Microsoft plays host again today to ukgovcamp, an ‘unconference’ that aims to bring together public sector professionals to discuss best practice use of technology. The event was sold out long ago, and with over 330 delegates registered to attend across the two days, it promised to be an unparalleled gathering of those looking to make a difference in this sector. Hosted at the Microsoft Cardinal Place offices, the format was the de facto for unconferences.

Dave Briggs opened the proceedings, followed by Microsoft’s host Dave Coplin, who as well as pointing out the toilets and exits, welcomed all the guests in his usual unassuming and humorous manner. Sponsors then
introduced themselves followed by introductions to all of the delegates. The best introduction, based on laughs from the rest of the audience, was from Dave Simmons from the National Police Improvement Agency, who, deadpan, said he was here to improve the police.

Dave Coplin opening ukgovcamp 2012. Picture courtesy of Ann Kempster / Flickr

To begin the day, with the unconference format, delegates formed an orderly queue to propose sessions for the day and stick their suggestions on to the conference agenda wall planner.

Open Standards was one of the first round of sessions of the morning, taking place in the main auditorium. The discussion focused on how there is a lot of work taking place on how open standards are defined, and how there is a process of standards creation underway and a website coming soon that will allow government to enable information sharing across departments and outwardly suppliers. It was announced that there will be a Data Standards Panel coming soon, made up of people in and outside of government, using and creating data, with the aim of implementing the outcomes of the Open Standards Consultation. The discussion darted around the room with time running out, and all the delegates in attendance keen to hear more about how open standards can be fostered and harnessed.

Social media and influence was the focus of one of the second round sessions of the morning. The session began with the question: what impact does social media influence have on campaigns, and how can influence be measured? The delegates in the room brought up the issue that social media should help to bring about outcomes, and measurement of influence should really be about social media’s impact on these outcomes, whether this is about the use of services or something different. The point was made that value in social media often comes from the connections that can be made, which often cannot be valued. Social media is about asking questions of government, not just for government to run campaigns, it was concluded.

During the lunch break, the event saw many delegates sitting on floors due to the volume of Govcampers in the building. The afternoon started with a session on ‘what it takes to make a public sector organisation internet-native’. The session was given an opening framework of best practice principles that can help an organisation become internet-native:

  1. User-focus is paramount and has to be top of the pile
  2. Get skilled people in-house and put them in positions of authority
  3. Build everything with the expectation that it might not be your front end that everyone will use
  4. Watch out for social media myopia
  5. Use open standards, open data and open source
  6. Government digital services are part of a democratic system and are there for a reason

The discussion that followed centred on practical ways that technology and digital projects can be used to bring about change for a public sector organisation. The session was the busiest of those to have taken place
in the day, and also the most linear, with the speaker delivering the majority of the session then taking questions from the floor.

The next session was about culture hacks, or hacking public sector culture. The discussion was very much focussed on organisational behaviour and workplace psychology. The first part of the discussion points
focused on whether to disrupt and fix, or to foster collaboration with the aim of bringing about change. The second part focused on participants from the room and their practical experiences and lessons in changing public sector culture.This ranged from scrapping hierarchy in organisations and in working teams, and moving to flat networked structures with project swarm that can work on specific jobs in an agile way, to looking at how line management works in teams in a way that can bring about more innovation in individual that feel stifled. Broadly speaking, the discussion was a lively debate and refreshingly touched
very little on technology per se.

The last session of the first day at ukgovcamp 2012 was about content management and how this role has changed with the new types of content needed for a modern public sector web strategy. This looked at some of the fundamental reasons for a public sector organisation existing, such as provision of services, reduction of costs and getting content to people. The solution is to focus not on the technology itself, neither is technology the fault in any outdated content management system. What should be prioritised is to focus solely on the content itself and the user needs, and the long term running of websites and services.

Wrapping the day up was Mike Bracken from the Cabinet Office talking about upcoming plans at GovUK. The session was ‘Chatham House rules’ but tweeting, Mike said, is allowed, so this is a brief write-up of Mike’s
presentation without divulging too much detail.

Mike talked about his role in the newly launched Government Digital Service in streamlining the Government’s online estate, amongst other things such as cost saving and new services. He presented demonstrations of the new Gov UK web service on a single domain. It all looked simple, functional and received great feedback from the Govcampers.

That was all for day one. A full agenda and full delegationready and waiting for day two.

Posted by Drew