TEA AND INNOVATION: Are we, like, getting mainstream, now?

It’s a bit rubbish following an event online if you know they have good cake, good people and good ideas.

Especially when you’re hungrily sat work at 9 o’clock at night and could really murder a slice of Victoria sponge.

 Last night I followed Brewcamp’s first outing to Coventry, this time organised by Kate Sahota and Karen Ramsey-Smith.

 What’s Brewcamp?

 It’s a few like minded local government people in the West Midlands who want to innovate, share ideas and learn things. We speak nicely to a cafe or bar owner who has wifi to set aside some space for free, set a date, set-up an eventbrite for tickets and then come up with a few topics people want to talk about.

 Looking down the list of attendees for the Coventry event the name of Sandwell Council chief executive Jan Britton stood out.

 Jan has already carved something of a reputation with his blog. It’s accessible to members of the public as well as staff. It’s a great thing and you can see it here.

 Unconferences like Brewcamp are great for sharing ideas and learning things. They’re informal and, heck, they make work fun. You don’t have to be an expert. You just need to turn up.

 Previously these things have always been the haunt of the enthusiast willing to give up their time and often pay out of their own pockets to attend.

 A running undercurrent debate at them is often that ‘this is great but how do we get the suits here?’

 In other words, how do you get senior management?

 Three things have made me think this brilliant approach is dangerously close towards making a breakthrough to the mainstream.

 First, to have a first local government chief executive like Jan Britton to attend one of them is actually pretty significant. Let’s stop and think. He’s a talented man. He’s also busy. By actually coming to an unconference he’s opened up the door for others in his organisation.

And in other people’s organisations.

 Second reason? The media are starting to take notice. Sarah Hartley at The Guardian ran an excellent piece on her time at localgovcamp in Birmingham. The LGC ran a two page spread on what makes things like localgovcamp work. They put some of it up online to non-subscribers.   Hats off to it for covering it.

As Ken Eastwood, an assistant executive director at Barnsley, wrote of those who attended:

“In many cases they are frustrated by their lack of influence and by local government’s resistance to change and bottom up innovation. It seems clear to me that this needs to change. We need to be more agile, more adaptive and better able to encourage and nurture grass-roots, low cost creativity.”

 A third reason? It’s clear also that the traditional events sector has woken up to the creative side of unconferences too. The PSCF event in Glasgow will have an informal side to it in the afternoon with masterclasses.

The SOLACE conference in October, for senior officers, will also incorporate an element of unconference creativity too.

It would be hopelessly naive to think that we’ve won the war. But we’re slowly winning lots of important battles.

In local government in 2011 it’s clear we need to innovate and encourage new ideas. It’s not if but how.

As the excellent Nick Hill from PCSF says, mainstream is essential otherwise you basically remain like ‘Fight Club.’

Creative commons credits:

Paul Clarke UKGovcamp http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/5382076388/sizes/l/in/set-72157625889557000/

Modomatic Tea http://www.flickr.com/photos/modomatic/2724923829/sizes/z/in/photostream/

Join the Conversation


  1. An interesting post, as ever, Dan!

    It is always fascinating to see how new ideas and approaches gradually become “mainstream” and what this means for conventional communication channels – c.f. the headline this week – “Booker judge’s fears for reading in the age of Twitter ….Children are reading fewer novels because they spend so much time on mobile phones and Twitter, the chair of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction has warned”

    We are in the midst of a compelling communications revolution. I was a speaker at a personalisation conference in Coventry on 15 July, organised by the Social Services Research Group (SSRG) and Coventry University – a very academic event… BUT complete with a #hashtag – #cppb – and fledgling Twitter stream. New ground is being broken all the time.

    Great to see another example of communications innovation coming from Glasgow. I got involved in Glasgow’s “Festival of Ideas” http://www.gscpf.org.uk/content/2166 – running a Whose Shoes? session as part of a series of workshops and events about personalisation in health and social care. The festival ran over several months, collecting and sharing good practice and had a very similar ethos to an “unconference” in that the whole was made up of all the component parts with multiple inputs from a wide range of perspectives, emerging over time, rather than a pre-set agenda.

    And … how can you write this post without mentioning the upcoming Public Sector Digital Strategies Convention taking place on September 14th in central London http://publicsectorsocialmedia.com/. It is being organised by Shirley Ayres, Chief Executive, Aspire Knowledge so can be guaranteed to address the real issues in an open and transparent way.

    Best wishes – keep blogging! Gill Phillips

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply