LocalGovCamp Adventures

So, as a first post I thought I’d cover the #localgovcampnw event, an unconference in the BarCamp style held for LocalGov bods at the Prescap Arts Centre in Preston. I attended this as a result of following up on an e-mail from work by my colleague exemplar 1 @microwavedrama (L Catherine M) pointing me toward the registration site.

This might seem an odd thing to say but I’m really not very good at social. So attending events like this is always quite a big deal for me. It’s not uncommon for me to sign up to things thinking, “this’ll be great for my personal development / a good networking opportunity,” but finding myself trying afterwards to find any excuse not to go. I keep forcing myself to in the belief that some of my introvertive tendencies might reduce.

After a rushed breakfast the Patterson family 2 all jumped into the van and headed off to Preston despite it feeling like the Sun had gotten bored and abandoned the Earth for a while 3. I found the Arts Centre fairly quickly and was flagged down by Catherine who was already scoping the building out.

Once inside, there was an interesting lift solution which involved riding a cardboard floor to the upper level and then hoping that sheer reverse momentum would open the door before a timer locked it and it had to be released again. I didn’t realise that this lock mechanism existed the first time round, which might later have saved @_garilla (Garry Haywood) from the slightly embarrassing situation of setting the fire alarm off by pressing the ‘wheelchair refuge’ button…

After that I was in. Into a completely different type of conference which was immediately noticeable. No ordered sets of tables. No real sense of social formation even.  Just a bunch of people in  a big room apparently armed with nothing but laptops, ipads, smartphones, curiosity and friendliness. There wasn’t even a sense of leaders / organisers / alphas or experts. It was almost like everyone just decided to go and have a nice sit down in the same building at the same time on the same day. Very refreshing.

Catherine, being an experienced camper, quickly introduced me to @tech_geek_girl (Liz H) and a bit later @TawdryMe (Duncan H) who become my co-conspirators and good company for the day. And a brief chat with @ColetteWeston too which was interesting. For me, meeting a few nice people early on, definitely made it a more comfortable day!! I.e. no introvert wobblers hiding in a corner on facebook / twitter / blogs. (Thanks to you all)

The conference started with a whimper of IceBreakers involving who we were and why we were there in one word. *mumble*JohnPattersonIdeas*mumble*. I hate Ice Breakers but they are a very necessary evil and it did work in warming a few people up before the pitches.

I won’t mention the full itinerary pitched / on offer but as a flavor-of-the-day I ended up at:

  • OpenData and Equalities [@microwavedrama]
  • Digital Inclusion and Learning [@kevupnorth and @kateididntquitegetyourfulltwitteraccountsorry]
  • Wikipedia for Local Gov especially museums and libraries [@pigsonthewing]

OK, I’m being a little selfish now as I would usually go into each of these in depth, but this time I thought I’d jump ahead and sum them up by choosing ten random thoughts that I came out of these LocalGovCampNW sessions with. Actually the real reason is because I er, hadn’t planned to blog 4 about it so took nothing but mental notes.  If you want coverage of what was said, I’d recommend the excellent blog posts #1 and #2 by @markbraggins who covered things in quite a bit more detail.

I will add that these are all my interpretations of qualitative views, albeit from people who know what they are talking about (or at least were effective enough in convincing me that they did). 😀

  1. Getting data out there is equally as important as turning it into a discussion / communication / engagement opportunity. Seems like there’s a triumvirate of things to do: a) publish data alongside reports b) publish your interpretation of the data c) engage with people about it. – Engagement being a big theme of the day to be fair.
  2. People will use data / findings in their own ways – making a great website, publishing pretty graphics definitely helps engage but at the end of the day if people want open data they probably don’t want your interpretation. People will take what they need or want from your info and an important part of putting it out there is letting it go.
  3. Microlocal sites are out there and will call you out if you leave them to it. It’s better to be open and engaging about everything so you can debate issues than to sit quietly in a fortress made out of PR press releases and glossy reports.
  4. The culture of an organisation strongly determines opportunities for effectively doing points 1-3 above. It also determines how easy it is to just get on and be innovative. There’s a relationship between how easy it is for: Staff to provide data; Staff to use and share data; Staff to work together; Staff to feel secure, and the level of innovation being observed. I, being a data geek, don’t think about this side of things enough.
  5. Comms strategy/culture (not comms teams per se) can be one of the biggest barriers – there seemed a bit of discussion around how comms culture is often very defensive/reputation orientated, particularly when politics become involved. Transparency and Openness are sometimes better though as they can reduce innate paranoia that councils are hiding things. I suppose that even if findings are uncomfortable they create debate on solutions.
  6. There’s a lot of potential in offloading information to Wikipedia – a) it ranks high in search results so people are more likely to find it than have to ask it ask for it. b) the community can share and reuse it c) in some cases – local history particularly – communities can be stimulated to take over the production and curation of content. From a tourism perspective – QR codes can provide some useful info when used strategically (planted in museums and on public structures). Though @TheBplTower ignored by tweet to place a giant QRpedia code on their shiny new LED heart. Complete side point: Apparently Monmouth is wikipediavizing the entire town!
  7. There was a general debate about digital inclusion / exclusion (heard anything about ‘digital by default’? – I hadn’t) and how to build up community learning  – vaguely relevant but I think what’s interesting from research angles is the engagement and understanding of communities needed to do it effectively.
  8. I got one brief opportunity to mention ‘social network analysis’ in Local Authorities (an idea I blatantly stole from my manager but did credit him with) – it went down quite well as a general idea but it was near lunchtime and no depth was achieved. Maybe i’ll be brave and pitch it as an idea for a session next time.
  9. OpenData formats require strong internal working relations and agreement on processes. E.g. in Catherine’s session someone pointed out that it wasn’t/shouldn’t entirely up to her to do it properly – web people should be involved in making it open formats too.
  10. I found it interesting how the digital inclusion agenda keeps asking the question – “should people opt in to technology?” – the principles of freedom would suggest no but practically it feels like a technological form of poverty not to be digitally literate – it’s a bit like “should all school children have to go to school?”. Being completely new to the debate I’ll admit naivete on this one.

