Despite a pretty awful journey home from UKGovCamp I’m still buzzing from it and thinking about it. I’m also horribly out of my blogging flow so you’ll have to put up with yet another ‘reflections on UKGovCamp’ post I’m afraid.
Before I went.
I’ve been thinking about my reflections (meta) and understanding the headspace I was in before I went is important to give context.
To summarise it in one word: jaded.
Maybe it’s the post office scandal coming back to light? Maybe it’s the prevalence of big tech in the contract space at the moment? Maybe it’s AI threatening jobs where actual critical thinking is needed? Maybe it’s the all-pervading sense that public service is just very broken, and that not nearly enough practices have changed fundamentally for the better in the space of my career? I went into govcamp with all of these thoughts sloshing around but not fully formed. It’s only writing this now I realise I even felt this way.
What was good.
Optimism is infectious and I can think of few people that have as much abundance of optimism than civil servants that try to change things for the better. I left with a sense of energy that’s been missing for the last few months and a desire to get back to not accepting rubbish and make things better one small change at a time.
The pitching session. Lots of folks didn’t like the change, I did. It was quick, I spoke to loads of people, I didn’t have to listen to endless pitches and feel my enthusiasm waning (I always felt particularly bad for the last pitchers in the old format as everyone has kind of lost the energy to listen and clap) yes it was noisy and slightly chaotic but I thought it was a good first attempt that can be improved on.
Meeting old friends.
Catching up with Dave, Mike, David, Darwen and Jukesie the night before was nice. The day itself started with a coffee with Sharon and Mark for breakfast, and then speaking to loads of folks in the slightly odd sponsor space before the main event (it felt like a gladiatorial pit space-wise, the atmosphere was incredibly friendly and welcoming despite this).
I briefly helped Louise find her phone and promptly didn’t see her for the rest of the day, which is a very Ian and Louise encounter. Had a lovely chat with Alicja about non work, life stuff.
Right at the end I caught up with Richard Rollinson who I haven’t seen since agile on the beach in 2016 we had a lovely but far too brief chat right at the end before both dashing for public transport. Felt guilty about not recognising Craig Bass and then promptly having to leave, sorry Craig!
Meeting new friends.
Almost too many good encounters to list! On Friday I met Jo and she offered to put me in touch with some folks at Natural Resourcves Wales. I spoke to a couple of guys from Newspeak house who were doing some interesting work with election data but trying not to be all Cambridge analytica about it. (Sorry guys I’ve forgotten your names, awks!).
On the day I had a good chat with Priyanca, James and another researcher about one login challenges and how login (and demographic information) on the NHS app works.
Spoke to Alan and the team at Clear Stars about transformation challenges and happiness indexes.
Session on trauma informed practice
Session wise, the highlight for me was Darren’s session on Trauma informed practice, having worked in NHS and MOJ it was relatable thinking about how to consider research practices affect on the team, this was tempered by Alan’s point that we arent experts at this, we need to know the boundaries of how much support we can provide without risking making things worse, and know how to escalate help if needed.
What could be better
Room guidance was a little unclear, especially at the beginning of the day, but as usual there were small changes made throughout the day to address this, I always love how responsive the govcamp makers are to feedback on the day.
I don’t know if this was because the event was bigger but it felt like the conversations were a little more ‘drifty’ this year, a few I went to meandered off topic and my inner DM brain is always frustrated when there’s a lack of actionable insights at the end. Personally I think some stronger facilitation in the rooms may have helped engage more views and keep the conversation focused, its a lot to ask of the people who have nominated the topic and haven’t necessarily facilitated before.
Coffee stopped in the afternoon.
The coffee stopped around 14:00 just as I was starting to flag.
Corridor camp FOMO
Lots of old hands seemed to hang out in the corridor, I had a bit of a moan about this on bluesky, partly driven by FOMO, I dunno if all the old hands are having conversations in the corridor then all the new folks arent benefitting from their experience. Then again, some of the topics felt very samey so I can understand why people may not want to have the same conversations again. I dunno just feels like a disconnect between old hands and enthusiastic newbies, maybe that’s ok?
Bluesky codes didnt really go.
I collected 260 blusky codes to try and rebuild the tattered remains of xgov twitter on a new platform, only about 3 codes went, not sure if bluesky is just not where people want to go, or I didnt do enough to make it clear (I just kind of left them on the sticker table) anyway if you would like one, you can grab one here.
Unbelievably this is only my second GovCamp (London is so far away from everywhere etc etc) but I’ll keep coming, the amount of energy I derive from one full-on day surrounded by enthusiastic and like minded people is well worth it. Yes some of the conversations felt the same, and maybe I need to migrate to corridor camp, but I enjoy the sessions even if they dont come to clear conclusions. At the very least it gets people thinking about hard problems, and builds relationships, thats probably enough.
I hadn’t realised quite how jaded I had become about some things before going in. UKGovCamp has reintroduced that enthusiasm for radical change, for that alone it was well worth it.