HELLO CAMPERS: Three years on from the first localgovcamp… so whats changed?

So, It’s localgovcamp this week. Yippee.

On Saturday, 120 people from local government will head to Birmingham to share ideas, scheme and try and make the world a better place.

It’s an unconference which means the agenda gets decided on the day by those who go. Andy Mabbett’s guide for newbies is here

Seeing as it’s been three years since the very first one organised by Dave Briggs and people from Birmingham City Council I thought it high time to look back at how things have actually changed.

Back in 2009 at Fazeley Studios in Birmingham, there was a feeling of excited idealism. Tom Watson MP stood in the queue for coffee talking to a press officer while a web manager from Yorkshire was busy talking to a blogger from Brum.

This new thing called Twitter was connecting people in a way few people understood but all who were in on it were excited by.

It was brilliant. Sarah Lay, who I rate, wrote this piece in 209 that hasn’t dimmed with time.

So what’s changed?

Me. It made me think differently. It made me see new ideas and the confidence to try some of them out. My job title says press officer. I actually do far more than that.

Knowing bright people. It’s not always what you do first thing Monday morning that made localgovcamp. It’s making connections – so when you need WordPress skills further down the line you turn to Philip John. For open data Si Whitehouse. Localgovcamp 2009 created a network that has built and thrived and rebnews itself each year. That’s an amazing achievement.

Some bright people aren’t here anymore. Jack Pickard, who I met briefly at localgovcamp, died a short time after. He was someone I rated from a distance. I’ve never unfollowed him.

Some bright people have fallen by the wayside. Not everyone with talent is valued by an organisation. Some bright minds from 2009 haven’t been given the space to shine. They’re shining some of them at other things instead. Some have dazzled then faded.

It’s an ideas factory. Some ideas first come across in 2009 took three years to be relevant enough to put into practice. But that’s okay.

Unconferences work. One question asked in the run-up to the 2012 event was if people are fed-up with them. For me, you only have to look at mailcamp, museumcamp, librarycamp, hyperwm and others to realise that’s not the case. They’re getting more niche and more specific.

The web is making job titles irrelevant. At a barcamp you are a sticky badge who stands or falls on your willingness to share – and most importantly listen. That’s rather good.

Suits are starting to come. In small numbers. For the first time a chief executive is on the 2012 guest list. That’s a good thing.

Unconferences can have the same faces. That’s fine because people connect and re-connect. But there’s a danger of staleness if there’s not new faces. Seeing a new idea from a new person fills me with impish glee.

Others have picked up the baton. Those that came in 2009 have been organising their own things like a glorious domino effect. It led to events in York and London that led to events in Walsall and Warwick. And elsewhere.

Meeting people broadens horizons. The answers for being a better communications officer, I’ve found, can be found by talking to coders, to bloggers, to residents, to officers, to elected members and to people who do other things.

We are winning. The basic idea of localgovcamp 2009 that the social web could make peoples lives a little better remains the same. You doubt it? Look back at where you were three years ago and think how far you’ve come.


The 2009 localgovcamp attendee list

The 2011 localgovcamp attendee list

The 2011 localgovcamp posterous of blog links

The 2012 localgovcamp page

Creative commons credits

Fazeley Studios in 2009 http://www.flickr.com/photos/arunmarsh/3656735854/sizes/l/

Sticker http://www.flickr.com/photos/1gl/5845598435/sizes/l/in/set-72157626866274047/

Laptop chairs table http://www.flickr.com/photos/arunmarsh/3655949531/sizes/l/in/set-72157620328138849/

Join the Conversation


  1. Wish I was going. Feel quite sad to be missing out, we’ve weekend latitude tickets. Dom will be there with you do hoping for a long catch up Monday on all the exciting things happening in local gov. Would be great to meet you in person too, another time hey!? : )

    1. Absolutely! There’ll be #hyperwm in late September in the West Midlands. Come to that. In fact, bring a coach : )

  2. LocalGovCamp was my epiphany when I worked for City of Lincoln Council – the realisation that there ARE people in public sector who aren’t content with being a cog in the machine, who want to disrupt things, make the cogs turn more efficiently through the use of modern technology, and who are creative thinkers.

    I feel proud that I was a part of that but I’m also sad that I seem to have fallen into the group you mention in your fourth point, having moved on from public sector to be self employed. When I attended the last UKGovCamp I felt a bit – out of place, like I no longer had anything to contribute. There was still these fantastic conversations going on but, not being a part of the system, I no longer felt like I could take any of these ideas back somewhere and put them in place.

    I hope you all have a great time and push forwards. Never have I ever experienced such a vibrant and enthusiastic group of people who, through bad and good, stick together and stick to their guns. It may be piece by piece, but a difference is being made and it WILL be worth it.

    1. Hi Andy. You and me both. There was a whole bunch of people who experienced a bit of an epiphany at the first localgovcamp. Oh, I still think you have masses to contribute even if you are not working day to day inside local government. To be honest, that brings a different perspective.

      You are right. It WILL and IS worth it : )

      1. Andy, that would be just brilliant. Looks like West Bromwich this time around. I’ll shout you just as soon as we’ve a date : )

  3. Really good blogpost Dan. You’re right about the need to keep things fresh and always be open to ideas. That can be a challenge in local gov with the relentless demands and the backdrop of ‘we’re always done it like this so why change?’ that still exists in some places. Have a good and creative time in Birmingham

  4. There’s also this strange paradox around angst about “the suits” being there, and frustrations that people often go back from events like this and find it hard to make progress on ideas they took away with them. It always has been the most frustrating part about barcamps/unconferences etc that one hears ans sees great things being done elsewhere that would simply be “impossible” and “out of the question” at home.

    But my advice would be that if you just go to these things for takeaways, you’re doing it wrong! Go and give. What you give might solve a problem someone else has. Ditto their giving might unlock an issue for you.

    Not now being on a local authority salary is going to give me a different perspective at LocalGovCamp this year, for sure. Probably wider. Probably good advice to leave your job title at the door, and take part as the person inside it.

  5. Great blog and great comments! In particular, Dan, I love: “Seeing a new idea from a new person fills me with impish glee”.

    I also love Tom’s advice to “leave your job title at the door, and take part as the person inside it.”. This is exactly how Whose Shoes? sessions work – just work together and contribute as a person, everyone bringing in their “whole life” knowledge and experience and with the emphasis on working together rather than roles and hierarchies.

    And talking about disrupting things (in a positive way!) … have you seen Shirley Ayres & Stuart Arnott’s great new “Disruptive Social Care” podcasts?

    1. Thanks, Gill. It’s always good seeing bright new ideas. Of which your rolling blog is one. Must catch up with the podcast too.

    2. Great post Dan. I’m finding the comments really useful too.
      Thanks for sharing Disruptive Social Care, Gill – I’m downloading the podcasts in iTunes as I type!

  6. Thanks for the mention. Its amazing how many people in your first pic I not only know but count as finds. And that includes Jack, to whom I can be seen chatting.

    Like Andrew B., I’ve since left local government. I now work as freelancer (hire me!), but I still feel I have things to contribute, and what I learn at GovCamp and related events informs the work I do for public sector bodies.

    Sadly, I won’t be with you al this year, though, as I’m in Washington DC for the Wikimania conference – and, the following day, an unconference.

      1. It will be very odd not seeing you there, Andy. Hope Washington is going well.

  7. The blue sticker that my esteemed colleague is wielding in the picture above isn’t part of some sort of community crowd-sourced chart: it’s his free beer token at LocalGovCamp 2011. If that’s not an incentive to attend GovCamps, I don’t know what is.

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