I’m a big fan of tradition. Watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on Christmas Eve, always booking my birthday off work, never wearing an away shirt to a home football match; tradition has a great place in my life. Okay, that last one was superstition rather than tradition, but it still counts.
It’s a tradition that after a Camp of any kind I, along with other campers, produce a few reflections on the event just gone. Some of these have been short bullet points, others more detailed treaties on life, the universe and everything; this is somewhere between the two.
Here are my own reflections on UKGovCamp15.
I didn’t miss the introductions
Long-time campers will have been slightly surprised to see that there wasn’t the usual obligatory round of audience introductions, where everyone in the room says who they are, where they are from and something they are hoping to get out of the day (or words to that effect). This can take the best part of an hour (there are a lot of people there) and can result in some classic moments of humour or insight, as well as helping put some faces to some twitter names in time to set up later conversations.
However, no matter how much I might enjoy having people look at me and be forced for those few seconds to be aware of my existence, I’ve never been convinced that they are all that cost-effective in terms of time. A sizable portion of the audience dread it (not everyone is extroverted after all), a sizable portion spend most of the time thinking about what they are going to say rather than listening to anyone else, a sizable portion go on for far too long despite being told to be brief, a sizable portion say something really boring while a sizable portion work hard on saying something funny and unique which turns out to be neither.
I quite liked the first hour or so being effectively enforced networking, and meant I managed to catch up with people I’d have not done if we’d all dived straight into sessions.
It’s getting less vague
We seem to be moving away from discussions about “should we be doing this?” and “why can’t we do this” on to “how can we best make this happen?”. It might just have been me, but I didn’t hear a single person saying that they were banned from using the internet or social media. I’m not saying that all the battles have been won of course, only that those resisting are the exceptions rather than the rule.
I left with some wonderfully specific information to follow up and find out more about, from Verify to work being done by Parliament to how to fit rubbish chutes to the outside of buildings; in some ways some of the sessions are feeling a little more like micro-hackdays than talking shops. I like this.
It’s still VERY digital
GovCamp sprang up with a digital focus, and digital has played a key role in its evolution over the years. However, Gareth pointed out to me that digital seemed to be the default solution for just about every conversation had that day, and he was right. Every issue seemed to boil down to either a need for more open data, the need for some sort of software or the need for GDS (or its local government equivalent – more on that another day…).
The way these things are set up means that the conversation is created and had by the people who attend; I’d love to find a way to get some less digital people to come along next time though.
The rule of thirds
There were a few people I spoke with who felt that the audience was changing slightly, which got me thinking about its make-up and where a happy balance might be. To me (and I’m sure there are proper stats which can prove or disprove this properly), it seemed that about a third of the audeicne were hard-core campers, with years of t-shirts in the wardrobe. Another third were those who had been to one or two events and were somewhat involved in the wider community, while a final third were new to it all and taking part for the first time.
I think this is about right. Too many of the first group and it feels like you are talking about the same things with the same people all over again. Too many of the middle third and you have to wonder where all the experience has gone. Too many of the final third and the group memory disappears, dooming them to repeat previous mistakes all over again.
The other side…
I have to admit; attending GovCamp after leaving local government was a little bit different. It has changed the way I think slightly; not in terms of who I spoke with or what I said, nor the values to which I hold dear; rather in what conversations I actually had.
Twelve months ago I would have jumped at the session on developing digital skills in leaders, but this year I went to a session on continuous change instead. This is neither the right nor wrong thing to do, but is a change which personally I found interesting to note, and makes me wonder whether this is a temporary focus on different areas as I adjust to life outside the public sector or a more permanent situation.
I thought UKGovCamp15 was a great success. In no way to put down previous events (which were all fantastic too), this one took advantage of a perfectly suitable venue, a tried and tested formula (with a few tweaks) and a macro conversation around digital which is maturing significantly.
It will be interesting to see if and how these follow through into other camp events (I’m particularly looking forward to LocalGovCamp); if they are all of a similar level then I won’t have a massive task convincing my office to offer a little more sponsorship in the future.
(Photo credit @Sasha_Taylor - https://www.flickr.com/photos/sashataylor/sets/72157650059186610/page4/)