So, all the way back in June 2013 I tried an experiment to see if I could blog interesting stuff on a regular basis. Failed. So, looks like this is going to be more ad hoc.

Here’s my take on today’s UK GovCamp 2014.

It was my birthday today and I chose to spend it at London City Hall with with a range of local and national government tech-types from all over the country. I met up with a lot of great people I don’t see nearly often enough as well as quite a few interesting new folk. We discussed everything from the progression of the exemplar program at GDS, departmental transformation, open data, open policy making and much much more besides (some of it apparently involving ukuleles).

It was a typical unconference with, in this case, 9 sessions running simultaneously in each of the four timeslots. There were many sessions that sounded fascinating and, as usual, I found myself wishing that sessions were videoed or that someone in each group would be nominated to take some good notes and share them.

It was highly enjoyable and mentally stimulating and the only downside to the day, apart from the above, was that everyone attending was already converted to the cause. I didn’t expect to see people coming along to argue that what we’re doing is bad – in fact I think that would be extremely hard to do. However, it would have been great to see some people who wouldn’t normally get involved in these discussions, some MPs for example, to help them gain an understanding of how the ground is moving under their feet. To a greater-or-lesser extend it was a bit of an echo chamber so I hope that can be resolved for next year.

These are my notes from the four sessions I went to.

Session 1: Youth voting

This session was run by the folks who are proposing a “vote camp” unconference to discuss how this community can get involved in getting more young people to vote.

  • It was discussed how younger people could be arranged to teach social media and other digital skills to MPs in exchange for having their views listened to
  • We covered in depth the well known issues that young people don’t engage in the political arena as they feel the can’t change anything – and perhaps how this can be mitigated by starting with small changes driven at the local government level
  • There was some good introductions to DemSoc and Open Ministry
  • A brief tangent onto spoiling ballot papers or campaigning for “none of the above” as young people often feel that no-one on the ballot stands for their beliefs
  • I was concerned that “youth” was being treated as a singular entity and there was limited discussion of different demographic groups and how likely they are to vote
  • The was a long digression for most of the second half about the whole way interaction between citizens and their representatives may change in the future – moving away from the specific discussion on youth
  • There was a suggestion that the engagement policies of the various parties and MPs was willfully ignoring the opportunity to encourage youth voting as they may encourage voting for the other party. This lead to the idea of something like for an independant scorecard on how representatives and organisations engage with young people

Session 2 : Open policy

This was a very interesting discussion about the current and future possible state of open policy making including a representative from the Cabinet Office Open Policy Unit.

  • I suggested that there was a lot of things that could be done around open data. How many consultations does a department do, how many responses, who from (business, academia, citizens), who else are they speaking to (trade groups, businesses, lobbyists), how much does the policy change following the consultation, are the parts that change disproportionally effected by powerful interest groups, etc? The chair of the discussion said it sounded like as was advocating for an “Democratic Open Data Institute” to complement the ODI or a “Democratic Institute of Fiscal Studies” and said it was something he would take away to discuss with other people.
  • How can we track whether responses to consultations are not just the “usual suspects”?
  • There was a discussion on the Nesta concept of the “Red book of evidence”
  • As in the first session I went to it was mooted that every department will think that they are doing well with their level of engagement for consultations – back to RateMy
  • We discussed the big difference between sending out a policy document for review and collating the feedback and providing a platform for ongoing conversations about the policy area. The latter is a good idea but there are potential downsides (don’t read the comments on YouTube)
  • People were recommended to read the Open Policy Blog

Session 3 : Futurology

This session tried to predict how civil servants might workin 20-30 years time and how citizens might interact with those in power.

  • It was repeatedly commented that the best way to predict the future is often to examine the past under similar circumstances (for example in periods of high volume of societal change)
  • The concept of the “fuzzy now” was introduced – if you woke up in 1984 or 2034 how long would it be before you noticed?
  • There was a view that there will need to be substantially higher amounts of cross-hierarchy networked working
  • There will be an increasing drive towards home working to save money but this may serious hamper the advantages of co-location – especially serendipitous conversations with colleagues
  • It’s likely that people’s job responsibilities will be divided up and many of them, especially technical and other desk-bound ones, done by people overseas
  • It was pointed out that due to demographics (aging population) that substantial amounts of government money will need to be spent on social services for the elderly
  • There was a very interesting discussion around “all politics is just deciding what to buy” – the power of individuals being able to chose the services they want from the suppliers they want will allocated ‘credits’ from central or local government
  • There was a valid fear of the Tyranny of the Majority if more power is devolved to citizens – especially with the rapid crowd-based mood swings on things like twitter and the power of mass-media owners to sway opinion. However, many were taken back when one person said “we must act as the moral guardians on behalf of the people”
  • The excellent idea was mooted of a “personal political dashboard” for every citizen showing where their taxes are being spent in national and local government and all of the services they interact with and how much they cost (plus potentially crowdsourced user ratings and methods to leave feedback and engage in discussions with providers)
  • There were statements that the desires of citizens must be balanced by the needs of businesses, disadvantaged citizen groups (minorities, etc) and other groups
  • There was a worry that the fact the every public servant carries a tracking device (i.e. a mobile phone) that location tracking may increasingly be used to measure their performance
  • An old idea of mine was discussed – FB style status changes on in-flight projects in government (not just IT ones)
  • Due to the major ongoing financial issues it was suggested that many people civil servants may only work some days of the week and have to find another part time role to make up the difference
  • There was a worry of the move to payment via piecework for desk-bound jobs and how that could easily lead to it being done by contractors, overseas people or something like Mechanical Turk
  • There was a brief discussion on the concept of the Social Wage – I mentioned Manna by Marshal Brain which covers that concept in fiction
  • I mentioned Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock wrt the concept of trying out social improvement changes in limited areas and then using the data from that to decide if it should be rolled out nationally

Session four : Sketchnoting

This is the use of combined text and art to record what is presented or discussed in a meeting. A great example is RSA Animate.

  • It’s often done by a professional “graphic facilitator” – I’d love to see that for the next GDS Transformation team away-day
  • I’d also love to suggest this to the EA design team when I meet them next week
  • There’s an active community on Flickr
  • It can be done with ordinary (fine art) pen and paper of the Paper app on the iPad
  • See slideshare slides from Michele ide-smith

The previous session on Futurology was sketchnoted – these were the output: