If you’ve not heard already, UKGovCamp15 is nearly upon us; it’s taking place at Microsoft HQ in Victoria on Saturday 24 January, bringing together a huge number of people who passionately care about improving the work of local and central government.
Govcamps, whether local or otherwise, are possibly the place I feel most at home. Last year I tweeted out that I looked around and felt that “these are my people”; not that I’ve worked with hardly any of them, but that they all are people that I aspire to work with in the future, and who inspire me to want to be better than I am. I reckon I could pick five random people and probably be able to start a semi-successful business with them of some kind; everyone brings something brilliant to the collective table.
This year is a little different for me. For the first time, I will be attending not as a member of local government but as a member of the private sector (albeit one who works nigh-on exclusively with local government). I’m interested to see if this makes any difference at all as to what I get out of the day, but it’s not changed my excitement levels at all.
I’m also in the position of having work colleagues joining me for the first time, as TSO are one of the sponsors for UKGovCamp this year (we're the one called 'Williams Lea Public Sector (TSO)' - I'll explain it on the day if you're interested!). It was one of the first conversations I had when we were looking at which events I felt were key throughout the year; this was right up there at the top of the list, and my new employers very kindly agreed to chip in a not insubstantial amount to support it.
In the process of having these discussions with colleagues I tried to go through what an unconference is and why these events are so fantastic; it was a lot harder than I thought it would be.
You see, on paper it is a pretty simple affair; a group of people turn up, host a number of sessions and have some discussions and then go home. There is no key note address, there are no product launches or special deals, there are no established themes in advance and no way of knowing just how much you might get out of it.
Only, it’s brilliant.
Every time I’ve attended one of these events over the last few years I’ve left enthused and invigorated for the year ahead. I've left full of ideas and inspiration, and with a clutch of new contacts to follow up on and talk with. I've left with a better understanding of the wider issues facing the sector and some of the innovative ways they are being addressed. I've even left knowing a little more about what some of the sponsors offer.
There are many blogs out there which talk about how unconferences run and why they are brilliant, so I won’t simply repeat things here. Instead, I’ll trust that the intangible outcomes which I've gone away with every time for years happen again and that I will leave excited about the year ahead.
It’s strange having been to a number of these and even been a campmaker before, yet still feeling as if I’m not worthy of acceptance amongst the govcamp herd. Other attendees are doing truly amazing things; addressing big, key issues facing the public sector, coming up with practical solutions, developing plans which then lead to real change and improvement. I turn up and talk, share some ideas and simply absorb; it feels like an unfair trade at times.
However, that’s not going to stop me from jumping in with both feet and getting involved again. This year I plan to meet a lot more people, either during the day or afterwards at beercamp, so please do say hi. I’m genuinely interested to talk about almost anything, from my current work helping redevelop council websites, to open data to blogging, to engagement, to getting kids coding, to supporting national work-based social networks, to the public perception of the sector, to how public and private sector can more effectively work together to, well, you get the idea.
That for me is the best thing about these events; the new relationships which spring up online and off. I deliberately call them relationships rather than contacts as that’s what they are; relationships which enable me to be challenged and to challenge in return, to survive over the years and the events and to spark thoughts and plans which turn into reality.
If I start even one new relationship after UKGovCamp15 it’ll all be worthwhile. I hope to start many more than that.