TEA AND INNOVATION: Are we, like, getting mainstream, now?

It’s a bit rubbish following an event online if you know they have good cake, good people and good ideas.

Especially when you’re hungrily sat work at 9 o’clock at night and could really murder a slice of Victoria sponge.

 Last night I followed Brewcamp’s first outing to Coventry, this time organised by Kate Sahota and Karen Ramsey-Smith.

 What’s Brewcamp?

 It’s a few like minded local government people in the West Midlands who want to innovate, share ideas and learn things. We speak nicely to a cafe or bar owner who has wifi to set aside some space for free, set a date, set-up an eventbrite for tickets and then come up with a few topics people want to talk about.

 Looking down the list of attendees for the Coventry event the name of Sandwell Council chief executive Jan Britton stood out.

 Jan has already carved something of a reputation with his blog. It’s accessible to members of the public as well as staff. It’s a great thing and you can see it here.

 Unconferences like Brewcamp are great for sharing ideas and learning things. They’re informal and, heck, they make work fun. You don’t have to be an expert. You just need to turn up.

 Previously these things have always been the haunt of the enthusiast willing to give up their time and often pay out of their own pockets to attend.

 A running undercurrent debate at them is often that ‘this is great but how do we get the suits here?’

 In other words, how do you get senior management?

 Three things have made me think this brilliant approach is dangerously close towards making a breakthrough to the mainstream.

 First, to have a first local government chief executive like Jan Britton to attend one of them is actually pretty significant. Let’s stop and think. He’s a talented man. He’s also busy. By actually coming to an unconference he’s opened up the door for others in his organisation.

And in other people’s organisations.

 Second reason? The media are starting to take notice. Sarah Hartley at The Guardian ran an excellent piece on her time at localgovcamp in Birmingham. The LGC ran a two page spread on what makes things like localgovcamp work. They put some of it up online to non-subscribers.   Hats off to it for covering it.

As Ken Eastwood, an assistant executive director at Barnsley, wrote of those who attended:

“In many cases they are frustrated by their lack of influence and by local government’s resistance to change and bottom up innovation. It seems clear to me that this needs to change. We need to be more agile, more adaptive and better able to encourage and nurture grass-roots, low cost creativity.”

 A third reason? It’s clear also that the traditional events sector has woken up to the creative side of unconferences too. The PSCF event in Glasgow will have an informal side to it in the afternoon with masterclasses.

The SOLACE conference in October, for senior officers, will also incorporate an element of unconference creativity too.

It would be hopelessly naive to think that we’ve won the war. But we’re slowly winning lots of important battles.

In local government in 2011 it’s clear we need to innovate and encourage new ideas. It’s not if but how.

As the excellent Nick Hill from PCSF says, mainstream is essential otherwise you basically remain like ‘Fight Club.’

Creative commons credits:

Paul Clarke UKGovcamp http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/5382076388/sizes/l/in/set-72157625889557000/

Modomatic Tea http://www.flickr.com/photos/modomatic/2724923829/sizes/z/in/photostream/


BREWCAMP: How we can innovate with tea and cake

As Mrs Doyle herself said, didn’t the Lord himself pause for a nice cup of tea?

With a cup of tea comes conversation, learning and sharing.

And cake.

Over the past few months, I’ve been involved with something called Brewcamp.

This is about 20 people meeting up at the end of a working day at a cafe in Birmingham.

How did it come about?

Back in 2010 myself and a team of others – Si Whitehouse, Stuart Harrison, Mike Rawlins and Andy Mabbett – staged the unconference Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands.

This was a big shindig. We hired Walsall College with catering, there was 12 sessions and it all cost just over £1,000 to put on.

It dawned on us that the planning meetings were actually a sociable chance to catch-up and bounce ideas.

We looked at the idea of Teacamp in London and quite liked the idea of a meet-up between like minded people with a £0 budget and minimal organisation. All power to the Teacamp people.

A few Warwickshire people Kate Sahota, Sasha Taylor and Kaz Ramsey-Smith have now come along too.

There is now talk of similar events in the North of England and Derbyshire.

How does it work?

There’s three topics of about 30 minutes, a ban on powerpoint and space for questions and debate.

I’m increasingly struck how this happy accident with milk and one sugar has something more to offer than just a post-work chance to eat Victoria Sponge.

What does one look like?

A bit like this. Storify is a good way of capturing resources. Andy Mabbett spoke about how wikipedia can be used by local government, a debate about transport open data here and Walsall 24 here.

Why is this a good idea?

  • Because tea and cake are good.
  • Because as training budgets vanish the informal offers a good alternative.
  • Because it’s a chance to meet like minded people.
  • Because some good work is being done by people who are just innovating.
  • Because anyone can go.

What’s the Brewcamp recipe?

A budget of zero.

An eventbrite page like this one.

A cafe. Or a pub with an owner who doesn’t mind reserving some space.

Wifi optional.

A flip or a livestream if you like. But it’s not vital.

A few people who have a case study to share or a problem they want help cracking.

A supply of tea.

Some cake.

And if you don’t fancy those rules you can tear them up and make your own.

Simple.

https://danslee.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/teaandcake/