An invitation to an unconference? What was this?

I found out when I registered for ScotGovCamp on 31 July at the brilliant new Edinburgh Uni Informatics Forum building. A new venture for me – dipping my toes into the water of govcamps – a.k.a. self-organised unconferences for people that work in and around government.

For those of you who’ve been around the block a few times the easiest way to describe a govcamp is Open Space on speed. The speed element is provided by technology, as in ICT. In this case – both its use during the session and the unifying theme of the day.

Like Open Space the agenda belongs to the participants, about 100 of us who gathered around a flip chart and in 5-10 minutes constructed the agenda for the day, three streams of eight sessions, each with the structure (if any) that participants chose to give it.

The topics? – as wide as “Cuts” or as narrow as the implications of a particular piece of software.

The format? – maybe a Powerpoint presentation followed by discussion, a circle of delegates with or without one or more facilitators, “tag” discussion (as in tag wrestling), participants coming and going as they wished, a high proportion of delegates tapping away at various pieces of technology taking notes, tweeting, blogging, recording (sound or video), taking photos.

The results are already scattered around various places on the web (with doubtless more to come), for example

They’re the places to get a feel for what it was all about but here for what it’s worth are my impressions/first comments:

  • a feeling that the combined impact of public sector budget cuts and the Big Society provides both challenges and opportunities in ways as yet unknown to the whole area of ICT and web-based technology
  • public sector use of web-based technology is riddled with gaps
  • gaps in understanding between those who get it (guess what? – they’re younger, often operate on the margins, are less senior, more informal and more open) and those who don’t (you write the description)
  • the struggle those who get it have to make those who don’t see
  • gaps between aspiration and performance – follow any council’s tweets on Twitter (the word boring makes most of them sound too exciting), check out the pondering leviathan of
  • gaps between stated commitment and action – organisations that use an application for their public but won’t allow staff to access it
  • gaps between how organisations see themselves through their own web sites and how the public see them
  • huge gaps between the best private sector web sites and the average public sector site (I don’t buy the idea that the public sector is too complicated to make its web presence clear)
  • how public sector procurement can stifle the possibility of innovation by rigid overspecification of requirements in an area of technology that needs a light touch and openness
  • blind spots – too many to list but exemplified by Facebook’s community pages for each UK council – I suspect in many cases unknown to councils, and if they are, unloved and ignored as a source of feedback and understanding.

(I did my own modest piece of research on UK councils’ awareness and use of business networking exemplified by LinkedIn – I was amused to see several local authority CEs set up a LinkedIn profile after I e-mailed my business newsletter to them a couple of months ago).

So all in all, a good day. “Self-organised” is too generous to many of us there. Most of the burden of organisation (and the bright idea in the first place) rested with Lesley Thomson of the Scottish Government and a few colleagues