BOSTIN SOCIAL: Is it time for a #hyperlocalgovcamp?

As brilliant ideas go the ‘unconference’ is as good as tea and a slice of cake on a summers day.

Get like-minded people in one place and then decide what you are going to talk about on the day. You’d be amazed at the hot house ideas that emerge.

Believe it or not the first event described by such a term was the XML Developers Conference of 1998 in Montreal in Canada.

How does an unconference – or Barcamp – work? Basically, four or five rooms are used with different subjects being discussed in each in hour long slots. Feel like saying something? Just chip in. It’s as simple as that.

They work brilliantly in and around government where there is a willingness to share ideas without being hampered by private sector hang up about competition and bottom lines.

They work well in the hyperlocal community too – Talk About Local have run excellent events – and they’ve even gravitated into the travel industry.

Some of the most exciting thinking I’ve come across has been at unconferences. It’s not exaggeration to say Localgovcamp Birmingham in 2009 utterly revolutionised the way I think and approach my job.

Elsewhere, UKgovcamp in January saw around 120 people with five rooms and eight slots. That’s 32,000 possible combinations. In other words, a lot of knowledge and conversations. Coming back from one such event in London as the train was passing through the Oxfordshire countryside one clear thought struck me.

Isn’t it about time we made the brilliance of the unconference fit into the day job?

Invariably, those who go are innovators. This is great. In local government, there is a need for these key events every few months if for nothing else than the sanity of those who blaze a trail sometimes with little support. But how do you get the message through to the 9 to 5-ers and policy makers who would also really benefit?

It’s an idea I’ve kicked around idly with a few people. Myself and Si Whitehouse mulled this over at the London Localgovcamp. I like the phrase ‘Locallocalgovcamp’ he came up with. It has the spirit of localgovcamp but it’s a lite version.

What it may be is this: A space where ideas could be kicked around in the informal, unconference style.

But crucially, there maybe an item or a hook pre-advertised that may encourage slightly less adept to come along. Besides,  it’s easier to convince your boss to let you go to an event if you know you’ll get something out of it. The pitch of ‘Cheerio boss, I’m off now to drink coffee with geeks and I may just learn something’ is not as compelling as ‘Cheerio, boss, I’m going to this event to learn x and if y and z too.’

The idea of the local meet-up  itself is not especially something new.

London digital people in government do something called ‘Tea Camp’. A 4-6pm slot in a department store cafe. Tea. Cake. Conversation. All seems dashed civilised idea. Besides, there’s a critical mass all working in a small area.

Perhaps it’s time for a regional version of this. The West Midlands where I live and work sees an inspiringly vibrant digital community. There is also seven councils within a 30 mile radius.

So what would an as-part-of-the-day-job West Midlands bostin social event look like? 

Two hours? Two rooms? Two sessions? Or is that too short?

Pork scratchings?

What do you think?

Creative commons photo credit: Barcamp: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

Join the Conversation


  1. It would be grand to see you, Nick. Are pork scratchings obligatory at a West Midlands event? God, I hope not. I loathe them with every fibre of my being. Though, living in the Black Country this is not always a popular move…

  2. Good plan Dan. I was lucky enough to be at Teacamp in London a few months ago and it was great to get so many passionate people in one place just to kick around a few ideas, and listen to a few informal presentations.

    I think the problem with the West Midlands is, even though we’re quite close, it can be a bit difficult for us to get from A to B in the same kind of way one can in London (particularly if, like me, you’re outside the conurbation proper), but I think if people have got plenty of notice, and we have a bit more time than Teacamp (say an afternoon) and plenty of notice, it could be a goer. Happy, as always, to help 🙂

  3. There’s nothing like a name check to share the responsibility around, is there?

    I think this is a great idea and dare I suggest we think about having it somewhere *other* than Brum? It’d make a nice change, eh?

    And happy to help out to make it work.

    ps, wasn’t it hyperlocal gov camp?

  4. Good idea Dan and Si! I had a conversation with my colleague @hendrikG on the way back from LocalGovCamp London about whether the barcamp type of approach could work internally. My idea was that given our tightening budgets it would be a great way to develop in-house skills and expertise as well as innovate and come up with new approaches. We decided it would be difficult to get this working internally for various reasons, but I like the idea of a localised version of localgov camp.

    I already meet quarterly with web partners in the districts in Cambridgeshire, the Police and Fire Service. We’re quite dispersed geographically and some partners find it hard to get time off to attend. We tend to use those meetings for identifying ways to do partnership working and as a form of therapy and mutual support ;D. But I’m now thinking we should try the hyperlocal gov camp approach in our partner meetings. Let me know how you get on the West Midlands so we can swap notes! And send us some pork scratchings if you have any leftovers…

  5. Really sharp people will spot that I’ve edited the title of this blog. It was about a “Local localgovcamp’. But Si is write. We did talk of a hyperlocalgovcamp. That sounds far better….

    Cheers for the great feedback.

    iamadonut – you should move to the West Midlands. It’s brilliant.

    Michele – Wuill keep you posted how things progress. You can have my share of pork scratchings. I hate them.

    Stuart / Si -Think a trip to the pub is in order to really, y’know, get to the bottom of all this. I’ve DM’d you both. The results of this should show up here.

    Think we’ve got something. It’s just a case of pinning it down and seeing if it’ll fly…

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