Saturday 22 January 2011

At the end of the day (#ukgc11)

So, a girl walks into the Microsoft building, right and....

UKGovCamp is still rolling on, somewhere in a pub near Victoria. I am on a train home to Lancashire, with a head full of thoughts, hopes, fears and smiles. As ever, I am just one voice. I will try and link to everyone elses posts once they start appearing tomorrow.

So, as per the last post, I had great expectations of this event but low expectations of myself. How did it go? Well, I suppose the measure of a day, for me, is how much time I spend on Twitter and how much time I spend actually talking to people and interacting. I have posted few tweets today. It wasn't for a lack of content, only that I was too busy having amazing conversation with amazing people. There is nothing lyrical here, only facts, but the facts will speak volumes, I think.

Firstly, thanks to someone who shall remain nameless rescueing a slightly nervous Lou (I knew no one out of the 200 people or so there today - well no one in the 'have actually met them' category - but we'll come to that later) I ended up having coffee this morning and meeting Chris Chant. I liked. Warmth in people is either there or it isn't and so is grace and politeness and I must confess to looking forward with some hope to what comes out of DirectGov next. Big big big task. I hope there is some fun to be had, as well as avalanches of emails.

And so it was that I walked into an unconference for the first time after attending two previously completely calm and already having had conversations about service redesigns and flowcharting geek identification arguments. Always a fantastic start to the day.  The Microsoft building was nothing like I envisioned and throughout the day others compared the surroundings to the two previous camps homes, Google and the Ministry of Justice. I get the feeling that who comes out on top in terms of hospitality is not who you think it would be. And no, I wasn't checked for an iPhone at the door.

One of the first people I met was @pubstrat, Stefan Czerniawski, who may be quietly spoken but should not be underestimated for quantities of fearsome intellect. Him and @curiousc, Catherine Howe, are quite some team when they get going - but again, later.

Introductions were concise, swift, decidedly lacking in ego and read like a who's who of central and local government sparky people. It reflected excellently a bunch of people entirely secure in themselves, who were simply there to learn, absorb, network, explore and question. In other words, I kind of figured at that point I was in good comapny, relaxed a bit, squee'd at Dan Slee who I didn't realise I was sitting next to and tried frantically to make a note of the faces of all the people I wanted to talk to. A lack of Twitter names on badges did make things a bit more challenging, but you know it wasn't the problem I thought it would be and as a result, people in this post are referred to by both Twitter names and real names and I think that can only be a good thing.

What I wasn't expecting was the need to pitch sessions. So I chickened out. Don't judge me. The presentation I was going to give will get uploaded at some point once I've run it past the powers that be (they're named in it, it's only fair).

The first sessions was Reworking the Public Sector, based on a book called Rework. I missed the beginning of the session because of bouncing madly at @shirleyayres - but I got a lot out of it nevertheless.
  • Never assume IT want to block everything - there are good reasons
  • Don't ask for the solution (Huddle, for example), explain properly the thing you want to do and the business case for wanting to do it (collaborative working across orgs/sectors)
  • Pick your fights, don't pick a fight. There's a big difference. Concede defeat (and do it gracefully, I would add to this)
  • Working inside government organisations requires you to be a intrapeneur not a entrepreneur
  • @publicsectorpm aka Jon facilitates gently and with grace and ensures everyones voice can be heard
  • @ingridk aka Ingrid Koehler has a really rather lovely way of putting things
Second session. Now. The mistake I've made at previous unconferences was to go at things at 110mph and emerge at the other end exhausted and bleary eyed, having learnt nothing because nothing had sunk in. I was determined not to make the same mistake again. So I stepped out for some more coffee, some contemplative cigarettes and some fresh air.

Lunch and #lgovsm hacking - it's not working, or rather it is working, but the sheer amount of work attached to it is something I am struggling with. Conversations were had with @carlhaggerty and @808kate, some mentions of ether pad were made, maybe hosting it on the Guardian Local Gov Network, but we concluded there weren't enough people involved in the conversation and Kate and Carl went off to post a session. Somehow this concluded with us crashing Ingrid's session on blogging - and I can honestly say I have no idea how that happened and in retrospect feel terribly rude for not actually taking control of the situation at that point but I'll know better for next time. Ken Eastwood and @kevupnorth aka Kev Campbell-Wright appeared at some point and were hugged, as were @scrumph aka Sebastian Crump and @pigsonthewing aka Andy Mabbett. Who also were duly hugged. Beards were admired, happiness shared, and a growing sense of finding kindred spirits grew and grew. I love geeks. Even people who aren't trad geeks, even people who don't self identify as geeks. Totally happy geek.

People wondered off. I had a moment of realisation that none of this was about friendships to be built and only about business transactions. Then I sat and talked at @robandale, Rob Dale, who works for the Local Government Information Unit and I the tone changed again, as did my own comfort with the subject matter. Which is absolutely not the way around which it should be, and which is something I need to sit down and have a long old think about, because I think we were so absolutely on the same page, though I could be wrong. If I'm right, teamwork in the future, however it may look, is going to be a very fun thing indeed. It also blew out of the water any preconceptions of how people who work for think tanks are. Yes, yes, yes. Lets move on.

