered by private sector hang up about competition and bottom lines.

They work well in the hyperlocal community too – Talk About Local have run excellent events – and they’ve even gravitated into the travel industry.

Some of the most exciting thinking I’ve come across has been at unconferences. It’s not exaggeration to say Localgovcamp Birmingham in 2009 utterly revolutionised the way I think and approach my job.

Elsewhere, UKgovcamp in January saw around 120 people with five rooms and eight slots. That’s 32,000 possible combinations. In other words, a lot of knowledge and conversations. Coming back from one such event in London as the train was passing through the Oxfordshire countryside one clear thought struck me.

Isn’t it about time we made the brilliance of the unconference fit into the day job?

Invariably, those who go are innovators. This is great. In local government, there is a need for these key events every few months if for nothing else than the sanity of those who blaze a trail sometimes with little support. But how do you get the message through to the 9 to 5-ers and policy makers who would also really benefit?

It’s an idea I’ve kicked around idly with a few people. Myself and Si Whitehouse mulled this over at the London Localgovcamp. I like the phrase ‘Locallocalgovcamp’ he came up with. It has the spirit of localgovcamp but it’s a lite version.

What it may be is this: A space where ideas could be kicked around in the informal, unconference style.

But crucially, there maybe an item or a hook pre-advertised that may encourage slightly less adept to come along. Besides,  it’s easier to convince your boss to let you go to an event if you know you’ll get something out of it. The pitch of ‘Cheerio boss, I’m off now to drink coffee with geeks and I may just learn something’ is not as compelling as ‘Cheerio, boss, I’m going to this event to learn x and if y and z too.’

The idea of the local meet-up  itself is not especially something new.

London digital people in government do something called ‘Tea Camp’. A 4-6pm slot in a department store cafe. Tea. Cake. Conversation. All seems dashed civilised idea. Besides, there’s a critical mass all working in a small area.

Perhaps it’s time for a regional version of this. The West Midlands where I live and work sees an inspiringly vibrant digital community. There is also seven councils within a 30 mile radius.

So what would an as-part-of-the-day-job West Midlands bostin social event look like? 

Two hours? Two rooms? Two sessions? Or is that too short?

Pork scratchings?

What do you think?

Creative commons photo credit: Barcamp: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid laughingsquid.com.


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