Getting my Govcamp on..

There are not many things that could get me up and standing on a bus stop at 06.20 on a Saturday morning but Govcamp is one of them. So I found myself sleep deprived in London before 10 on a chilly January morning and with no particular agenda or desire to speak on any topic I was determined to just relax and see where the day took me (I did have one little rule – no sessions related to open data!)

It was nice to be back at the Microsoft venue on Victoria and the numbers felt comfortable – busy but not overwhelming. Each year there is always a little post event naval gazing about the mix of the people who attend and the objectives of the event. There seems no sign of this being different this year but personally I think it misses the point – the event is about the people who ARE there and if people want something different they should go ahead and arrange it and target it at different groups.

For what it is worth this year it seemed to me that there were a few veterans missing, that local government was pretty well represented (certainly in the sessions I attended), that GDS had a pretty low profile and that there were more suppliers than perhaps previously. None of these were negatives and all groups contributed to the sessions I attended.

As for the sessions I attended – it was a personal recorded as I attended four sessions!

Dan Slee facilitated an interesting conversation of the role of the comms team in the public sector which was notable for a couple of reasons IMHO (1) the fact that so much of the conversation could have taken place at *any* of the previous Govcamps (2) apart from a rare acknowledgement of the fact that comms/media teams are already doing great work and that the traditional demands of those staff haven’t gone anywhere yet so those skills remain valid.

Tracey Green wanted to crowdsource some ideas about the focus for the new Parliamentary Digital Service and in particular its first 100 days. I really enjoyed this session and came away realising I really don’t know enough about the workings of Parliament given my career! What was particularly notable was the immediate split in to three sets of needs – the members themselves, a professional/civil-servant requirement and the public. At ONS we feel we have a challenging set of personas but I have to be honest I was feeling pretty lucky after better understanding the challenge facing Parliament.

Stefan Czerniawski ran a session on how we move beyond ‘transformation’ projects and in to business usual and continuous improvement. Apart from getting wound up by somebody constantly referring to working for a supplier as the ‘real world’ compared to the public sector (if this is a fantasy world somebody is a bit twisted!) I recognised a lot of what was discussed. The model of projects/programmes that *do* transformation and then just hand it over to a team to look after it with no budget and no real remit to make improvements is prevalent in my experience and I am in the midsts of something similar right now. The Design Council ‘double diamond’ approach was a great thing to learn about and the consensus of the group that it was all about empowering the right people in the right places felt consistent with my thinking. Still irritated by the ‘real world’ comments though.

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Janet Hughes gave quite remarkable performance as her session on ‘Identity and Trust’ became a full on Q and A session with a pretty large audience of impressively well informed questioners! The GOV.UK Verify stuff is clearly going to be hugely important – the ability to create a trusted, digital identity for use across Government services (and eventually beyond) without the need to go to an office somewhere in person genuinely does have the capability to be ‘transformational’. It is complicated though and the role of the commercial (or semi-commercial) providers hasn’t been early for me to comprehend previously. Also it has always seemed like such a huge undertaking. I came away from the session feeling like I could explain it pretty coherently at work now and I was really impressed by how focused Janet and her team are on sticking to the core objectives of the project and not getting distracted by the multitude of opportunities. She must have reiterated that half a dozen times in 40 minutes.

So alongside the sessions I chatted to a few old friends, met some Twitter contacts for the first time in person and generally thoroughly enjoyed my day (if not the train journey home!)

Particularly thanks to Nick, James and Sarah who did a wonderful job organising the event again and to all the volunteers and sponsors.

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