Another gov camp retrospective


Yes, I know – all the cool kids have already blogged about their experience of UK Gov Camp this year. All the clever and insightful things have been said. See, I was going to blog about the sessions, the topics, the organisation, the lunch, the t-shirts … But all of that has been done, and done really well. So I’m going to step away from that and blog about something else.

This has been covered a bit, but I’m going to crank it up a bit and see if I can do something useful with it. This post is going to be about the people who went, and the people who didn’t. You see there’s a theme developing after every gov camp now – why were there so few front line staff there, why is it always the same faces, how do we get new people to come along? It’s been said that its just the same faces every time now, standing around having the same conversations over and over again.

Alright then. Let’s examine this. We want new people there but it’s hard to look at the attributes of someone who’s not in front of you. So what are the common attributes of the people who did make it? (Obviously I’ll be generalising and guessing here, but I’m pretty confident that these things will be mostly true for most of the attendees).

1) we have the time (or we make the time) to think about how our roles and the sector as a whole could be improved.
2) we have considerable autonomy in our personal and professional lives
3) we have either sufficient personal disposable income, or an understanding boss with sufficient budget, to make paying for travel and accommodation possible
4) we believe our opinions are new, or at least emergent and unexplored, and we believe they are worth sharing. What’s more we are confident in our right to speak in a room full of awesome and high profile names.

So it’s possible that the people we don’t see at gov camps, the people we wish were there, who are likely to be equally amazing, are coming up against one of four barriers that attendees have overcome already. Having been in that position, here is what it looked like for me, and what it very probably still looks like for people who are stuck in it.

1) I can’t afford it and work won’t pay for it.
2) I’m not important/senior/qualified enough to go, or I don’t have an important/senior/qualified sponsor who will make the case for me to go.
3) nobody wants to listen to me even if I did go.
4) I’m too busy to worry about that stuff; I have my job to do and this just isn’t relevant.

Any of these strike a chord with anyone else?

While we’ve tried to tackle the question of relevance and importance, and we’re all communicating and blogging for all we’re worth to try to spread the word, I don’t think we’ve done anything to address the more concrete barriers here. What’s more I believe many of us are very well placed to do so. So I have two proposals for the next gov camp.

The first one is for the organisers. Let’s see if we can fundraise an extra £1000 or so on top of the cost of putting on the camp itself, so that we can offer two or three travel bursaries to young, junior or front line people. We might need some sort of nomination process, I don’t know, perhaps you all out there have some opinion on that?

The second proposal is for the rest of you. If you are a reasonably senior manager, you hold a budget, and you are in a position to sponsor someone in a front line role to come to gov camp: DO IT. Pay a contribution to their travel and accommodation costs out of your section budget, under the CPD cost code. You probably have one of those, right? Or something like it? This is what it’s for.

Anyway, that’s what I think …

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About jargonaut

Unashamed geek lost in policy land. Frequently required to believe three impossible things before breakfast, and implement them by tea time.
This entry was posted in Engagement, Organisational Development, The Geek Wonk Interface and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Another gov camp retrospective

  1. simon gray says:

    I don’t disagree with you in the principle of your suggestions, but I’m wondering how accurate you (or rather, the chatter which has led to it) are in your original analysis.

    I’ll admit that there was a period a few years ago where I was becoming cynical of what I saw as the groupthink tendency which was starting to develop amongst the community, and I was starting to wonder if I was still sufficiently learning from or giving to the community to make my attendance at camps justifiable, so for a period I registered for each one thinking ‘this will probably be my last’. But each time I thought that camp was going to be my last I was in the middle of a work project, and a camp was an ideal place to share my progress so far; and each time I also went to at least one other session having found out something useful to actually then go on an apply back home.

    And this one was no different – I registered not expecting to be pitching any sessions, and arrived with a session to pitch – and at least two other sessions I came out of with real new knowledge to apply in one case immediately I got home and in another case will do something with in due course.

    I also found myself looking around the room – and at the last camp I was at, LocalGovCamp in the summer – and realising I knew a fraction of the people I used to see a lot in the early days of the movement.

    Each successive camp has been different, with the organisers applying the learning from the previous event to the next one, and when new organisers take over making radical changes to put their own stamps on the events; not all changes over the years have been universally welcomed, but I do think all the changes over the years have been done to try to address the problems you outline – there will always be more work to do, but I think it’s worth acknowledging the work that has been done at the same time as encouraging more work to be done!

  2. PRBham says:

    Good to read this Lucy, especially as we are both on the ODCamp organising team and its only 2 nights before the event this weekend – I think there are some good ideas there and here’s a few more thoughts I’ve had from conversations I’ve had with others about attending camps, or asking them why they’re not coming to ODCamp

    1. Having them on a weekend is difficult for some people with families
    2. No camp (as far as I know) has ever offered creche facilities for people who would like to bring their children

    I went to UKGovCamp last year but decided not to apply this year as I wasn’t sure, as someone who works mainly in the voluntary sector, with charities, community groups and funders, that I got enough out it last year to go again; I will still try and go to LocalGovCamp and CommsCamp – at the moment I think there’s more appropriate sessions and people there for me and my VCS colleagues to work with.

    Lastly, I think there are still issues of diversity (lack of) at all of the camps I’ve attended and/or helped organise and I think we all have work to do there. Hope these comments are helpful.

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