Posting, but late as ever :-).

Govcamp last Saturday was an excellent event run pretty much flawlessly by a great team who deserve much credit for all their hard work.

It’s great to see them and others working on “unconference in a box” so that people can quickly bootstrap their own versions of the unconference. Several folks from overseas governments who I spoke to at the weekend were interested in running their own unconferences so it would be great to help make it happen.

As ever there were lots of great sessions and corridor conversations. A hot topic this year included using cloud-based services to ask for help and share best practice (cue much shouting of “Slack!” in the manner of “Crackerjack!”). Picking up on GDS’s ways of working in places like local gov and Parliament were, as ever, common themes and I hope they start to become more concrete this year. The final thing I heard most often were conversations around data sharing – more on which below.

I went to five sessions, each of which was good with lots of people contributing.

The first was run by Catherine Howe, latterly an academic but now at Capita. That group discussed how traditional hierarchical networks in organisations (through which flows money and authority) interact with the fast growing flat networks-of-interest that social-media type products allow (“Slack!”).

The second was a session run by Rob Lazzurs from Kainos where we discussed how the great stuff being done in the digital gov space, both in the UK and elsewhere, can be shared with other governments. I thought this was really interesting and have followed up with Rob afterwards.

The third was run by the editor of Government Computing News and was about how data sharing can be improved between government organisations. While there’s general consensus about open data, and GDS is doing great work in this area with its upcoming Registers platform, there’s a lot more discussion to be had about sharing of private citizen data between organisations. Part of this is introducing a focus on question-answering systems (e.g. “is this person over 18”) rather than access to fundamental data (“what is this person’s date of birth?”). Much of it though needs to be finding out the existing status of data sharing between organisations in gov and how it should be handled in future. I made the point that the first part of this should be about discoverability. Citizens should know what data about them organisations maintain. In addition how can teams ask for data (or question-answer) agreements unless they know what is available?

The fourth was the ever-awesome John Sheridan from the National Archive. This time he discussed the giant set of all current UK laws that he’s spent years compiling (going back to 1267!) that should be published soon. After that he lead a discussion about whether laws that contain specific statements (“you must be X age to do this thing”) should be written in such a way as a machine could directly interpret it without human interaction.

The final session was Alex B.’s traditional FailCamp which was under Chatham House rules so I can’t say anything more than it was amusing when two folks drew up a hierarchy of public failure from “shambles” via “fiasco” to “***********”.

Govcamp is always fun, always enlightening and always great to meet new people. I’ve attended the last three and enjoyed each immensely. Next year I think I should give something back so I’m going to volunteer to be a camp-maker so expect to see me taking coats from people in 2017