My favourite day of the year from a professional point of view is one where I earn no money and work like a Trojan with others to make happen.
Commscamp has been staged for the past four years in Birmingham and brings 180 largely public sector comms people together.
It’s an unconference which means that the agenda is decided on the day.
But aside from the conversation, ideas and connections from the day the best thing was hearing some people also want to stage an unconference too. There may be one. There may be two. Who knows? Fantastic. I really hope they do it.
The basics about unconferences I learned from Dave Briggs, Steph Gray and Lloyd Davies. All wonderful people. We staged unconferences because we’d been to a few and fancied having a go ourselves. John Peel used to say punk made it easy. All you had to do was push over a telephone box and sell your brother’s motorbike and you had enough money for a demo. It’s not that different with an unconference.
So here are a few tips.
- No-one owns it. Lloyd is quite right in saying that unconferences are not owned by anyone. So have a go.
- Find some likeminded people.
- Just book some space.
- Put up an eventbrite to distribute the tickets.
- Scrape together a smidge of sponsorship and UKGovcamp can help with that.
- Shout about it.
- On the day relax and have fun.
- That’s it.
- That’s really it.
See? It’s that simple.
I’d also be tempted to do it slightly seperate with what you are doing at work. So, it’s not the day job. But it’s a seperate thing helps the day job. That way you get all the fun stuff but none of the middle manager barriers.
One absolute true-ism from Lloyd is that everyone who goes tends to to love them. But then would like to make a minor change. ‘It was great, but if only we could pre-plan the sessions, that would be marvellous.’ Or whatever the suggestion is.
Keep it simple.
Just have some space. A Facebook group works to get people thinking about sessions beforehand. Decide what you are going to talk about on the day. Then give the thing to the people in the room and they will always, always, always deliver.
Picture credit: Sasha Taylor / Flickr
It’s happening again, I can feel it.
I wasn’t sure if the magic would return somehow but it feels as though it has already.
The magic is Commscamp. It’s a sort of magic that happens once a year when 150 people come together determined to make brighter ideas.
What makes the magic? People who give a damn and want to do things better. People who want to help see that too. And people who like cake. Definitely, people who like cake.
The truth is it also feels like there’s never been a more important time for an event like commscamp. It feels as though it is really needed this year. Against the backdrop of Brexit, cuts and rapid change there is a need for people to come together compare notes and work things out.
The phrase that runs through what I’ve done over the past seven or eight years is ‘militant optimism.’ At its heart is a resolve to do things better despite everything
At times, optimism takes a battering. A change of boss. Cuts. More cuts. Brexit. Change. New platforms. Keeping pace. The firm request for a back of bus ad you have to push back on. The easier thing would be to throw in the towel.
Why I think the magic is back
Planning an event like this is easier the more you do it. Writing emails to printers at 11pm when you haven’t seen your family all day is not ‘fun.’
But one moment this week made me think the magic was back. Late night I was looking down the session idea pitches in the Commscamp Facebook group.
- Income generation. How do we?
- Live streaming video. How should we?
- If everyone is a comms expert how do I make my professional advice heard?
- How can you stay politically restricted and still have a voice?
- How can I put a cat amongst the pigeons?
- Coping with guilt and reality post-cuts.
- Virtual reality video: a beginners guide.
- A cathartic session just to let rip a bit.
I want to go to them all. Reading them I was reminded why I love it. And I looked at the list of people who want to volunteer to make that happen.
If you can’t come you can still play a part
There’s a limited amount of room and we know that not everyone who wants to come can come. We’ll look to livestream some sessions, post to Twitter on the #commscamp16 hashtag and blog. If you are out of the room we’ll try and find a way you can catch-up.
But one thing makes it worthwhile
If there is one issue that makes commscamp this year really worth it for me it’s Brexit and how we cope with it. I’ve got this strong sense that there’s a strong sense of uncertainty that we would do well to tackle.
It would be great if we could tackle that together.
It feels like the magic is back.
Let’s make it so, shall we?
Commscamp is staged in Birmingham on Thursday July 14. Tickets are sold out.
Picture credit: Ann Kempster / Flickr
It’ll be staged Bond Company in Fazeley Street, Birmingham.
This place used to be a warehouse that shipped ice to London. I mean. How cool is that?
Now it’s a meeting space and offices for Birmingham’s creative industries.
Commscam will see more than 150 people come to put their collective heads together for a barcamp around comms, pr, marketing digital stuff. You can mention the word ‘press release’ too. That’s allowed.
I’m pleased to say there’s a real mix between local government, government and people outside these fields and a mix too between unconference veterans and newbies. That’s just how it should be.
