Yesterday I finally attended my first UKGovCamp. I’ve intended to attend all the previous incarnations of this event but each time things came up that forced me to give up my tickets. Though at the first event my drunken adventures on a stag-do in Poland did feature quite heavily on the Twitter backchannel due to a bug in an early experiment with Twitter!
The venue really was a coup. Microsoft UK opened up their (very plush) meeting rooms at their UK HQ on Victoria Street and also provided quite a number of staff to act as ‘hosts’ throughout the day. The wifi held up, there was power everywhere and an over abundance of rooms for sessions, conversations or just taking a break from the madness. For the caffeine addicted there seemed to be liberal serving of coffee and fridges full of water were dotted about. Even the lunch was pretty good!
Lloyd Davis did an admirable job managing the intro session in the morning and getting the ‘grid’ filled in. To be honest I felt that with a group that size (around 180 turned up on the day) this was going to be a bit OTT but it went very smoothly – though the amount of names, sessions, sponsors etc rather blurred into one.
The first session I attended was the surprise appearance of Chris Chant, the new government overlord of all things digital 🙂 His role is so new it doesn’t have a title but he essentially now has responsibility for Directgov, Digital Engagement, gCloud and various other bits and pieces and holds the role suggested in the Martha Lane Fox report.
Speaking of that report it became quite clear during his talk that the implementation of MLFs recommendations were a case of when and not if. He has written some kind of ‘roadmap’ for making things happen which is expected to go to the Permanent Secretaries in the very near future before it is opened up to wider discussion. He seemed to have a good grasp on the ‘politics’ of pushing things through despite his own avowed preference for the JFDI school of thought.
I like alot of what he had to say. He seemed practical and open minded with a pretty modern (and dare I say it non civil service) outlook on things. His attitude to both the tendency for IT departments to block websites and also to the idea of remote working was very enlightened. Also he had some sensible things to say about security issues as well. I particularly liked the fact he is someone who joined the civil service straight from school and worked his way up through the ranks – especially as he did this without taking a ‘policy’ role at any point and has always been on the service delivery side.
All in all I was impressed and am hopeful about seeing some positive changes.
The second session I attended was about the evolving UK Gov ‘skunkworks’. To be honest this session was something of a disappointment considering it was one I had high hopes for. It is an interesting idea and I like alot of what Mark O’Neil (Man of a Thousand Jobs) had to say in his introduction. Making sure developers works on projects with real identified business needs, not re-inventing the wheel, products not pilots, changing the culture from within are all things I can solidly support. Unfortunately (for me if not the rest of the room) the discussion quickly became focused on ‘data’ (as usual!) and particularly the problems in local government around using, releasing and innovating based on that ‘data’.
So here is my confession. I don’t care anymore. The fact that it seems every conversation at any of these types of events seemed to get hijacked by open or linked data evangelists has entirely broken me. I accept it is important (well the open rather than linked bit of it) but my god don’t people bang on about it! I also have no idea about local gov which I realise is a personal failing as much as anything so I was in this case very thankful for the ‘law of two feet’. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to hear Mark speak in a different forum at some point as I do think it is interesting and I’ll be signing up for the Innovation Hub as well.
In the afternoon I attended the session which was really a big part of the reason for my attendance. The Simons (Simon Dickson from Puffbox, Simon Everest from Defra and Simon Wheatley) gave a talk that was a mix about what was coming up in WordPress 3.1 (which did look interesting and certainly moves it even closer to a CMS out of the box) and, more interestingly to me, what they did to build the new, corporate Defra website in WP.
This was really helpful to me, as was Simon E allowing to ask him a few questions after the session. The way they have used the multi-site option to split out bits of the functionality to different sites (especially allowing the press office to manage their own News site) but integrating them on the homepage was very clever and also the considerable use of custom menus to maintain consistency was well done.
The kind of traffic it gets is MUCH more than any site I’d be likely to launch in this way which is nice to know and the costs are a fraction of what we are currently paying. I also liked the fact that they took the opportunity for a new site to also create new, targeted top level content. This was something that had crossed my mind (as well as a content audit to identify content to archive off elsewhere!)
It was genuinely a session that inspired me and left me scribbling ideas down so thankyou to the Simons!
I spent much of the rest of the time catching up with friends old and new. I met Jenny Brown and Shane McCracken properly for the first time despite following them on Twitter since the very early days and also met up with Justin Kerr-Stevens in person for probably the first time since we were both doing project work for DIUS! It was also nice to catch up with Phil McAllister from Ofqual who was someone I met briefly during my ill-fated move to Coventry!
I was a little disappointed noone from Cabinet Office spoke about their move to Drupal and also I was kind of hoping someone might do a session analytics/dashboards etc (but maybe I should have bit the bullet and offered up a session about that myself!). Also due to clashes I missed the session on ‘Agile’ from Michelle Ide-Smith which I was very interested in but that is the nature of these things and can’t be helped.