SESSION LESSON: A DIY guide to running your own small Barcamp

There’s a great quote about learning not being compulsory, but neither is survival.

For the public sector learning and survival are vital in 2011.

No doubt, there’s a place for paid training.

But 2011 will be the year unconference as they expand in size and number.

What’s a barcamp? It’s bright like minded people coming together, booking a venue and running some sessions to exchange ideas.

UK Govcamp in London drew more than 170. It created an explosion of inspiring thinking on the day and after.

For this organisers Dave Briggs and Steph Gray need to be revered as heroes.
But that’s not enough for them. Oh, no. They’ve gone and created More Open. A fund to help start-up barcamps in other parts of the country. What a pair of dazzling gents.

Shropcamp is one of the first to benefit. Others will follow.

Last October I joined Si Whitehouse, Stuart Harrison, Andy Mabbett and Mike Rawlins to put on the comfortably laid back and low level Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands.

Around 70 people came on a Wednesday afternoon to Walsall College with tweets and reaching a potential audience through the #hyperwm hashtag we were surprised to learn of 56,000.

Now, I don’t for one minute suggest we’re now fully fledged event planners after one gig. Nor is what we did remotely in the same ballpark as UK Govcamp.

But that’s the point. It wasn’t trying to be. We just fancied doing something in our part of the world that we’d want to go to.

So, in the spirit of doing and sharing here are some things we learned. It feels like the right time to post this.


1) Have an idea. Kick it around with some conspirators. If it stands up to the scrutiny of a couple of people you’re on a winner. Rope them in too. It’s good to share.

2) Think of a list of people you’d like to be there. Get their support for the idea. Now you’re on your way.

3) Check Dave Briggs’ 10 things to do for a barcamp. It’s indispensible.


4) Think of a name for your event. Get yourself a Twitter account. Spread the word. Don’t wait until you have a venue or location. A name will do at first.

5) Get yourself a presence on the UK govcamps site that requires sign-up. There’s already a community of people there.

6) Get yourself a basic WordPress site to host a Google map with venue, parking and other locations.

7) Use your Twitter to flag up potential sessions and sponsors. Build momentum.

8.  Use your offline contacts to raise interest. Email. Talk. Cajole. Enthuse.


9) Get a venue within striking distance of a train station if you possibly can.

10) Use any contacts you may have to get it at cheap rate or free. Is there a public sector venue that fits the bill?

11) Rolling tea and coffee is a must. Catering is a cherry on top bonus, frankly. It’s 2011.

12) If it’s a public sector thing, think of a venue near a council building.

13) Having it away from the council itself is liberating. It helps people loosen up and makes it a slightly non-work thing.


14) Briggs’ guide wisely suggests banging the drum with web companies. There may be some public sector cash knocking around too.


15) There’s a debate on what works best. A Saturday? You may get people who can’t come along midweek. Midweek? You’ll make it part of the day job for less committed nine to fivers. There’s a role for both. Friday isn’t always great, apparently.

16) How about the length of it? All day or half day? How about a post event drink too? You may find people want to chat a bit afterwards.


17) Use Eventbrite for tickets. Release them in batches to build up a sense of momentum. Give a build-up via Twitter to each release.

18) DM people to invite them to sign up. Don’t think that just because its posted on Twitter at 9am the world is all watching at 9am.


19) Venues often have wifi on lockdown banning access to social media sites. Test what they may offer beforehand.

20) Bring lots of extension cables.

21) Bring sticky labels people can write names on.

22) Have one of your organising team always floating around to sort any problems.

23) Do something different. We invited people to bake a cake.

24) Have a couple of volunteers signing people in. Sounds obvious.

25) You’ll need someone like Andy Mabbett to compare. He’s loud. He has a big beard. He’s good at explaining.


26) You’ll need to take the next day off. To recover, but also to capture the resources that have come out of it.

27) You may want to pay for a Tweetreach report to get a seven day snapshot of tweets with your hashtag. It’s handy to see the size of things. It’s also handy to pass on when you’re thanking sponsors.

28) You may want to capture some of the things that came out of the event too. Like Pelsall Common People blog that started in the wake of ours.

29) Have fun. Have fun. Have fun. It’s fun. A bit of work but mainly fun.

Creative Commons credits:

Agile session

Analogue boy


Join the Conversation


  1. Great post Dan.

    I’d like to add in, from my current experience of getting #shropcamp up and running. That I have been surprised at how much active interest there has been from potential sponsors but they want a menu to choose from and they want to know what they’re going to get. Dave and Steph did a nice slideshare for #ukgc11 sponsors which I have shamelessly ripped off for #shropcamp.

  2. Thanks, Dan. I was just about to blog about this and you’ve saved me the bother 😉 Now you can update

    Thanks also for the mention. BTW, you seem to have mis-spelled “enunciates clearly”.

    A few other points:

    Use a (hash)tag from the off. Not just on Twitter, but for Delicious bookmarks, blog posts, Flickr, YuoTUbe, Audioboo, etc.

    Use an aggregator to pull in, or at least point to, tagged tweets, bookmarks, pictures, posts etc. Here’s one I did for HyperWM: using a free tool (there are other such tools, too) and here Steph Gray’s better one for UK GovCamp 20011: (he had a better budget!).

    One thing that’s implicit, in your post, but worth stating clearly, is to be part of a team. Running an event like this single-handed would be a quick route to madness. People who don’t have the time to join the full team can often be cajoled into undertaking a single task, in advance, on the day, or in the follow-up.

    I’m already looking forward to next year’s GovConnect, to Shropcamp, and to the next Brum events. I’m very happy to be involved in running some of them. And delighted I’m not involved in running all of them…

  3. Cheers, Andy.

    Good point about doing things as a team. The fact that yourself, Si, Pez and Mike all put their shoulder to the wheel meant that collectively it was far better collectively than the component parts. Besides, if you weren’t there there would not have been someone to selflessly taste all those cakes.

    One quick point about the Anke Holst pic (that’s her looking past some floresecent tubes).

    She helped arrange Localgovcamp London.

    The idea for hyperwm came about at this event.

    The idea for shropcamp came about in part from hyperwm.

    So, in effect Anke has had a role in doing good things not just in Walsall, bu in Shropshire too.

    What’s that quotye about butterly wings?

  4. Yes, but I was relying on the site’s owner to act as sub-editor. What’s your excuse?

    Besides, “utterly butterly” is funny, and YuoTUbe is just daft.

    Oh, and you owe me a free hit for your “Loud” comment.

  5. Okay.

    But I mean ‘loud’ as in big voice to command a room with a presence of knowledge, interlect and learning.

    : )

  6. Brilliant Dan, as usual.

    Still thinking about getting a southwest event off the ground. This should help us kick off the discussion internally.

  7. *blush* 🙂

    Dan, you’re lucky you didn’t write this before ukgc11, I would have given you the biggest hug 🙂

    Shall aim to be around for one of your events soon. Have always wanted to see Shropshire for myself!

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