#ukgc14 Corridor conferencing

So yesterday was the latest instalment of the Govcamp story. From humble(ish) beginnings it had grown to a point it found a home at the heart of London political establishment. City Hall. There is no doubt that this was a lovely venue. A pain in the arse to get to from Paddington but lovely nonetheless. Also the wifi held up – no mean feat!

@zakmensah
Photo by David Pearson – Some rights reserved.

A new team was at the helm this year after Steph (@lesteph) and Dave (@davebriggs) stepped away from the spotlight to be puppet masters behind the scenes😉 This new gang were large in number* but also in talent and effort. It was a very slick event and Lloyd (@LloydDavis) as ever did a brilliant job stitching it all together [I’ve said it before I think but it is worth saying again: having Lloyd or at least someone like Lloyd in that role of ringmaster does elevate these events I find – Gunner does a similar amazing job at Mozfest]

@teacampLondon
Photo by David Pearson – Some rights reserved.

I’ll be honest I do wonder if the introduction elements works as well at this scale – it takes a long time now despite Lloyds efforts – long enough that I have often forgotten the people who stood at at the start if I didn’t know them. From a strictly personal point of view I’d like to get to the meat of the day faster, particularly the pitching of sessions.

I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy just catching up with people at this event. There is something about civic minded geeks [the same happens at Mozfest] that makes them great company and far from the stereo-type of introverted loners. Even before the beers everyone is friendly and fun. I learn so much just chatting in the corridors that it often sets my professional agenda for months to come.

This year I finally got to meet Merici (@merici) and almost meet her hubby Dominic (@dominiccampbell) (we were in the same session, two seats apart and still didn’t chat!). Merici has had an amazing career already and is one of those politically aware, civic-minded geeks that I so admire. She is pretty funny for a yank as well🙂

I also met up with Mariateresa (@agreensteam) – a fellow Bristolian who I have chatted with on Twitter and email for ages and ended up actually meeting in London. Mariateresa contributed a great deal to the session I ended up co-leading in the afternoon so thank you for that!

Speaking of sessions I actually attended a couple for a change. In the morning I went along to the session Stefan Czerniawski (@pubstrat) was leading on about ‘ways of working’.

The session got a bit sidetracked I thought by talk of online tools, not surprising given the nature of the event, but I was more interested in the bits about cultural change, trust issues, how these issues influence and effect recruitment. I got a bit caught up on the topic of lack of trust from elements of information assurance/security teams and it is something I find frustrating. So much of the thinking is mired in an old, barely existing model of user/staff behaviour.

From a personal point of view I am not looking for a manager-less future nor one where I work from home all the time (I live in a 1-bed flat – I *like* getting away from it.) I’m not even too worried about which tools I use. Just that they are modern and flexible not ageing and locked down. I just think the whole idea of how offices work needs to be rethought. I remember reading about the Campaign Monitor offices a couple of years  ago and at the time I was impressed in just how much thought had gone in to creating an environment that was based on getting the best out of your team rather than saving money or cramming more staff in to smaller space. Now I know financial matters preclude this sort of thing often but it was the thinking process that impressed me most of all. Sometimes I thrive off the buzz of an open office, sometimes I need quiet to get some writing done, sometimes we need space for informal style meetings, sometimes I need privacy to discuss thorny HR issues. All these options need catering for – and many others.

Over lunch I chatted to quite a few people about my idea for a sort of ‘neutral point of view’ version of Ampp3d based on some of the great work we are doing around ‘data storytelling’ at the ONS. I’ve been quite keen on the idea but was still surprised at how many other people liked the sound of it. Got me quite excited if I am honest.

A few of us also discussed the idea of running a small spin off event in London, similar to Mailcamp, around the topic of ‘data storytelling’. There has been a lot of interest in our infographic guidelines, the idea of a Gov ‘data scientists’ community was raised at the event, the ONS Data Viz team led by Alan Smith (@theboysmithy) have loads of amazing work to discuss, Ampp3d was a popular topic of discussion and so was data journalism. Seems like a plan is forming.

After lunch came the moment I was dreading. Jeni Tennison (@jeniT) ‘kindly’ pitched a session around ‘statistics on the web‘ which I was staggered to find out people were interested in. In fact 40ish people came along! I’m going to write about it properly over on the ONS blog in the next day or so but just wanted to say thanks to everyone who came along – it was incredibly useful (if a little exhausting).

Over a ginger beer at the pub after I also had the opportunity to catch up with Tim Lloyd (@timolloyd) about what he and his team at BIS are up to. Tim really brings a level of creativity to the digital strategy and policy work they do that is incredibly rare and a couple of experiments he has underway are definitely things you are going to see people reusing elsewhere.

All in all it was a brilliant day and I was glad that Laura (@lauradee) and Zak (@zakmensah) were able to come along and experience it with me and also to see quite  few other Brizzle and South Wales faces there. Bodes well for another little scheme a colleague is working on – a Teacamp for Wales and the West based in Cardiff. Watch this space.

Thanks again to the organisers. As my friends at Mozilla would say. You were AWESOME!

* @teacampLondon , @baskers , @jaCattell , @nickmhalliday , @blangry , @MsLizzyBell and anyone else I forgot!

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