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/


HYPER GO GO: John Peel and eight things to do after an unconference

John Peel once said Punk’s great lesson was that anyone could do it.

All you had to do was knock over a phone box, sell your motorbike and you had enough cash for a day in a studio and 500 7″ singles.

It’s those words that struck me after Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands in Walsall.

Run on a shoestring, powered by enthusiasm, favours and goodwill it saw 70 people from across the local government, hyperlocal blogging and open data communities come together in Walsall.

It should never have got off the ground. Once off the ground it should have crashed. Several times. That it stayed airborne should make all those who came proud.

At an unconference there can be a massive surge of ideas powered by conversation and debate. It’s a chance to think and be creative.

All that’s great but is that it?

What’s next?

In the few days after the event, a new hyperlocal Pelsall Common People was started by Jayne Howarth, Dave Musson at Solihull Council started to do cool things with Facebook and the organisation I work for Walsall Council started to trial Yammer. That’s a tiny tip of a large iceberg.

Here’s eight things to do after an unconference.

1. Sit down in a darkened room. If it’s been any good your head is filled with ace ideas and you’ll need a good lie down.

2. Blog. It’s one of the best ways to get your head around an idea. Besides. Everyone loves a sharer.

3. Don’t be despondent. If the unconference has been really good you’ll experience mild depression three days later. It’s the ambition – reality axis. Don’t worry. See 4.

4. Do a small thing. Take out a Flickr account. Go and set-up a Posterous blog. You don’t have to add content just yet but you’ve feel a whole lot better.

5. Catch up. Read the blogs and presentations from sessions you couldn’t get to.

6. Stage an unconference yourself. No, really. Do. Find a few like minded people and do it yourself. They’re very rewarding.

7. Think of the phrase Just Flipping Do It. Write it on your pump bag if you like. JFDI It’s a good motto for life.

8. Think of it as training and not a jolly out of the office. Although if they serve cake it should be a fun experience.

I’ve long thought an unconference works short term and long term. It’s the ideas you can do straight away and it’s the slow burning suggestions that strike you 12 months down the line.

Do people have to wait for permission or someone else to create a bargovcamp?

Of course not. You can run one too. It would be hugely cool if from Hyperlocal Govcamp people were inspired to do it themselves.

To continue flogging the Punk analogy, when The Sex Pistols first played Manchester half the audience went out and formed bands. We got Joy Division, New Order, and The Buzzcocks. That we got Simply Red too shouldn’t be held against it.

For my money, and stay with me here, Localgovcamp in Birmingham was a local government equivalent of the Sex Pistols gig because a slew of inspirational things, events and projects came out of it.

Your unconference DIY toolkit

Dave Briggs’ guide to setting up an unconference we found indispensible.

Andy Mabbett said he’d blog on the things we learned and when he does I’ll insert the link [here].

There’ll also be a collection of resources from #hyperwm [here] very soon.

You can look at the images taken on the day at the #hyperwm Flickr group here.

John Popham points out here that an unconference is a cheap way of training in an era of austerity.


TWO TRIBES: What should the blogger – press officer relationship look like?

Jerry Springer built a TV career by making people in dysfunctional relationships sit down and talk to each other.

With burly minders flanking the stage Billie-Jo and her ex-lover Seth from an Arkansas trailer park would set-to in front of a studio audience.

Gripping stuff it was too, but you had this feeling nothing would change.

Two parties in a sometimes strained relationship came together at Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands in Walsall.

The session ‘What does a good blogger – press officer relationship look like?’ saw bloggers sit down with press officers.

For some, it was the first time they’d ever spoke to the other side.

Like a parish pump Relate, there were sometimes a few choice words. But unlike the warring couples on TV there was a growing appreciation of the points of view.

It’s a session that has been extensively covered.

Local government officer Simon Gray, who is not from communications, blogged brilliantly about the session here. When he said neither side appeared with full credit, he’s right.

He’s also dead right in calling on both sides to cut the other some slack.

Paul Bradshaw writing a guest post for Podnosh made some excellent points in how local government should make information easier to access.

Mike Rawlins, of Talk About Local, who also contributes to Pits N Pots in Stoke-on-Trent has written an excellent post from his perspective on this and dead badgers and does, as Simon suggests, cut some slack.

Paul Bradshaw wrote a good post from the session focussing on the call from bloggers to make information more easy to access.

Sasha Taylor has also blogged from the session from a police perspective.

Twelve months ago I wrote a blog post on how the blogger – press office relationship was a source of conflict.

The 10 points I wrote then I still stand by. The full post is here. The edited highlights are boiled down to this

FIVE THINGS A PRESS OFFICE CAN DO:

  1. Treat them as journalists.
  2. Put them on press release mailing lists.
  3. Use blog comment boxes as a press officer.
  4. Accept not everything bloggers write is going to be favourable. Complain politely – and constructively – if things are wrong.
  5. Respect what bloggers do.

FIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR BLOGGERS:

  1. If you have courage of your conviction put your name to what you do you’ll find your voice getting heard far better.
  2. Don’t be afraid to check stories.
  3. Respect press officers. They have a job to do too.
  4. Be accurate. The same rules for newspapers apply to blogs.
  5. Buy a copy of McNae’s Essential Law For Journalists to save your life and potentially your house.

But listening to the both sides talk at the session, there’s also a few things a bright press officer can do.

1.  Create blog friendly content – A conventional press release is tailored for the print media. That’s not necessarily blog-friendly. A short film posted to YouTube or Vimeo is. A two minute film to explain with an interview the points made in the release would work.

2. Add pics as a matter of course – Even if it’s a stock pic. Mike Rawlins of Talk About Local made the point that there is a demand for images. They’re going to source a pic from Google images anyway. Why not provide a good one?

3. Judge when to respond – the excellent Michael Grimes of the Citizenship Foundation re-purposed the US military’s flowchart of engagement with bloggers. It’s good advice when to engage and when to ignore the internet troll.

4. Build relationships – In print media you know you’ll get a better story about countryside placing it with a reporter who is passionate about green issues. So why not do it online too?

5. Put talking to bloggers in black and white. Make it a policy decision. Here’s one from Wolverhampton Homes to show you how.

6. Learn about open data. It’s not a geek topic anymore. It’s come into the mainstream and bloggers are at the forefront. Local data advisor and hyperlocal blogger Will Perrin has pointed out that press officers will need excel skills. Why? Because you’ll need to interrogate data sets just as you’ll need to leaf through council minutes.

Creative commons credits:

No papers today – Katmere http://www.flickr.com/photos/katmere/51065495/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Antique clippings – D Sharon Pruitt http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/4799271086/