Why am I biased? Because I’m helping organise it with Ann Kempster from the Cabinet Office and Darren Caveney from Walsall Council two quite brilliant people.
Why are we doing it? Because we’ve seen enough of how unconferences work to see that they can be hugely successful and we think there’s things to be discussed and ideas to be shared in our field.
So, what’s the agenda? There isn’t one. It’s a big blank sheet of paper that those who are coming along will help to shape. That’s the beauty of an unconference. It all gets pulled together by those who are coming along. You can find out more about the event at it’s website here and if you haven’t already feel free to mention a session here. You don’t even have to have a ticket as we’ll be livestreaming some of the sessions and we’ll be tweeting too on the #commscamp13 hashtag.
So why are we doing commscamp?
Well, I can’t speak for Darren and Ann but for me…
We need to share ideas and inspiration. In 2013 it can be tough working in comms in and around government. But those who work in the field can be a hugely passionate bunch. A good idea at the FCO could well work somewhere in local government. Without big budgets sharing the ideas can work.
You don’t have to be an unconference veteran to get something out of it. Just last week I was up in Manchester for the LGComms social media event. Rather bravely, they tried a loose unconference element. Of the 60 in a room about six had been to an unconference. Was I worried? Yes. People were only too keen to suggest the 12 sessions we had. Commscamp was roadtested and passed.
You need to plug into the West Midlands. Okay, so I’m a bit biased (but I declared that right there at the start) but there’s been a stack of good things in the West Midlands for some time around digital and innovation. Perhaps it’s the beer or the geographical closeness but there’s ideas to be had and shared.
You need to learn from people outside comms. Some of the best ideas and approaches I’ve had have come from talking to bloggers, engineers, police officers and coders. Listen. Talk. Learn. While there’s a focus on PR people there’ll be some input from those outside the sector too.
Local government people need to talk to government people once in a while. There are ideas in Shropshire that may shape what’s done by a government department to communicate to people. Vica versa too.
Our sponsors are lovely. There’s a big list of them down the side of the blog here.
If you’ve ever been told: ‘what we need is a comms plan’ and wanted to scream you’ll be in good company. There’ll be a session of primal screaming just to get over this, I’m sure.
Cake is good. Underpinning any unconference is the cake table. Baking is the first social media, I’m sure of it.
Here’s your call to action right here:
1) If you’ve got a ticket say ‘hoorah!’ and think of something that you’d like to see cracked or maybe think of something you are proud of and would like to share. Post it here on the discussion thread.
2) If you haven’t got a ticket go to February 26 in your calender and put the date in your diary along with the words: “Dammit, I missed a ticket but I can still follow #commscamp13 on Twitter.” There’ll be a livestream posted to this hashtag on the day too.
3) If you’ve a ticket and you can’t go tell us, say: ‘oh no!’ Tell us and we’ll release it to the frankly large waitlist.
4) Take a look at the commscamp blog here.
5) Can you help? See how you can help here and share the buzz. Or as we’re in Brum, point people where to catch the buzz. Take a look here to see how you can help.
Called Hyper WM this half day event has grown from being a half germ of an idea to something a bit big a bit splendid and I’m proud to be involved with.
Staged at The Public in West Bromwich on Monday November 19 the event will give people the space to think a bit differently. Hats off to Sandwell Council’s chief executive Jan Britton and Liz O’nions for really picking up the ball and running with it and to Si Whitehouse who has played a big role this year.
It’s the biggest event yet there’s some tickets here if you’re quick.
But what’s the purpose of one of these things? Aren’t we all unconferenced out? Paul Coxon recently wrote a challenging and thoughtful piece that questioned the worth of unconferences. Paul has done some great work in local government and like anything half-decent if it’s a good idea it can stand a level of scrutiny. So here’s my own take on them.
What do I get out of them?
Simply, it’s a chance to connect, be challenged, think differently and learn. It’s a chance to see what is on the horizon and just over the hill. Do I learn something that I can put into place first thing Monday morning? Yes. But it’s often equips me for that thing that lands on my lap in six months time. Often it’s thanks to an unconference that I’ve knowing the basics and know the right person who can help. Like a glorified address book with ‘problem solving’ on the cover. Everything that I’ve done over the last three years with digital – direct or indirectly – has come from an unconference. How can I start to calculate that?
What would new people get out of them?
It’s a chance to take some time out of the office to learn and to think differently. Job titles are handed in at the door and there’s a chance to contribute to a discussion or even start a discussion with someone with something you have in common. The coffee break at a traditional event is often the most valuable time as it’s a chance to talk, ask questions and learn. A good unconference can be a whole lot of that.
