What is a Govcamp?
Govcamps are self organised unconferences for people that work in and around government.
The movement was started by Jeremy Gould in January 2008, and now others have got involved and organised events.
Govcamps are events with a number of things in common:
- They are free to attend
- They have no set, pre-defined agenda
- There is a strong focus on attendee participation
- They integrate nicely with online stuff
- They have nice give-aways
- They are relentlessly positive, constructive and creative
Though there’s no predefined agenda, the event is ticketed to help manage demand.
What happens on the day?
A compere (hopefully Govcamp veteran Lloyd Davis) introduces the event, and participants introduce themselves briefly. Sessions are proposed and agreed at the start of the day. They’re written on scruffy post-it notes and added to a big grid on the wall. Govcamp participants consult the grid throughout the day to work out where they want to go next, and there’s plenty of time for the informal hallway chats which, let’s face it, are the best bit of any conference.
What if I end up in a boring session or find myself out of my depth?
The so-called Law of Two Feet applies: people move freely between sessions which interest them, tweeting, blogging, snapping pictures and filming as they go. What emerges is always a high-energy, dynamic event which leaves people buzzing with new ideas and connections for weeks afterwards, because they’ve been talking and hearing from their peers inside and outside the public sector, rather than listening to the great and good.
Is there still Powerpoint and coffee and chairs?
Yes, all three. Some people do bring slides or websites/demos to show as part of a session they’re leading, and all the rooms will have screens and projectors, and hopefully some rock-solid wifi.
There will be normal refreshments and a nice lunch courtesy of our lovely hosts IBM.
But I’ve heard of another event called a ‘Govcamp’…?
Govcamping has grown into a year-round movement of smaller events (think: LibraryCamp, Shrop(shire)Camp, Localgovcamp) as well as monthly, informal ‘teacamp’ get-togethers in London and Birmingham where the talk is of social media and the new public sector IT, amidst the tea and Victoria sponge (none of it publicly funded).
My boss wants to see a business case before letting me go.
Well, firstly, it’s a Saturday.
Secondly, the combination of tight budgets, consumerisation and socialisation of enterprise IT, and public expectations of digital-by-default public services has clearly shaken things up in the last couple of years. The Cabinet Office is leading perhaps the most credible effort in a decade to bring more open source and cloud-based tools into the public sector, tackling the gnarly barriers of procurement, open data and IT security head-on. The Government Digital Service is going great guns, and there’s a big community out there across the country of people who want to do IT better in their own organisations. UKGovcamp is where many of them get together to compare notes and make new connections. There’s no time wasted listening to boring talks, or being buttonholed by annoying sales reps – in its chaos is actually a model for a more efficient form of corporate knowledge-sharing event, genuinely enabled by social media and unconstrained by grade or organisation.
In this turbulent new public sector environment, the informality and openness of govcamps are the key to their success. By leaving job titles at the door, mixing people from different sectors with different agendas and experience, they become a source of contacts, inspiration and good old-fashioned moral support which promises to help deliver real change in public sector IT.
Can I run a Govcamp?
Nobody owns the idea of Govcamps, and nobody needs to ask for permission to run one. You might find people on this site who can help you organise it though, and maybe find some sponsorship to help you get one of your own off the ground. Here’s some advice on how to run a Govcamp.
Who runs this site?
This site is administered and maintained by volunteers Dave Briggs from Kind of Digital and Steph Gray from Helpful Technology. Steph and Dave do some of the prep work to set up UKGovcamp events and have done for the last few years.