This weekend, I went to an ‘unconference’ for the first time. I attended UKGovCamp 2012 at Microsoft’s London Headquarters on Saturday. UKGovCamp ran over Friday and Saturday (I am a bit tight on the annual leave so only attended on the Saturday).
Worth looking through a few other posts about the event here, here here and here – with an summary of a session about Social Media and Whitehall here. (I didn’t attend that session as it was on Friday but I think there are a lot of issues that resonate with people working in local government at the ‘frontline’ as well).
It is quite a staggering experience to be alongside people from so many different walks and paths in life who converge on a physical location to discuss, plan, brainstorm and problem-solve around similar topics. In this forum the discussions were around people working in the public sector and issues relating to it although the definitions were helpfully quite broad.
The first part of the day (and I’m only referring to the Saturday here!) involved everyone introducing themselves in a large room. Then people ‘bid’ or presented the sessions they wanted to run.
The problem for me, was that there was an embarrassment of riches – too many people to talk to and too many topics I want to discuss. I will write up some of my learning from the individual sessions and particular conversations at a different time.
My main learning points were possibly more ethereal than many there – particularly as I attended on the ‘doing’ day where solutions were being planned which probably wasn’t my forte to be blunt.
While I’d love to follow the bullet point format for ease of reading, I’m afraid I couldn’t manage it so here are more longer learning points!
– I met many enthusiastic and visionary people in and around government – not necessary (rarely) at management levels but people willing to spend an entire Saturday in London (no small cost regarding travel/hotels for some) to talk about making things work better for the people who use and need our services.
– I found a pleasant ‘niche’ of people very interested and involved in the social care sector which made me feel less out of place to be there and convinced me of the importance of front line practitioners to take a real interest in the ways that technology and creative thinking can change our practice and ‘make things better’ and use these skills to add our expertise rather than wait for systems to be delivered to us and then gripe about them.
-I don’t think I’ve ever attended an event where everyone else in the session had a Twitter ID and where everyone was comfortable with others tweeting/typing during the session (sounds trite but actually, Twitter is a very useful way to engage in post-conference chat as it allows open conversations/sharing links/books/articles in an easy way and doesn’t demand the same intensity as a ‘one to one email chat’)
– I met some people who work in wholly different fields who really challenged my assumptions about the ways things work in our sector and helped me to imagine difference and see it as real. This is a really important lesson for social care and social work. We need to see difference beyond the individual and in societies and organisations.
– It was great being around people who lack some of the cynicism of work in the public sector. Which is, despite what the government would have us believe, a fantastic place to work.
– While there is a massive amount of work that can be done to build and make connections and have discussions in the social media space, particularly around accessibility, sometimes it just can’t beat a face to face discussion.
-There’s no such thing as too many plug points when everyone has at least a phone and a laptop/tablet.
-It’s really really good to be around ‘geeks’. They are some of the most friendly people around.
– Me + table with free pens = New pen supplies for the next year. Sorry guys. Irresistable to a social worker used to working in an open plan office where black pens last an average of 3 mins when left on a desk. Even in these days of ‘paperless’ working.
I have a lot more to ponder on when I get time. I think there’s a lot of change going on in service delivery and we have to try and be involved and make links across organisations between the tech teams and the front line teams else our needs are left behind. I could get hooked on unconferences too. Despite being a long day, I feel fresher than I have for a long time about going back into work tomorrow and ‘making things better’ at a macro as well as micro level.
And finally, but most important of all – I met some really really fantastic people doing really fantastic things. I hope to write more about that over the next week and weeks. Thanks to everyone I met and who welcomed me into the ‘govcamp’ family. I’ll be back!
Next stop – BlueLightCamp in April in Manchester! I would encourage other social workers and frontline social care staff (as well as all in emergency services) to attend. Let’s make it work and let’s make us and our services work better!