Digital Daydreams and Network Nightmares?

That good chappie Dan Slee was really on to something when he suggested folks should reflect on their experiences at the recent UKGovCamp in the form of a list of their top 20 points. Several others have since done this brilliantly, and left me in awe. However, I needed an incentive to start blogging from time to time on stuff other than my running and training, and I think Dan has given me that.

I’ve been to a number of unconference events now, and was at UKGovCamp last year too. This was, however, the first one I’ve been to since choosing to step off the local government (not so)merry-go-round last August. That meant I saw things through slightly different eyes to previously.

1. Has anyone done the sums yet? I got the impression that overall, people actually working in government (central and local) only amounted for about 50% of the attendees, and that local government was really quite a minor presence. I make this point because it’s an ongoing sadness with me that much of local government is so far behind the beat on this sort of stuff and these sorts of events.

2. Memo to self for next time: don’t expect to find much time for sitting chatting with people. I had a small list of people and issues we had said we’d discuss. We never did. Too many competing demands, lots of new friends to make, plus the inevitable temptation to simply crash from time to time.

3. Putting names and faces to Twitter identities is great. I used to think it a good week if I met one person I followed, and had not actually met them in person before. I reckon I met more than 50 over the two days of UKGovCamp.

4. Take care when you pitch for a session. I slapped my Post-It on the board early on, and thought I’d selected Friday’s slot 4, giving me plenty of time to prepare and talk the session up. With two minutes to go, I discovered I’d actually put it in Room 4 for the first session of the day. Sorry to those who came, if it looked like I was winging it. I was.

5. Don’t ever take for granted who might come to your session. I’d anticipated a certain range of participants, but 50% of those who came were actually opponents of the theme, in one way or another. They were, of course, polite and sustained a good case, but it still threw me, and might have frustrated a few participants.

6. Individually and collaboratively, Catherine Howe and Anthony Zacharzewski are a formidable pair. They also have that huge skill of being able to get the best out of everyone when facilitating a session, couples with the ability to make one forget coffee breaks and (nearly) lunch too. They’re that good.

7. Networks are seldom, if ever, two dimensional, no matter how well you draw them.

8. By a similar token “government” and “governance” is seldom single stratum. What seems right in a London Borough or a Unitary authority is just going to have to be done a different way where there are parishes, districts and counties all contributing to the process. That is a Universal Law.

9. I don’t mind if people like Mike Bracken come to speak at UKGovCamp. I have no real idea what connection they have to what I am doing day to day. They seldom leave me any wiser. That’s as much my fault as anything, but I don’t do squee.

10. I have never seen two conference promoters looking as relaxed during the event as Dave Briggs and Steph Gray. That can only be down to hard work at the times it really mattered, in preparation etc. I am envious of their skills in that respect, because you can never just hope “it’ll be all right on the night”.

11. Talking to Shirley Ayres made me realise how much our networks intersect and overlap. I suspect that is true for anyone who lives in more than one world. This makes for some delightful serendipity and coincidence. The world can be a small place at times, but I’d still not want to have to dust it.

12. I covet one single photo taken at UKGovCamp this year. It is this, by @ashroplad   Am I jealous? The sin of covetousness will suffice!

13. What I am jealous of is the ability of London based people to sustain something like #teacamp and do the necessary face to face stuff regularly and often. So, YES, to those who say local government needs a regular unconference of its own. Count me in as a participant, and  as a willing pair of hands in the preparation.

14. The jury must be out on the two day experiment for UKGovCamp. Steph has posted here about it, and I have added my two penn’orth to the debate. But even if it turns out to be a one off, we’d not have known without trying.

15. I see more and more geeks getting excited about QR codes, and Terence Eden ran a brilliant session about them, stripping bare many of the myths. However, I still don’t see their use catching on in some simple, basic local government uses.

16. It is far too long since I commuted to and from London. Travelling home on Friday evening was an unfortunate necessity made awful by a broken down train and a one hour trip taking two and a half. To the fellow travellers who said it was the third time that week, I can only say, “Surely to God, your physical presence in London is not THAT vital every day, is it?”

17. Steph’s blog points up the need to spend more time on setting each day’s agenda. I’m also wondering whether the introductions stuff can’t learn something from the world of speed dating?

18. A lot of “open data” sessions just seemed to me to be variations on a theme, and didn’t sell themselves to me at all. I am therefore worried that some of those discussions are either very esoteric, or insufficiently informed by people who understand the issues rather than the tech.

19. Can someone please point me at stuff about Reflective Practice that I can read up on, please? Missing the sessions on this is a great regret, which Carl Haggerty’s blog has impressed on me very much.

Like the lovely, relaxed Sarah Lay, with whom I did manage a few moments to chat, I’m leaving it at 19. In my case it’s because, as in real life in relation to keys, wallet, coat, etc, there will usually be something I’ve forgotten and need to go back for. It’s my age, you know.

(Oh, and if you’ve still not seen them, my photos from the event are here.

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2 Responses to “Digital Daydreams and Network Nightmares?”

  1. Sarah Says:

    You say relaxed, I say exhausted but I did enjoy our chat over a coffee on Saturday morning before heading back into the fray!

    I’ve enjoyed this post too Tom and I do look forward to more from you as even though you’ve left local government as an employee those of us still here would benefit from the knowledge and experience you gained in your working life and beyond, I’m sure.

    On reflective practice – most of what I know comes from my MA study but there is a good, if wordy, primer here – http://firstclass.ultraversity.net/~ian.tindal/rm/modeloverview.html. Although we impressed upon everyone sticking their head round the door that we were not the hangover recovery room but a session on reflective practice it was something a little tongue in cheek that then seemed to naturally happen. We were probably all working nearest to the Kolb model without realising it at all on Saturday.

    What started as a bit of a cop out in terms of engaging turned into one of the most useful things I have ever done at a GovCamp! I hope you find some interest and worth in exploring reflective practice too. :)

  2. Carl Haggerty Says:

    Great feedback Tom,

    Yes, the desire to seek a quiet space turned into a very valuable session or morning.
    However reflective practice as a discipline is something that i try and adopt to drive the content of my blog all round…my only issue is hat I hadn’t been reviewing my own thinking as often as i should have been.
    I certainly intend to pitch a session on reflective practice at each and every govcamp I attend to ensure the formal space is there for people.

    I agree with Sarah, your experience is valuable and your input needed as an external constructive disruptor…so please keep blogging about public and civic life.

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