Florence and the machines
Week Fifteen — which means I have outlasted the Defra detour and still going strong-ish…
This was a pretty special week as I was in Florence for the mySociety research conference — TICTeC. As ever I managed to make hard work of getting there — there was a taxi protest in the centre of Bristol so I got stuck in the chaos for over an hour which made things a bit tight for the flight! My whingeing tweet ended up in the Bristol Evening Post though 😉
TICTeC is kind of an amazing thing. It is conference that takes a pretty academic perspective on the world of civil tech with speakers from internet giants (both Facebook and Google), serious Universities (MIT, NYU, Oxford and more), governments, NGOs and all sorts of civil tech/society organisations. I met people from Taiwan, Kenya, Australia, all corners of Europe and the US as well as a few friends from the UK.
It was far from a jolly though. Gemma, our empress of events, had jobs for everyone and everyone had a job. I did the full range from manning reception, helping in the the cloakroom (poor Meredith the local student employed to do the job really had to stretch her amazing English to cope with me!), taking notes and chairing sessions.
One of my big takeaways from the event was just how provincial my knowledge of this space is. Basically I know an awful lot about the UK, a fair bit about the US, a decent amount about Australia, New Zealand and Canada but very little about stuff in Asia or Africa or South America — or what I do know is shamefully out of date. Not surprisingly maybe I also know a lot more about Government initiatives than the more activist end of things so much was new to me. If nothing else I can see I need to broaden my reading and will be looking for new blogs etc to follow to get a broader perspective.
I also enjoyed the relative anonymity I had at this event. Given I either go to conferences where I am a speaker or attend those where I am already part of the community and thus evening if people don’t know me there is a chance they have encountered me online it has been a while since I had quite such a low profile. More than once I was mistaken for a volunteer rather than mySociety staff.
I have attended my share of conferences and worked on more than a few as well and this was an incredibly slick affair —it looked fantastic, the wifi held up, the talks were well curated, the food was amazing. The WhatsApp backchannel for the team was a steady stream of reminders, nudges, questions and volunteering. There were a lot of blooming steps though. I’m not exactly renowned for my cardio capability!
To be honest by the team meal on Wednesday evening my extroversion fuel tank was pretty much running on empty (as well as my energy more generally) but it was worth it — it was a great experience and I felt very proud to be part of the team. Seeing some of them in action with delegates and just how well liked and respected they are was a real treat. I’m very lucky to have landed amongst these folk.
As I’d never been to Italy I had decided to spend an extra 24 hours in Rome — I kind of wish I’d stayed on to explore Florence but live and learn. I got the high speed train to Rome (very impressive) and then got the Metro (which has been ‘bombed’ by graf writers like the NYC subway in the 70s!) to the Colosseum/Forum for some touristy action. As these big tourist attractions go these pretty much lived up to expectations and are kind of insane when you try to make the connections in your head about just how long they have been there.
Honestly the rest of my Rome experience was a little underwhelming. It poured down with rain and the Spanish Steps were entirely meh and the Trevi Fountain while stunning was tourist central and just a bit insane. I didn’t end up with time due to weather/getting soaked to get to either the Vatican Museums or the street art tour I wanted to do which soured me a bit I think. Oh well. Next time.
I had quite a bit of time to think over the week as well — less Netflix distractions — I think it is time to kick on a bit with my ambitions for the Better Cities team. While I haven’t exactly been passive I do think I’ve been a bit less forthright than I might have been elsewhere as I found myself in a different culture with a different set of challenges (not ‘transformation’ as usual..). I’ve also allowed myself to be distracted by all my projects we are juggling where my job should be setting a clear path through it all that provides a clear focus for the team that prioritises our products. I also need to get over my aversion to the commercial side of things and get out there and help bring in more customers in whichever way is most helpful.
I still have a lot to learn (but have some thoughts there) but I am much clearer about where I can contribute now as well.