GLASTO FOR GEEKS: Bullet points from UK Govcamp 2012

Like an apple tree planted in the Spring a good thing can give you a fine harvest of fruit years into the future.

Events like barcamps and unconferences are the lifeblood of innovation in government. Ideas spark when you put good people into a room.

Heading for work on Monday morning it can give you the zeal of a convert. But the beauty is that many of those seeds of ideas take time to take root and form an idea.

Trouble is that some of those those valuable moments of inspiration and insight can be misplaced.

UK Govcamp is a grand daddy of an event staged at Microsoft in it’s fifth year and has expanded into a two day event drawing more than 300 people to London.

I went for a day. A family celebration stopped me from staying for the second (at which Stoke City ended up losing). The morning after my visit I had this exchange on Twitter:

So here is my list of bulletpoints, in no particular order (and I’ll be adding to them in the days to come):

  1. It’s like Glastonbury for government geeks. It’s big. It’s brilliant. You plan to see a big act on the main stage. You end up in setendipity.
  2. A Saturday barcamp is what good people would do every day if bad people, obstacles and emails were removed.
  3. There are town centres whose shops and shopkeepers are connected digitally.
  4. There are creative people who work in their back bedrooms who could be connected digitally.
  5. We don’t put inspiring people in a room often enough.
  6. Suits won’t ever come to a barcamp. Some will. Most won’t. But half way house events that have a bit of both can work.
  7. Nick Booth is one of the Holiest Saints who ever walked this earth.
  8. Archant are a newspaper group in London who ping out daily emails with headlines and links in. As well as print. That strikes me as being like news 2.0.
  9. Philip John is a bright kiddie.
  10. Dave Briggs and Steph Gray should be revered as Lennon and McCartney for organising this.
  11. Talk is good. But doing something on Monday morning is more important.
  12. Use local government services like a resident would to see how you can improve things. Then tell someone how it can be improved.
  13. The golden bullet answer is there are no golden bullets. Just lots of different solutions.
  14. People in Ludlow were behind a hyperlocal site that celebrates their town.
  15. People in central government don’t have a budget for photography.
  16. Everyone is paranoid of releasing Flickr images as creative commons in case someone does something silly. But people scratch their heads when asked if they can come up with an example.
  17. People would love us forever if local government came up with a way to issue digital bin night reminders.
  18. People in central government talk about strategy and policy lots. Less so in local government. They tend to talk of case studies and doing.
  19. Nobody has come up with a killer solution to return on investment for social media. That’s the score that looks at what you spend you get as a return. Followers are a bit important. But it’s what you and they do together that matters.
  20. The new single Alpha gov platform website will save pots of money. My 50p says that it’ll be offered / handed to local government next.
  21. The idea of a two day event gives space for people to come up with problems to fix. That’s a compelling thing
  22. The people at Microsoft are jolly good hosts.
  23. I’ve come away with a list of people I’d wish I’d met / spent more time with. Again.
  24. Don’t ever give in being an optimist. Ever.
Useful links:
The UK Govcamp 2012 buzz page.

Creative commons credits:

Puffles the dragon and friend by David J Pearson

Writing on a sticky by Ann Kempster

Discussions over lunch by Harry Metcalfe

Govcamp logo shadow puppet by David J Pearson

Join the Conversation


    1. Thank you! You were on the list of people I didn’t have a proper, proper chat with. Must make up for that soon.

  1. Dan, your advice worked – here’s my list so far:

    1. Saturday’s better for an unconference because colleagues and clients are less likely to interrupt with the day-to-day stuff that stops us thinking free and thinking big

    2. There’s a fantastic initiative going on in Cumbria to bring broadband to one of the UK’s foremost ‘not-spots’ – see

    3. Hull City Council are running ads on their website via Google and making some cash with few complaints – other councils are not sure its worth it and worry that even ads from family-friendly brands like M&S may offend (eg their more risqué lingerie ads)

    4. Making data more widely accessible to public sector managers in user friendly interactive formats (ie not GIS) and in ways that do not require mediation or interpretation by others is really important. These managers need data presented interactively in ways that are as easy to use as the sort of tools organisations like RightMove and others are delivering to the public.

    5. Sophisticated data visualization often obscures rather than illuminates: a ‘top ten’ list is often more useful than a gorgeous 3D rendering

    6. Mike Bracken talked about the need to ‘get digital skills back into government’ – local government has never outsourced IT/digital in the way central gov did in the last 10-15 years, and is all the better for it IMHO.

    7. There are still not many clues about how the advent of the GDS, and the single gov domain are going to affect local gov – I guess things will need to have moved closer to the ‘go wholesale’ phase of the GDS programme before we really know. Socitm is in dialogue with GDS around this and will be pushing information out as it gets it in the coming months.

    8. The average government department lasts just 5.5 years.

    9. Smaller sessions on smaller topics work better for me. I found a well-attended session on ‘radical websites’ and another poplar one on hyperlocal/community consultation frustrating because the topic seemed too big and the range of experience too broad for really useful discussion.

    10. Carl Haggerty @carlhaggerty and Sarah Lay @sarahlay are doing some great thinking on content strategy for local gov web/digital channels. This is going to be shared widely so keep your eye on their blogs.

    11. Steph Gray @lesteph is leading developing a maturity model for digital in the public sector which local gov web managers will be interested in.

    12. Nobody’s really got an answer to the cookie thing

    13. The people who organise this event are, in the parlance, awesome.

    14. Govcamp is exhausting, so will continuing this list later, in my own space. Meanwhile thank you Dan, for your advice and your hospitality!

    1. Oh, good work, Vicky! Interesting to see what you picked up on and I didn’t. That’s what happens at an unconference though, isn’t it?

  2. 26. GovCamp’s in the UK will continue to thrive, have ideas adopted and remain relevant in the post GDS world of government web. So it’s not Last Night at the Proms but instead we can look forward to GovCamp as the Sundance Film Festival for ‘Geeks’

    1. Yes, the high of the unconference followed by the low of the inbox on your first day back. The trick is to do.something small before you switch on. Create a Flickr account. Like a Facebook page. Anything. That way you’ll have taken a small step.

      Fingers crossed I’ll be at the North West event. See you there?

  3. Can I pick up on number 15 “People in central government don’t have a budget for photography”.

    Isn’t it the same in Local Government? How many councils have a corporate policy on photography? I would guess not many? How many have a photo library? Even less I would guess. How many of those council reply on tourism to generate income? You can talk all you like about what a beautiful place it is but a photo is worth a 1,000 words as the old saying goes. How many councils would let their staff go out for a few hours with a camera to capture all that is good about their home town or would they consider it ‘not proper work’ and dismiss that huge potential that a few nice photos would offer

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