Reflections on Govcamp

Last Saturday (25th January) saw the seventh annual Govcamp since I organised the first one back in January 2008. I was hesitant about attending, I didn’t go last year, partly because so much water has passed under the bridge since I left Whitehall and I wasn’t sure if I still fitted into the ‘scene’. But I was wrong and it was great to catch up with a whole load of old friends, acquaintances and colleagues (and new ones too).

I’m often asked why I started Govcamp and the answer is a simple one. Back in 2006, when the idea began to take root in my head, there were barcamps taking place all over the world on a variety of premises. At the time I was putting a lot of effort into connecting people in and around Whitehall who I thought should know each other. A barcamp seemed the ideal model to get everyone who mattered into one space on the same day and get to know each other.

A lot of friendships were made at the first Govcamp and, though it was deemed a success by those who participated, I couldn’t get rid of a nagging feeling in my head that there should be some sort of output or plan of action to follow it. I wrestled with this for a while, trying different kinds of event formats, to attempt to create something with ‘more value’. When it was suggested I organise a second Govcamp the following year I hesitated because I couldn’t see the point. What value was it really creating?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course but it wasn’t until I left London and returned the following year for the third Govcamp that I realised the true value of the event: connecting and sharing experiences, thoughts and ideas between people who really care about their subject. Stefan has written, more eloquently than I, about the uselessness of Govcamp. I couldn’t agree more.

That is incredibly valuable and in stark contrast to many of the corporate conferences I’ve attended over the years. People often talk of the ‘corridor conference’ being the valuable part of those kind of events. In effect, Govcamp is almost entirely a corridor conference: multiple discussions taking places simultaneously, no compulsion to stay in the room if what’s being said doesn’t interest you, find somebody you want to talk with and start talking.

Although a ‘conference’ without speakers, agenda or subject looks absurd to an outsider, it’s precisely this absurdity that makes It so valuable. It’s only by being part of it that you generate value for yourself, for others, and for the community of those who have a passion for doing digital government better (yes, community, because we are).

Well done to all the organisers who made this years Govcamp so absurd. And so valuable. Long may it continue.