GovCamp 2012 - public sector 'unconference'

UK Gov Camp 2012

Last year as part of the G-cloud accreditation process I found myself in the hallowed Google offices in London attending an event where the Government Procurement Service (GPS) were trying to de-mystify the tendering process. A noble aim indeed but I was confused by their odd choice of name for the event, "ApplyCamp", given the distinct lack of tents (though to be fair Google had lots of deckchairs about).

Well last week I found out where the name came from - the GPS stole it from UK GovCamp. Since 2008 these chaps have been running their own brand of agenda-free un-conferences focused on how new technologies and fresh approaches can solve problems within central and local government.

Sounds lovely but I must confess as a veteran of countless physics conferences with agendas stuffed with keynote speakers I was a little bit incredulous as to how an event with no pre-set agenda but over 200 attendees and 10 parallel sessions was going to function. Well I'm happy to say that I'm converted! Within the first hour all 200 people had introduced themselves and via lots of post-its, about 50 short audience pitches for sessions and a clap-ometer we had our agenda sorted (it took another 10 mins for someone to stick it in Google docs and share it via twitter).

We covered tons of stuff but what has stuck with me is the following:

  • The Department of Transport have built their own document sharing portal using a combination of AWS s3 for storage, rackspace servers and wordpress. Not only has this cloud solution reduced their hosting costs by 70% plus saving them £100k a year for CMS licenses, they find it better meets their needs and the can manage it all in house - kudos! (more here)
  • The Digital by Default program requires that IT managers spend some time in contact centers to really learn how to integrate these services. The stick wont work, we need effective digital services that are fast and easy.
  • The Government Digital service has done just that with the gov.uk portal. Its just launched and is lovely, cant wait to start using it in anger (and stealing bits of the design published on github)
  • There is a real desire to build better open data platforms within local government and the technology to do it. We just need to show that and build some political will to do it. There is a blog post about the open data workshop here, including my dodgy Google docs drawing.
  • While I'm not sure that I quite believe all the hype yet, twitter is a bloody useful tool!
  • More people are passionate about improving IT in the public sector than I would have thought - over 200 folk were crammed into the workshops on Saturday (despite the sandwiches being pretty poor!)

Who needs agendas...