This post is overdue by a couple of weeks but with getting back to work and scribbling away on the dissertation (and a modicum of laziness truth be told) I’m just getting round  to it now.

Saturday 18 June 2011 saw LocalGovCamp return to Birmingham and once again it proved to be beneficial on both professional and personal levels.

Not only was it great to catch up socially with peers who’ve become friends since the first LocalGovCamp in 2009 but it’s given me plenty of food for thought and nudges in the right direction for my return to work too.

A quick note about GovCamps before I get into the detail of this particular day: GovCamps work on the unconference format where there is no set agenda before the day and anyone attending is welcome to pitch a session or chip in during someone else’s. They are a little intimidating and disorientating the first time but I’ve always found them to be hives of creativity and conversation, recognising that we’re all learning and everyone, regardless of their job or involvement with digital government, has something valid to share or impart.

They are as much about questions as they are answers; about motivation and solidarity when you might be ploughing a lone furrow back at the office; about collaboration and learning; about productive fun; and about unashamedly being in the company of other people who are as passionate about transforming public services as you are.

So, specifics of the Big LocalGovCamp 2011. I had a fairly relaxed one (in part due to being enticed into some serious socialising the night before) but still managed to come away having had some interesting and inspiring conversations with people I really respect in localgov.

I started off in the Twitter24 session where experiences of running a 24-hour tweet-a-thon were shared by the team from Walsall after their Walsall24 experiement (Dan Slee blogged about it here). As well as discussing the practical aspects, and the worth of such an exercise the group discussed how to get buy-in from stakeholders for things like this and social media more generally.

It’s a conversation I’ve had many times, especially at GovCamps, but it was the first reminder of the day for me that we’re all on a journey and some of us are further down the road then others. GovCamp may well be about finding ways of moving on or discovering the next step for me, but it’s also about me sharing my experiences to help others who aren’t that far along or who are meeting resistance in their organisation.

I sat the next session out to try and get my thoughts together for the rest of the day but had a really interesting set of conversation’s with other people hanging about in the lounge area. I talked about academic research into digital gov, I talked about AlphaGov (or BetaGov as it is now), chatted about prioritising workloads and tactics to keep your inspiration and innovation high when you feel you’re alone, about online identity and the blurry line between professional and personal self, about how GovCamps may evolve, about strategy and plans, and also about evaluating social media.

Rather than have a quiet half hour to mull over what I wanted from the day my mind was racing and I was eager to get back to the office and JFDI!

Post-lunch (and many more epic chats meeting friends old and new) I sat in on a session on use of social media in emergencies, ably presided over by Ben Proctor. He was able to share a number of examples from the UK and abroad where social media had been used by those in authority or people experiencing an emergency and this led to some useful discussion.

This session had an outcome that we should all go back and make sure social media was included as a channel and a resource in our organisation’s crisis communication plan. Have I done this? Well, I’ve had some tentative conversations and I’d say I am hopeful!

Mid-afternoon it was time for the slot Ingrid Koehler agreed to facilitate on performance managing your social media efforts. I’ve been asking myself lots of questions about this and the session was useful in that it showed there were many of us at the same point, none of us really had a ready-made answer, but the power of the hive-mind meant we had a decent collection of points to work from come the end. Ingrid summarised it excellently on her blog.

On a tangent I also thought this session was an amazing example of the ‘more than localgov’ aspect of LocalGovCamp. People from LocalGov, central Government, Think Tanks, the not-for-profit sector, the private sector and academia all took part. It gives me a warm fuzzy glow and a fresh spark of hope to see us all working together like that.

Finally I went to a session which turned out not to be quite what I thought it would be (another quirk of the unconference format) but nevertheless was interesting and allowed me to practice constructive disruption if nothing else! Billed as Citizen Self-Service: A Case Study, this was actually a demo of a product.

However, it allowed some interesting discussions to happen around self-service, personalisation, top tasks, transactional websites and single sign-ins. By no means a wasted session and lots of useful thoughts still bubbling as a result.

So that was my LocalGovCamp. What was missing? Well, everytime I go to a GovCamp there is a very important element missing – the suits, the people who have the influence within organisations. They’re less likely to be enticed by the unconference and free-flow format than the hardcore passionate geeks but they’re vital if GovCamps are really going to do what they achieve and assist in transformation.

I think for me having been to a few camps now I’m feeling this more keenly. There is always interest in what the day was like when I’m back at the ranch but it’s really difficult to quantify what it’s meant beyond personal development (which is why I now tend to do them in my own time, on my own money).

Perhaps having a more practical element would help with this as well so I’m pleased to see that it looks like UKGovCamp 2012 will try to incorporate this.

If you’re interested in getting along to a GovCamp (and in case it’s not been clear I really can’t recommend it highly enough) plans seem to be afoot for one in the South West in October time.

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