What do sponsors get out of it?
A chance to test out ideas, horizon scan, see what ideas are developing and to attach a name to a room full of people who believe in doing something a bit innovative. There’s also the passing traffic of eyeballs to the website and to the event. But that’s almost a by-product.
Oh, no it’s not structured!
Rather like taking a dip in the deep end without water wings for the first time there’s a leap of faith involved. You may hate it. You’re more likely to like it. At the last Hyper WM there was the press officer who refused to come because he didn’t have an agenda. That misses the point.
Nine unconference pitfalls and ways to dodge them
Three years on from my first unconference and it’s clear that the model has evolved and has matured. There was an intake of breath at localgovcamp in Birmingham in 2012 when for a whole variety of reasons many veterans couldn’t make it. But others stepped up to the plate which was brilliant to see.
1. If the same faces turn up.
There’s no question that there’s a group of people who will turn up to unconferences. That’s fine. They’ll get the ball rolling and encourage and cajole. But the danger is there’s an imbalance of new people with fresh ideas. An imaginative use of the wait list can ration the right balance. Easy.
2. If the same faces pitch a session idea.
There’s also no question that the unconference pitching session where you stand in front of a room of people can be daunting. It encourages a certain type of people who don’t mind public displays of popularity. So how to fix it? Maybe it’s encouraging ideas before the event itself. Maybe it’s blank postcards and pens. And someone else reading them out. Easy.
3. If there’s no ideas
Like the actor who dreams of being on stage with no clothes surely deep down the unconference organiser dreads. Teeing up a couple of ideas and making the pitching less scary is a must. Especially from new people.
4. If there’s cliques
Open data people only talking to other open data people in open data sessions is a bit of a missed opportunity and a bit boring, frankly. The times when I’ve been to events I’ve made a deliberate policy of heading to an event where I’ve known absolutely nothing. In short, I’ve sat in the corner and said nothing. At one event I sat through a session on WordPress as a web platform. That’s not my day job. But I learned things that helped with the day job. If you’ve been before, find someone you’ve not met before and chat to them. Then repeat. You’ll learn things.
5. If the focus on problems not the shiny tech
I’d love to see sessions that floated a problem and looked for solutions that may or may not be about the tech. Coventry City Council Martin Reeves at the 10 by 10 WM event made a valuable point. At a recent session for chief executives social media wasn’t mentioned once, he said. Don’t be an evangelist. Bring a solution that may just have some tech as part of it.
6. If there’s measurement
Yes, but how do we measure the success? Maybe it’s coming back in six months time to see what people have learned and put into practice. Then working out what the cost of what that would have been if you’d bought it off the shelf. Good luck with calculating that.You’ll need a stack of numbers.
7. Yes, but aren’t we unconferenced out?
Not nearly close. If 150 people want to stage an event to talk museums and hold it in an unconference format that’s fine by me if those 150 get something out of it. The public sector is a broad church. With training budgets vanishing the unconference is a way of sharing knowledge. If a room full of public health people want to get together to crack something that’s fine by me. Or librarians.
8. It’s the brewcamps, stupid
For all I love big organised events it’s actually things like brewcamp – and teacamp in London – where I can see the most potential. What’s this? It’s a group of like minded people coming together to drink coffee, eat cake and learn things. At no cost. In a coffee shop. Splintering is the new black.
Crack those eight and you’ve a good chance of helping to create something vibrant and innovative. Best thing is you don’t have to be an organiser to play a big part.
Creative commons credits
On Saturday, 120 people from local government will head to Birmingham to share ideas, scheme and try and make the world a better place.
It’s an unconference which means the agenda gets decided on the day by those who go. Andy Mabbett’s guide for newbies is here
Seeing as it’s been three years since the very first one organised by Dave Briggs and people from Birmingham City Council I thought it high time to look back at how things have actually changed.
Back in 2009 at Fazeley Studios in Birmingham, there was a feeling of excited idealism. Tom Watson MP stood in the queue for coffee talking to a press officer while a web manager from Yorkshire was busy talking to a blogger from Brum.
This new thing called Twitter was connecting people in a way few people understood but all who were in on it were excited by.
It was brilliant. Sarah Lay, who I rate, wrote this piece in 209 that hasn’t dimmed with time.
So what’s changed?
Me. It made me think differently. It made me see new ideas and the confidence to try some of them out. My job title says press officer. I actually do far more than that.
Knowing bright people. It’s not always what you do first thing Monday morning that made localgovcamp. It’s making connections – so when you need WordPress skills further down the line you turn to Philip John. For open data Si Whitehouse. Localgovcamp 2009 created a network that has built and thrived and rebnews itself each year. That’s an amazing achievement.
Some bright people aren’t here anymore. Jack Pickard, who I met briefly at localgovcamp, died a short time after. He was someone I rated from a distance. I’ve never unfollowed him.
Some bright people have fallen by the wayside. Not everyone with talent is valued by an organisation. Some bright minds from 2009 haven’t been given the space to shine. They’re shining some of them at other things instead. Some have dazzled then faded.
It’s an ideas factory. Some ideas first come across in 2009 took three years to be relevant enough to put into practice. But that’s okay.
Unconferences work. One question asked in the run-up to the 2012 event was if people are fed-up with them. For me, you only have to look at mailcamp, museumcamp, librarycamp, hyperwm and others to realise that’s not the case. They’re getting more niche and more specific.
The web is making job titles irrelevant. At a barcamp you are a sticky badge who stands or falls on your willingness to share – and most importantly listen. That’s rather good.
Suits are starting to come. In small numbers. For the first time a chief executive is on the 2012 guest list. That’s a good thing.
Unconferences can have the same faces. That’s fine because people connect and re-connect. But there’s a danger of staleness if there’s not new faces. Seeing a new idea from a new person fills me with impish glee.
Others have picked up the baton. Those that came in 2009 have been organising their own things like a glorious domino effect. It led to events in York and London that led to events in Walsall and Warwick. And elsewhere.
Meeting people broadens horizons. The answers for being a better communications officer, I’ve found, can be found by talking to coders, to bloggers, to residents, to officers, to elected members and to people who do other things.
We are winning. The basic idea of localgovcamp 2009 that the social web could make peoples lives a little better remains the same. You doubt it? Look back at where you were three years ago and think how far you’ve come.
Creative commons credits
Fazeley Studios in 2009 http://www.flickr.com/photos/arunmarsh/3656735854/sizes/l/
It washes around obstacles and travels ever forward like a stream of water running down hill. Follow the path you can end up in exciting places.
One of those ideas is about doing and then sharing.
It’s something that powers what loosely can be called the UK govcamp unconference movement.
Every New Year a couple of hundred get together one Saturday in London to plot and scheme, share ideas and kick around new ones.
It’s a powerful idea to put people in a room and leave job titles at the door.
For me, I’ve never been the same since going to localgovcamp – a UK Govcamp spin-off – back in 2009.
It made me think differently and connected me to people who were thinking differently too.
Now, there’s a whole range of such events splintering to cover such things as libraries, emergency planning and hyperlocal blogging.
For two days the centre of digital Britain was IslandGovcamp in Orkney organised at first half jokingly then quite brilliantly by Sweyn Hunter and others. It drew people from hundreds of miles away.
A question was asked if there are too many unconferences these days. My first thought is there’s not nearly enough.
But its not just about 100 people in a room. It’s about niches too.
Just last week I met up with half a dozen West Midlands public sector comms people in Coffee Lounge near New Street station in Birmingham.
People came along and were happy to talk for five minutes or so on something that they did recently that worked and for five minutes on something that could work as a collaboration.
There were some great ideas.
Jokingly called mini cake camp it worked rather well. There’s one idea in particular that we’re now working on that’s going to fly.
But what really connects all this – the big event and low level get together – is the willingness to connect and share ideas to make what you do better.
That in itself is a powerful idea.
I’ve sometimes wondered what excites me about this journey.
Spencer Wilson, a local government blogger I admire greatly, has.
I’d commend you to read the original but this is an extract:
More and more of us are becoming a part of this journey, for pleasure, for work, both; intertwined. We are going at full speed, while each of us at our own pace. We are being swept along in progressing our knowledge, often without knowing where we began or where we’re going. There are no landmarks, only the wake of others froth and bother as they speed along. All our paths cross constantly, a mass of tracks. Sometimes we collide beautifully, creating fleeting moments of shared vision, before speeding off again.
“We are making progress and yet nothing is changing”, and right there is the ultimate pondering moment, of social media, open data, new web technologies in local government. Progress is being made. I read it. I’ve seen it. I’m forever being amazed by the new ways people speak about what they’ve done and what they’re doing.
Change will come, when its ready, subtly slinking its way into everybodies conciousness. It will begin to apply itself in new ways of thinking, about how services are delivered. We will keep on going at full speed, lost in the fog, and it will be brilliant. Paths of navigation will be left in the wake for others to follow (I’ll be following), by the dreamers who dare to hurtle along, unbound by beginnings or ends or safety of landmarks.
That’s a beautiful way to describe it.
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