So off I went to London to UKGovCamp 2012, an unconference for local and central government types to talk about digital in its many and varied forms across two days at Microsoft HQ in London.
Here are my 20 thoughts, with thanks to Dan Slee for the idea.
- The tipping point is when the men in suits start to attend. And seem not the remotest bit phased by people in jeans and trainers discussing random complicated things about their business with as much knowledge and confidence as they have and with as much passion and enthusiasm as they have.
- It took a morning for the equilibrium to be reached, but once it had the energy levels were off the scale. There were still a few people who felt it necessary to explain they’d been in government a long time unnecessarily but it was a far less frequent occurrence than I remember it being last year.
- Some sessions were so over subscribed as to verge on a health and safety issue. Sitting, standing, wedged in corners, we all still managed to find a space. Wonderful problem to have.
- Death by powerpoint is not just restricted to projecting your images. In fact, in some ways its a zillion times worse to know the lone speaking voice in the room is looking at graphs and visualisations that you cannot even see.
- The law of two feet is a wonderful thing. You don’t have to endure death by powerpoint. And as Lloyd Davis correctly pointed out, the corridors are the connectors of the sessions but they are also where the connections often happen which are of greatest value. This was true for me.
- Gonna need a bigger pub.
- Mike Bracken is enviably excellent at communicating and is becoming what seems to be a much needed and well respected totem for digital change, excellence and eventual maturity.
- Some facilitators are better than others. But you will forgive anything at all of those who have the grace to concede they are struggling and let others gently chip in and suggest things, and then the courtesy to not shut those people down.
- There was a lot more talking and not enough doing. But then, what’s not enough? If the event hadn’t happened, nothing would have happened at all. And I suspect the value of the doing day will not be seen actually on the day but will instead be seen in the days, weeks and months to come in the connections of skillsets which yesterday facilitated.
- Security and identity is an issue for everyone. Tell us once does not just apply to births, marriages and deaths but also to security, identity and reassurance.
- Government can look impenetrable at times and a long way from local government experience but in some ways central government is way behind local, and in others way in front. I learnt so much yesterday about how to explain digital value to different audiences, so much about evaluation and so much about understanding policy wonks minds.
- Some are more open to learning and sharing than others. There are some cliques in central government, in just the same way that there can be in local government. The value of unconferences and digital networks is that it no longer matters. No one person can be a barrier to the evolutionary cycle of an organisation or Department any more. They become lost in the mass of voices speaking sense.
- I understand stakeholders better. I understand political influences better. I understand that political motivations can be varying but that ultimately once things are broken down into small outcomes, those outcomes can unite especially when those outcomes will benefit all no matter where the country is in 5 years time.
- I spent barely any time in sessions with local government bods I knew and lots of time in sessions with local government people I didn’t know and now do. The freshness of perspective was brilliant – ‘we are good at this’, ‘x Council is doing this and found this enormously beneficial’ for example. Lots of positive changes being made but we still, even in a digital age, have no official channels for sharing best practice nor best value.
- The future of local government CMS’s is absolutely definitely totally in one place. Optional or not, there can only be one outcome for the end user, the residents that we serve. Consistency of user experience, consistency of user journey and consistency of outcome. As long as the user experience, journey and outcome are good for those people I can see no problem with this. However, there are questions about innovation which someone else has asked far better than I can. (If you wrote this post, can you comment with a link so I can add it? It was very late last night when I read it).
- Char Stamper (paraphrased) ‘if we know the potholes page is a top visited page, and we need foster carers, why are we not advertising that we need foster carers on the potholes page’. Well, quite.
- Fresh eyes. Business transformation and process refinement cannot happen without them, and in parallel to this an unconference is broken without new blood because there are no fresh eyes. I am past the point of being those fresh eyes and as such am most relieved to see so many new faces over the past two days. Without you, we stagnate, we discuss in circles and we don’t move on.
- Someone said that Government needed a Government Digital Service was a sign of immaturity. I would argue still that it is the centre of a linear evolution. First, digital is left to everyone out in the wilds to do, because it’s not deemed as important and it’s impact is misunderstood and it is assumed that staff will acquire skills at the same pace as the general population. Then riots and revolutions happen. And it is realised that there are people out in the general population far more advanced in understanding, capability and implementation than those working in Government. And so Government responds by pulling things in, training and upskilling, employing those from the general population who are ahead and using them to pass on their knowledge by working along side some of those who are from Government. Will the end of the linear be for GDS to dissolve, and all those contained within it to go back out into Departments as critical friends whose role will be to ensure digital is embedded? What happens when the general population has such a breadth of skills? If HE offers literacy and numeracy courses for free, will it also now offer digital literacy courses too?
- Unconference is the equivalent of back to back meetings for 6 hours. The lunch break is rarely contains less intense discussion than the sessions themselves. This is tiring. The energy levels on the second day were noticeably different to those on the first and I don’t think it would have mattered, as Sarah Lay commented, a jot, if no one had gone to the pub at all.
- Women in Tech are a shy old bunch. Without a leader, it all falls apart. This worries me. A lot.
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