All good stuff. If anything,  the digital inclusion session was a little too big and became stories from the main voices – though this was nice in a way. The session on Wikipedia was fantastic though we did seem to just gawk while @pigsonthewing enlightened us. I also left with homework to actually edit Wikipedia… 5

This was the end of the event for me. I rapidly exited to meet with the rest of the Patterson’s and go home. A big thanks to the organizers who I hope will do it again next year, or perhaps in the summer this time. 😀

A Bonus – My Post-Event Reflection.

I think there’s an issue for me around how to mobilize my ten points locally though. Sort of feel that my workplace is the wrong Council to try anything of the above in. {Disclaimer: This isn’t a criticism of my employer – we are simply at a different point of the journey}. At the same time, I also sort of feel it’s the right Council to try it in because the team I work in  should be the team that agitates against the status quo in order to build capacity for dealing with future challenges.

From a personal view what’s interesting is how it got me to consider how I might need to develop myself into being able to take ideas forward.  Maybe this is my question – How do I change my own behaviours to move things in a positive, innovative direction and be comfortable with it within myself, my organisation. Yes I will stop as I’m rambling now but it would make a good unconference session? “openness and transparency: self targeted behaviour change within organizations…”

PS. This is my first ever public blog post – I think I have a lot to learn but I hope in the meantime it was useful or at least mildly distracting.


  1. a completely made up title
  2. Why the whole Patterson family? Often and for various reasons, it works out easier to co-ordinate a day trip for my family with a work related event to save on the complexities of arranging transport for a wheelchair user. More on this another time.
  3. hence why I am, very trendily, wearing a coat in all the photos
  4. to be fair I didn’t even have a blog
  5. I did it! I’m thinking Wikipedia should form another blog post though

4 thoughts on “LocalGovCamp Adventures”

  1. Great blog post John, I think the important thing is that it sounds like an authentic voice and certainly not like it’s a stumbling first. I’m just sorry that we didn’t get to speak at the session. I really like the idea about how to get to the point of being able to influence effectively at work, perhaps thinking about networks of like-minded people and influences might be a good place to start?

    1. Hi Daniel. Thanks for the comment. It’s nice to get positive feedback so early on!

      I think your suggestion to think about networks of like-minded people as a starting point is a really good one. It resonates with something my manager said too after he had some raw feedback on the event. (It was around the possibility for further discussion with ‘like-minders’ at a forthcoming internal event)

      I think influencing, momentum building, consensus building are probably the challenges to work on. As someone whose spent most of my time ‘in the data’ these are areas I’ve probably neglected to consider.

  2. Hi John, I really enjoyed your post. You would never know from reading it that it’s your first blog – you’re a natural!

    On point 10 on your list: …should people opt in to technology?” – the principles of freedom would suggest no but practically it feels like a technological form of poverty not to be digitally literate – I think you’re spot on. It shouldn’t be true, but in reality it often is the case, particularly for those seeking resources, or support (e.g. job hunting)

    I look forward to your next post

  3. Thanks Mark. As I said to Daniel it’s really nice to get these positive comments early on. I just hope I can keep up the momentum! Any tips?

    I think ‘job hunting’ is a really good example as it runs all the way through the digital inclusion issue. If you’re not digitally literate, you might miss opportunities advertised exclusively online. Even if you find them using help from a friend or a library session you might be left struggling to create a ‘professional looking’ CV – i’ve heard at least one story of handwritten CVs going straight to the bottom of the pile. Finally it’s almost becoming a cleche to see ‘must have computer skills, e.g. word, excel’ on job descriptions!!

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