I intended to go to the first Agile session on implementing it in an IT arena. I got accosted by the mobile brownie procurement module which was @paul_clarke who proceeded to take pictures which I hope, so very much hope, might be of me. The whole experience was serene, and it was lovely to see the world through someone elses eyes and understand that knowing beauty can be found in the strangest of places - in reflections, in mirrors, in light and in dark./ To add the icing on what was turning into a rather fabulous cupcake, @Dr_Black aka the infamous Sue Black walked through the door. I say infamous because quite frankly she is. If you know anything about Bletchley Park or the British Computing Society, then you know who she is and if you don't you damn well should. I'm stopping there, gushing doesn't become one. (She utterly rocks, just so you know). Then I bumped into @carrybish aka Carrie Bishop and well. I am afraid I sort of embarrassed myself somewhat by squeeing at her about potholes. Yes. You read that right. Sometimes I despair at myself. She was graceful and also didn't laugh at me, and that sums Carrie up just fine - and in speaking to her I found something else - another piece of the jigsaw.

Onwards and finally into another session - Agile applied to general central/local government scenarios. Stefan and Catherine are wonderful foils to each other, complimentary in both style, speech, expressions and their ability one, to express the problem and dissect it and the other, to procure and summarise solutions. It worked so well and was almost a serene experience in that the ease with which difficult concepts were dealt with and almost made to seem easy was deceptive - because we are not talking about easy, we are talking about challenging, work method changing, entire ethos of large organisations modifying approaches. Exciting. Really exciting. And that was the point where I realised I had stopped trying to prove anything to anyone and simply let it go. A moment of light. Found.

Again onwards, this time to Ingrid's blogging session which I enjoyed immensely and was shocked to find I was in the same room as Jack of Kent. Infamy, infamy, etc, etc. But wonderful points made, @davenbriggs aka Dave Briggs said something which wasn't organisational in nature within my hearing and simply enforced my already high regard for the bloke (yes, but it's...complicated and we both know it is but it's okay nevertheless). My favourite message from the session was quality aggregating of blogs and also more info on what the khub will and wont be capable of doing as well as the repeated message, and quite rightly, that the Communities of Practice website is a massively under used resource.

I'll tackle #lgovsm in another post because it needs it and because it wont be positive. And this one is for so much positive.

On to the closing session where it became apparent that large swathes of people had snuck off without saying goodbye (understandable, long day) and then to the pub in which I finally caught up properly with both Shirley and Helen Jeffrey aka @imhelenj - both of whom are an inspiration, and both of whom helped put yet more jigsaw pieces into the right place on the board. More cliffs, and more articulation of something I know to be true, know will definitely happen - and meeting @jacatell aka James Cattell simply slotted a corner piece in - in that we are thinking the same thoughts and along the same lines and yet we're both hesitating and for very similar reasons. @jonfoster also froze with us, and it was a pleasure to meet someone I'm not sure I've ever tweeted with but who spoke gently and with intelligence. It was enlightening and heartening if not a little chilly!

Also in the midst of this, I finally met two awesome people who I've wanted to meet for ages - Ann Kempster and Sarah Baskerville. Stars. Utter stars. I'm not saying anything else, it's been said before - but there was a reason Sarah got a very big round of applause this morning. I hope next time I'm in London they will do me the honour of drinking with me - because even in the brief time I spent with them it was obvious their company should be sought.

And then there's Puffles. Oh dear. Is this blog the place for a Dragon Fairy? Perhaps not. Only know that concealed behind the silliness is someone I adore already but barely know and that civil service talent spotting in the future should not, and hopefully will not, look like how you think it will look. I salute and admire and am honoured. Gushing over. But seriously - awesome.

So, here I am, rattling home. Questioning what that word means. Questioning my place, and my inspirations, conversations I enjoyed so very much and want to continue, disappearing posts and disappearing funding, questioning what I can contribute and which conversations I should be involved in and which not. But I found two things today, two sentiments written across an almost completed jigsaw puzzle.


I have nothing to prove, only aspirations to realise.

With thanks to @lesteph and @davebriggs for convening a fantastic collection of people and creating a box within which to enquire, inspire, aspire and acquire.


A collection of all web items tagged #ukgc11 - Buzz, Lesteph
Lessons learnt implementing Agile in local government - Slideshare, Michele Ide-Smith
UK Gov Camp 2011 - Flickr, Paul Clarke
Transcript of the #ukgc11 tag on Twitter - What the Hashtag, Carl Haggerty
Storytime at UK Gov Camp - Blog, @likeaword aka Ben Proctor


  1. Finally got whatthehashtag to load tonight and made a bit of a wordle. Its been great watching the stream from twitter all day and dipping in and out of blogs and photo albums. Not as good as being there but still.. at least I can live it through the eyes and ears of others. Sounds like its been a great day, congrats to all, and so glad you have met so many stars to add to your shiny world.

  2. Hope I can fulfill your hopes - Chris Chant

  3. Chris> I love that :) I tweeted so little, but I needed to spend more time in real space yesterday. Never met so many awesome people all at once, by the end of the day it'd got a bit ridiculous.

    Chris> I am not alone in my faith. You've got some very sharp minds on tap down there, assemble a SWAT team :)

  4. Its a bit like a monkey puzzle tree. Its ok talking about collaboration but monkeys at the top of the tree need to get back down to the base, the roots, and take part where the real action is.
    What happened at #ukgc11 was a base camp meeting of minds. Let us hope the top of the tree took notes.
    Also the lack of wifi didn't go unnoticed but I refrained from commenting that if they can't get a decent feed they can't supply so many people at once. I didn't want to crash the hashtag...
    The real issue always returns to the same thing, until people can connect any time, anywhere, ubiquitously, this country will never get digital and opendata will sit there unused and unappreciated by many.

  5. Another great post, as always, Lou. Hope you've managed to cam down and draw a bit of breath by now.

    Are you saying business relationships and friendship are incompatible? I hope not.

  6. Cheers for sharing your take on the day Lou. V sorry not to have met you. Next year!