20 things I learnt at LocalGovCamp

20 things I learnt at LocalGovCamp

Last Saturday I experienced my first 'unconference' - LocalGovCamp 2016 in Birmingham, where over 100 local government people (and hangers-on such as me) came together to discuss whatever was uppermost on their/our collective minds.

I wrote a list of what I learnt, and here's the list!

Before I start, I just want to say a massive THANK YOU to the organisers who volunteered to make this possible. I had a great time and it wouldn't have been possible without you.

1. An unconference is not a conference. It's a conference without an agenda, and built around discussions rather than presentations. The agenda is built by the participants on the day who "pitch" a session. Sessions are allocated rooms and the participants have to choose between multiple sessions happening at once (the difficult bit is choosing!). Each session is essentially a conversation, some larger than others.

2. An unconference works! I had discussions that I would never have had, and despite my own lack of expertise in most of the areas I discussed, I found I had a surprising amount to say. (This was aided by the friendliness, and lack of ego, that I found among the participants, that made me feel comfortable coming out with questions, and tentative views in areas where I lacked experience). I also made better connections with people than I ever have done at a normal conference.

3. Twitter + unconference = effective connection-building. For the very first time ever at an event, I spent time the night before researching who was going on Twitter. Virtually everyone at the event was on Twitter, not only on Twitter but active on Twitter. The @localgovcamp list of the Twitter accounts of who was attending was particularly useful. I had already been following some people for a while, but most were completely new to me. Following the 'Twitter trail' took me to some great blog posts and helped me work out what people knew and cared about before meeting them.

4. Maybe we could help community groups find spaces. Nick Maxwell pitched a session about creating / finding space for communities / community groups. There isn't perfect information about what's available. We talked about AirBnB or Lastminute.com models, but this is probably using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The Minimum Viable Product is just a community-sourced list of assets, hosted on a well-frequented hyperlocal blog or website. Perhaps interests.me in a future iteration might enable communities to create this list.

5. "Sometimes the network itself can solve the problem". Nick Booth (@podnosh) said this in our session about creating space for communities. I liked it so much that I wrote it down. I may be misinterpreting it, but what I think he meant was "Don't let's build a fancy tech solution to this problem that connects individuals to information - concentrate on building the local network and the network will already have the knowledge to solve the problem". Anyway, I liked it.

6. (Some) CVS organisations are in jeopardy. I heard 3 anecdotes about CVSs being shut down, contracts not being renewed or their future being in doubt. If CVSs don't survive, there's not always the infrastructure to fill the gaps left behind. Councils may be left without a way of efficiently connecting with the voluntary sector. More optimistically, it made me wonder how we at interests.me might help to fill that gap in the long-term.

7. VCSSCamp is going to be fantastic! VCSSCamp in a couple of weeks will be my second ever unconference. Can't wait! It's a similar event but for local infrastructure organisations (CVSs & volunteer centres etc) to talk about digital tools and technology. Hope to get some great insights, ideas and feedback on how we can continue to improve our interests.me community networks for CVSs.

8. CommsCamp needs to be on my list for next year. I'm gutted there are no more tickets for 2016. CommsCamp looks like it's going to be a similarly great event for local government comms people, and there's quite a bit of overlap between attendees.

9. Unmentoring looks like a timely idea. Unmentoring is a project recently launched by LocalGovDigital (the folks behind LocalGovCamp) looks like a fantastic idea, generating random one-to-one conversations (one per month) between people with something in common, just to find out about each other, share what's going on, and have a chat. I have signed up.

10. Local democracy and local elections need improving. Fortunately Joe Mitchell (@j0e_m) and Sym Roe (@symroe) of Democracy Club (@democlub) are the idealists changing local democracy one small step at a time. More power to them. Demsoc were also represented by Beth Wiltshire (@egwiltshire), one of their newest recruits. As one of the original founders of Demsoc, I feel a (completely unfounded) sense of pride to see them everywhere.

11. There's a huge amount going on around local government data. Lucy Knight (@jargonautical) blogs beautifully about making data make sense, and is also an artist (see her visual notes on LocalGovCamp), as well as being one of the friendliest new people I met.

12. The Natteron podcast is well worth a listen. If you're into all things digital and local government, that is.

13. Email is not dead for local government. GovDelivery sends billions of local government emails, and everyone seems to use it. They sponsored the event.

14. Local government love to reinvent the wheel. Read this excellent blog post Joshua Mouldey (@desire_line). I'm annoyed I didn't get to meet him after reading his blog post, but I know a good discussion was had on this topic.

15. Some local authorities are building innovative shareable digital products. Kirklees are building their own 'sharing economy' platform Comoodle. It will be funded until December 2017 and extended to other locations. Seems fitting that a sharing platform should be shareable with other councils and cities.

16. "Standards" gets the data folk going. There seems to be a big push among local government digital & data types to create / improve digital standards. I can see it's important but can't quite share their passion about it.

17. Local gov folk don't want to talk about why they hate the voluntary sector. Pauline Roche (@paulineroche) and Ted Ryan (@TedRyan22) held a session entitled 'Why we hate the voluntary sector', and hardly anyone came. Clearly we all don't hate the voluntary sector but it was interesting for our small group to talk about the voluntary sector's shortcomings and our frustrations working within it.

18. There are big questions about the value and pricing of public sector data. Jonathan Flowers (@jonathanflowers) led a session on 'dark value' of public services and has a fascinating blog very much on my wavelength featuring recent posts on the pricing of data and the 'dark value' question. As a former Head of Pricing I love discussion about pricing and value. I didn't meet Jonathan but will follow his thoughts closely.

19. The PSTA (Public Service Transformation Academy) has just been launched. It is a collaborative social enterprise aiming to be the leading provider of capacity building programmes in areas covering agile & lean approaches, data analytics, citizen-led design, social enterprise and social investment. Big ambitions!

20. Nothing beats meeting online friends face-to-face. It was wonderful to meet Lorna Prescott (@dosticen) who is just as great in person as she is online. And so delightful to join the dots and realise that Ben Cheetham (@_BforBen), one of LocalGovCamp's organisers, is partner to one of my fellow Scout leaders in my village.

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