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.
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.
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?
What do you think?
Creative commons photo credit: Barcamp: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid laughingsquid.com.