Civil Service / Government / Innovation / Technology

CityCamp London: a “local conference for local people”?

I’ve just returned from City Camp London; a three day unconference which evolved from context-setting talks (“Stimulate”) to barcamp style sessions (“Participate”), finishing with a hack/ project creation and pitching day (“Collaborate”). The full agenda can be found here. Organised by Futuregov, the event was part of a worldwide series of “City Camps“- a movement that was started by Kevin Curry earlier this year.

CityCamp London aimed to bring together people from various sectors, have an impact on government transparency and local governance using the web, encourage open data, and inspire projects that will outlive the three days- all with a particular focus on London. The variety of content, style, venue, and people enabled the event to go a long way to achieving these objectives, and ensured that it was the most interesting and thought-provoking conference that I’ve been to (how much do people actually learn/ gain from normal conferences where they just listen to presentations…?).

The event was attended by a variety of people, including representatives from small companies/ groups like Learning Pool, LinkedGov, and Crisis Camp; big companies such as IBM, Accenture, Microsoft and Google; and local (certainly London-based) government. It was striking, however, that there was a lack of central government people in attendance. With only a handful of exceptions very few were represented; judging by the attendance list and knowledge of some people who didn’t make it, only Directgov, DWP, DCLG, DCMS, Health, Parliament, and COI were at CityCamp… out of a total of more than 50 departments. As far as I am aware there were no CIOs, CTOs, or Directors in attendance- with the one exception of Mark O’Neill (CIO of DCMS and DCLG). Does this matter? I would argue it does, for these three reasons:

1. CityCamp may have been themed around London but the issues discussed were universal. Topics such as digital inclusion, responding to crisis, procurement, Big Society, learning from developing countries, and so on (full list here) have an impact on every area of the country and every government department. Everyone had something to learn from this conference.

2. Government needs to connect with the sort of people who go to events like this. Remember that group you’ve been trying to connect with, or the project proposal you’ve been writing for the last 6 months? Well, the people  at CityCamp have probably already identified the gap and created a solution for it. It probably only took them a few hours, and they probably did it months-if not years- ago. Central government should connect and work with these groups (simultaneously linking in with local government)- or at the very least be very aware of what they are doing and learn from what’s going on.

3. These people should be better supported. I think it’s widely agreed that the government shouldn’t be controlling, overseeing, or restricting peoples’ creativity (if that happened it would dry up very quickly!). There’s a number of ways they could support it, however; for example, providing rooms to operate out of/ meet in, and enabling easier access to people with an insight in to what currently happens “behind the scenes” in government- including to people at the top. It’s very likely this already happens in some departments/ areas of the country, but even if so it could still be better advertised and happen more.

So was CityCamp London a “local camp for local people“? Not at all- it was attended by a wide range of people and covered a broad spectrum of topics. As such it was a brilliant event that is likely to have exciting consequences in the future. But perhaps it was perceived as a “local” conference by some people- who therefore chose not to attend. If they had, the camp could have had even greater consequences.

This isn’t the end of it though; there’s already talk of a CityCamp Scotland (contact Lauren Currie if interested) and a CityCamp Manchester (contact me if interested!), and mention of a joined-up virtual CityCamp UK/ world. If all the sectors are joined up for those it will be very interesting to see what happens…

Useful CityCamp London links
A few CityCamp London pages and resources:
City Camp London site (including agenda)
City Camp content on Posterous
Tweet account
Twitter stream (commentary on the proceedings as they happened)
Futuregov the group that organised City Camp London
CityCamp– general info about the brand
Photos of day 1 by Paul Clarke
Presentation from John Tolva (IBM) on Day 1  (quite long but worth a read)

I can’t end this post without saying a big well done to Dominic Campbell, Futuregov and all others involved in organising CityCamp London- you did a great job, well done!


10 thoughts on “CityCamp London: a “local conference for local people”?

  1. Great stuff Kate – nicely blogged! You’re right that there should be more folk from government at these events and it’s a shame that there weren’t more. Am sure that as the word spreads the numbers will increase. I guess it’s down to early adopters like you to spread the word in the corridors.

    Don’t forget GovCamp on 22/1/11 though – there will be loads of civil servant types there…

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  3. Reading this makes me even more frustrated that I had to pull out of this at the last moment. Your post and Dave’s reponse reminded me strongly of what I wrote after Govcamp in January – the same feeling that there were some important gaps in who was there, and indeed the same patient reassurance from Dave in the comments that things are moving in the right direction. From the parochial viewpoint of a government department that’s worrying not because of who does or doesn’t turn up to conferences but because of what it signals about perceived forces of change and how to address them.

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  5. Thanks for the comments. It’s clear that there’s a gap in my blog post; the “what do we do to address the problem”/ how to engage with more people in central government. Probably marketing has something to do with it- I receive at least 1 email a week advertising an expensive conference, usually on “How to make efficiencies/ cut costs/ etc. in government”, but none (yet) for unconferences which I expect are usually be more useful and relevant. Perhaps this is a topic for my next post!

  6. Marketing I suspect does have something to do with it, in that it’s something so seriously uncool that neither Dom nor I would want to have anything to do with it. However, if we want these events to break outside the usual echo chamber, perhaps it’s something we need to think about.

    However, there’s also a bit of me that thinks, why the hell should people only attend events they get spammed about? Why aren’t these people having a dig about themselves, taking the odd look at Public Sector Bloggers and finding out what’s actually happening? I suspect that a lot of people still have the mindset that when in the civil service or other public sector roles, things happen to them. This must change.

    …and I think it is changing. When I came and spoke to you and your fellow fast streamers, Kate, there was energy in the room and a clear desire to know more – the sort of curiosity that leads to people attending events like CityCamp and meeting people off of the internet. I wouldn’t say it was true of everyone in the room, but I could spot plenty who clearly got it. Which is good.

  7. Totally agree- people should want to know about these things, get involved, and meet people. But sometimes such people need a bit of a push/ some help to get them started.
    Having said that, I think the reputation of barcamps is rapidly growing and it won’t be long until attendance become more the norm.

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  9. Pingback: That was the weekend that was… CityCamp London! | CityCamp London: Gov 2.0 goes local

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