ukgovcamp uncovered


To IBM’s HQ! …on Saturday morning for ukgovcamp13, the sixth annual gathering of localgov and tech geek types.

Wanna know about Publishing Open Data in localgov? Digital Channels for Local Councils? Um, Hacking localgov Websites?

No worries – there was a session for you at @ukgovamp.

Brilliantly organised around the unconferernce principle, @LloydDavis introduced the event by pleading:

“Meet people and build conversations that will change the way you work.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Some seven hours later and my iPad was stuffed with ideas, much like my goody bag was stuffed with freebie mugs and USB sticks. There’s a localgov pitch somewhere in there about the procurement of tech that will remotely make cups of tea for back end office staff.

The awkward introduction session was anything but. 300 or so geeks to get around the room with the mic – the best solution is simply to tag yourself.

#hyperlocal and #connections.

Job’s a good ‘un, but for the record I wasn’t entirely sure what work hat was being worn for the day.

It didn’t really mater – work representations were lost for the day. This was more about asking how others go about their way of working, and then to offer ideas and take away something for yourself.

The fear is that you depart an unconference finding that like-minded folk work in a way completely different to the processes that you put in place. The challenge is to then turn around your way of working, and take on board the ideas. Plus don’t forget that a little bit of disruption is always good.

And so seven rooms and 35 sessions soon appeared as the schedule for ukgovcamp was published. I could have happily attended around two thirds of these, knowing that I would hopefully be able to contribute, and also come away with some knowledge.

It was a little like choosing your options at school. A language or no language? What science subject for the unscientific mind? And does anyone really want to do drama?

Digital Channels for Local Councils with @TiffanyStJames stood out for the first session of the day. There is crossover here with the informal discussions currently taking place in Colchester between Cllrs and local geeks about how CBC can provide a better online voice.

The conversation covered the concept of what happens when localgov neglects any digital communication strategy. It was suggested that *ahem* hyperlocals steps in and provides an alternative.

We struggled slightly with the delivery method. If a tablet-based solution is seen as an alternative form of channel, then you are going to alienate the majority of your residents.

“Not for now, but evolving”

…was a half-decent way of thinking how the digital landscape might be in three years time.

The folly of free WIFI hotspots in town centres was discussed. Why would you want to roll this out in a location where customer-facing point of contact services already exist? If the budget is there, then it is far better to take these networks out into rural areas.

With the unconference clock counting down (you do need some structure) we turned towards what a localgov magic wand could offer when it comes to getting content out there.

It will come as no surprise to anyone working in localgov that getting rid of ancient browsers for back office staff has to be the first starting point. Allowing officers and Cllrs to communicate with the outside world through social channels would be another obvious solution, although strangely resistance is still out there.

For every @LBLDemocracy or @sophialooney there is a Colchester Borough Council antisocial media policy.

Many in the room touched upon the complete lack of tech understanding from senior management in Town Halls. If they don’t understand how the modern interweb has transformed their organisation – and their residents – then everyone below is then fighting against a cultural barrier.

The most powerful message that I took from this session was to allow citizens to build their own networks – then respond to them and not alienate them. The DIY ethos of the fringes of tech and localgov is a space [URGH] that can been filled independently as Council cuts kick in.

Failing that, then the following session could be of use:

Hacking Government Websites – No Tech Skills Required.

It’s certainly pushed my buttons, so to speak.

This session with @GlynWintle was more of a cautionary tale than a call to arms. There’s good hacking, and there’s bad hacking. Glyn’s background with the Open Rights Group gave some brilliant examples of how sensitive localgov data can often be compromised.

A brief stop for bangers and mash in the IBM canteen, and then the afternoon sessions were underway. Real Grass Roots Collaboration with @shortblue was the digital digestif, posing the question: Is collaborating the new C word?


Anti-social networking – the antithesis of the CBC antisocial media policy – was on the agenda. The argument was that the social web slows down collaboration, rather than enables it. Back in Colchester and the proposed banning of tweeting Cllrs is a complete channel blackout, rather than a policy to enable better collaboration.

If technology drives collaboration, is this necessarily the best route? We explored how collaboration is an inherent part of human nature, with or without the modern interweb. Back in localgov land and there is the danger that collaboration is simply a response for cuts.

FOI’s were offered up as a form of collaboration. Essentially localgov is sharing data requested by residents. Examples were given of how often the will to free this data simply doesn’t exist. The culture of localgov is sometimes resistant to this change.

My own course plotted around the sessions had now developed a pattern – the social through to the structure, and then back again. Which must mean that it was now time for:

Any WordPress Questions Answered with @HarryM, @Lily_Dart and @dgmStuart – the team behind

What is so special about WordPress? Pretty much everything to be honest (apart from outdated plugins…) The session explained how the tool has shifted from the personal through to the public with many localgov bodies now using WordPress as their default back end system.

Other software was explored. Time for a plug for the Open Councils and Drupal session with @marcde_ath and @lambeth_council coming up later in the week.

But yeah – WP is bloody brilliant.

And then just as the IBM bangers and mash were about to boot up my own mainframe mechanism, the final session concluded once again with collaboration:

Cross-sector Collaborative Innovation with @Jagusti.

We wanted to find examples of collaboration between localgov and third sector orgs, and then see if these have been successful or not. What are the time demands? The expectations? The outcomes?

The message that it isn’t always about the platform came over once again. Many examples were given where a step away from the online world has often led to the most effective collaborations at this level.

But sometimes it all comes back to the dosh – now is the best time for collaboration as we are all financially buggered.

And so that way my experience of ukgovcamp13. A read through of the twitter stream shows many different experiences. It’s impossible to collect and document all the conversations that took place. You walk away feeling slightly in awe of some of the work of others, but equally inspired to take these ideas into your own hyperlocal patch.

Publishing Open Data in Local Gov and Digital Channels for Local Councils are very much on the radar.

Hacking localgov Websites can wait, Comrades.

Sponsors, blah blah blah – all brilliant.


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