3655950711_8d7e022f93_bSo much of what I do comes indirectly from one small event in Birmingham eight years ago.

The event was the first localgovcamp in 2009. More than 100 people turned-up on a Saturday to a converted Mission church which had just been converted into a tech start-up hub. There was no agenda for the day and I only went because a few people I rated from Twitter were going.

The aim of the event was to work out how the web could be used by local government to make the world a better place. Social media was new and we were all busy experimenting with it. IT and most comms teams hadn’t even woken up to it all.

Looking back, much of what is common digital comms currency was worked out at some stage by people who were at the event. People like Nick Booth and Dave Briggs were early innovators and others followed. Election results on Facebook, frontline staff on Twitter, answering questions on social media? They were first pioneered by people who went. Small steps? Tiny now but huge Neil Armstrong leaps into the unknown back then. What has been built since came because of those experiments.

An accidental by-product of what really happened that day is that a network was built on Twitter of people who have gone onto do great things. A couple of years ago, sad man I am, I sat down with the attendee list and linkedin and created a google doc. Of the 118 attendees 28 were from local government itself and almost a third went onto start their own businesses. That’s an incredible stat. Digital Matchbox, Digital Nomads, Pigsonthewing and Data Unlocked all came from localgovcamp attendees. Comms2point0 too. Why so many? For my part, because by coming together and bouncing ideas I started thinking differently. From those still inside local government the localgovdigital network emerged too.

Stuart Harrison from Lichfield Council brought his decks with ‘Chuck D for President’ and played the tunes. He’s doing cool things with data with Tim Berners-Lee’s organisation now.

But, what is localgovcamp?

It’s an unconference which means the agenda is drawn-up on the day. Tickets are free. It’s for people who work in and around local government. That can mean engineers, policy people, web developers, librarians and comms people. From the first event in 2009 it’s happened most years. This year it is in Leeds.

Here are 10 things anyone can learn from localgovcamp

  1. You can learn an amazing amount about digital comms from non-PR people. Back in the early days it was bloggers, web developers and policy people who blazed the trail. They still do. They don’t care about tradition. They just build things and see if they work.
  2. The unconference is still a brilliant model for learning and sharing. I’ve been to many events since the first localgovcamp. I’ve never felt inspired by a PowerPoint presentation. I have by an unconference session where a room full of people have challenged, debated and worked out some answers although not every unconference session works.
  3. There was an era when local government raced ahead with digital.I look back really fondly on the two or three years at the start of the decade when it felt the rule book for digital comms was being written by junior people who ‘got it’ and were bouncing bigger and better ideas off each other.
  4. Learning about what other people do is important… even if its nothing to do with your job.Comms people need to get out more. They really do. Hearing what other people do is valuable. If you feel as though you’re in a bubble you probably are. Get out more. Listen to other people. See what they are doing.
  5. Local government is brilliant, but…. There can be more than 700 services delivered by your council. It’s strength is also it’s weakness. Try and name more than a dozen and you are struggling. It’s strength is it does so much. It’s weakness is it does so much. Very few of those services are used by everyone which means that people can think that helping older people is a waste of money. As a comms challenge that’s really tricky.
  6. Running an unconference is pretty straightforward. Find a room. Persuade some sponsors to pay for it and some rooms and away you go. Put up an Eventbrite to issue tickets. It’s the idea that led to commscamp. Easy.
  7. The best idea can come from the most unexpected place. The number of pips on the shoulder is no guarantee of great ideas. The best ideas I’ve heard at localgovcamps have been from people I may not have ever met doing a job I never would have thought much about.
  8. Giving stuff away is good. I first started blogging in 2009 to try and contribute to the debate and think things through. I share links because I think they have some value. Doors that have opened-up in my career have opened because of the stuff I’ve given away.
  9. It’s important for people from a sector to come together to be reminded ‘it’s not us, it’s them.’ There’s a value of being able to connect and let off steam a bit. That’s really important to local government – and any sector – at a time like this.

Picture credit

Stuart Harrison Arun Marsh / Flickr