#UKGC12 – User centric

Yesterday I attended the 5th (I think) UK Govcamp at the very swanky Microsoft offices in central London. As usual it was a great day and went a long way to refreshing my passion for the work I do (something that has been waning for a little while).

I made a major effort this year to attend more sessions (traditionally at unconferences I am the classic lobby based delegate – just bouncing from conversation to conversation regardless of the actual sessions) and for me the big theme that came shining through this year was ‘putting users first’ – though this might also be because I avoided any session that might mention open or linked data like the plague!

As always I missed the first round of talks – I was catching up with the latest generation of chaps from Delib. I was a pretty early client of the Bristol based company but most of the people I worked closely with have moved on so it was nice to reconnect.

I then attended a session on ‘Radical Government Websites’ which wasn’t quite what I expecting (though I’m not sure why) but was saved by a couple of interventions from Mark O’Neil and Tom Steinberg attempting to keep the session to some kind of focus.

Tom kept banging the drum for making the websites user focused even if that upset people internally and Mark pretty much summed up the state of the public sector web estate;

Not sure I was radical enough there by accusing too many websites of being pointless, annoying & pants”

It was an interesting enough session but as someone mentioned it kept getting hijacked by conversations of process and change management whereas the aim of session was (I thought) to talk a little about the technical possibilities. Someone else was disappointed mobile wasn’t even mentioned. Though someone did mention Utah.gov – which remains one of my fave sites (though I preferred one version back!)

After a great lunch (thanks MS!) mainly catching up with Kate and Justin I attended a session that was an introduction to Ushashidi and Crisis Mapping. To be honest this isn’t something I know much about or have much involvement with but Heather, a friend I made via the Mozilla Festival, works for Ushashidi and Spike, another long term Twitter friend who I now know in ‘real-life’ is also a long term evangelist and volunteer so I wanted to check out a different view of the work.

Ben Proctor (@likeaword) gave a very good overview of the product and interesting examples of how and why it gets used. It sparked some interesting conversations with reps from DFID, Foreign Office, the Scottish Government, Consumer Focus and Alex from Delib all contributing. I think the session would have benefited from someone with a bit more knowledge of the technical platform & ongoing development roadmap to answer some of the queries but Ben did an admirable job from a power-user point of view.

I then went to the main room to listen to Tom Steinberg talk about what it takes to make an organisation digital native. I think this session lost its way a little bit as it went on with some of the discussions taking quite a defensive tone and people jumping in without really taking the time to listen to the context of the early discussions.

That said I felt Tom handled it all pretty well and I thought his list of nine-ish points for making change contained some gems – so here is my take on them (I forgot to write down number nine I’m afraid);

  • User focus first and foremost
  • Seriously user focus first and foremost
  • Get talented people in at a senior level who understand digital
  • Build everything with understanding that it could/should be reused
  • The gap between IT and digital teams must be bridged
  • Watch out for social media myopia
  • Enterprise IT is an opportunity as so much money spent so badly you can save huge amounts of cash and still deliver great stuff
  • Be open (standards, data, source)

I pretty much fundamentally believe all of these points and actually think the most important thing that the new Government Digital Service has done is hire genuinely digital savvy people in at properly senior positions. I think at the moment most if not all public sector organisations bury those with a real understanding of the change the web is bringing everyday too far down the organisation chart – and lets be honest these are not ‘flat’ organisations..

I’ve been guilty of social media myopia myself in the past and I like to think I have moved beyond that and I’ve been pretty clear over the years about my stance on open.

The user/User/USER thing is a constant battle as well – if nothing else trying to define who that is – but I like to think progress is being made and certainly that is always at the forefront of my plans for our sites.

The final talk was a Twitter announced guest appearance by the Director of the Government Digital Service Mike Bracken. Mike said some very nice words about how things like the Govcamps and the kind of people in the room had paved the way for GDS to exist and for him to get his flash new job 🙂

He gave a presentation that gave some interesting insights into the work the team are doing including some screen shots and some ideas about the principles they work towards. Again the focus was very much on ‘putting the user first’ and all in all I think it is going to be an impressive product that really shakes things up.

He is a strong presenter with a nice line in self-depreciation which always helps and he handled some quite tough questions in the Q and A honestly and with assurance. Was a pretty inspiring way to close out the day.

Sessions aside it is always the people who make these things and I was happy to chat to many old friends as well as meet some people I only really follow online (great to finally meet Stephen Hale from Dept of Health in particular given how many of many of his ideas I have recycled and also to chat with Daffydd in the pub after as well.)

None of this could happen without the stirling work of Steph and Dave – someone on Twitter said they were the Lennon and McCartney of our little world but after Daves performance yesterday I am going with Morecambe and Wise! – plus people like Hadley(social secretary) and Lloyd (facilitator supreme) who make sure it all goes smoothly.

So thanks again – a great day and if anyone from the mild, mild West fancies a reunion then come along to Gov:West in March!


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