GovCamp North 2020 (the virtual one)

On 15th October 2020 around 100 people got together for an unconference as some of them have many times before, however, this one was different. Those people were all in different places [1].

From the earliest planning stages at the beginning of March we had our eye on the news and had factored in the possibility of the Coronavirus affecting our plans. Some among us (who will remain nameless) said that the London Marathon had been postponed until October and so we would probably be OK.

Trello card showing “Plan for online meeting format”
Trello card showing “Plan for online meeting format”

We had originally said that we would make a decision in July about in person or virtual but by early June it became obvious to all of us that an in person event was not going to be possible.


We investigated a number of different platforms to try to accommodate as many (public sector) people as possible and ultimately decided on Hopin. This is because when we attended events to try it out we were impressed with the experience from an attendee perspective. We are much more familiar with Zoom, Whereby, Videofacilitator and a range of others but they did not provide the experience we wanted.

We tried Hopin with different groups of people and the week of the event we ran two open learning sessions and a sponsor orientation session on the platform and it all seemed to go well. Like anything it is not perfect but has a lot to recommend about it.

Feedback “Liked the tech platform”
Nice clear feedback

The platform seemed to perform very well on the day. Here is some of the feedback which will help us to learn more and improve the next event we run. [2]

Some of the feedback we received about the platform — transcript at the bottom of the post [2]
Some of the feedback we received about the platform — transcript at the bottom of the post


During the planning we had many discussions about the session pitching. Some of us liked the idea of people being able to pitch before the day and others wanted to recreate the experience of the in person event. Now that we have done it I would recommend a number of changes.

  1. Give people the option to pitch before, on the morning or throughout the day of the event
  2. Use a platform which shows all of the submitted pitches and allows everyone to upvote them without needing to submit a pitch themselves
  3. Identify the first sessions from presubmitted pitches so that people can prepare and plan the session they want to go to first. (This usually happens while everyone has a tea and a chat in the in person event).
  4. Include the name of the proposer on the schedule and encourage them to attend at least the start of the session to outline the pitch
  5. Have a couple of organisers merging topics and adding those to the schedule spreadsheet for the producer to add to the platform to avoid similar sessions
  6. What else? please comment below

Here is some of the feedback about the session pitching process [3]

Some of the feedback we received about the session pithing — transcript at the bottom of the post [3]
Some of the feedback we received about the session pithing — transcript at the bottom of the post

One of my major concerns was accessibility of the event. I have been working closely with a number of people who are looking at holistic accessibility of online events and so far we have not been able to identify a solution for an open space event. We will continue to work on this challenge. We did have some suggestions about transcription services in the feedback. In part the session notes are a basic approach to making the session content available to a range of people who are not able to take part on the day. We must never stop trying to improve the accessibility of everything.

Virtual vs in person

As seasoned event planners we reflected on the day that it is a lot easier to stand in the middle of a room and answer questions about where the coffee cart is etc than it is running an online event however it was a real privilege to be able to create the space for people to have the conversations and make the connections that they did on the day in the current circumstances. More posts will follow to reflect on different aspects of the day.

We hope you enjoyed it and look forward to “seeing” you soon

Stay safe


[1] As far as I know everyone was in different places.

[2] Transcript of Platform feedback

yes, liked the rooms for networking — i didn’t want to do it (and was glad i didn’t have to!) — but nice it was there were i in the mood

I liked how easy it is to slip in and slip out of rooms, and the choice to be a viewer. Easier and less disturbance than in-person events.

First time user, so a bit wide eyed at first! There’s a lot of features to take in and it wasn’t clear where the group focus was at first. The comments section was a brilliant problem solver.

Seems like a great platform. Not fully featured but I love how intuitive it feels.

Liked the tech platform.I like the ability to move between sessions in hopin, but sometimes you just wanted to click on a sessions name to find out more and found yourself in the session instead.

Brilliant! Hopin was good although the 10s delay caused a lot of problems at first.

Overall, hopin is a great platform — chat needs reacticons, and AV sessions could do with Zoom -like reactions too, but overall (for the sessions) very good.

Enjoyed getting to use new tools — Hopin and Jamboard.

Seems like the platform has lots of great features. Love all the different ‘areas’ that people can move between. And love the networking idea too.

Pretty easy to use and video and audio remained decent for most of the day. Good pick!

Good audio and video quality!

Virtual networking area is a great idea!

The functionality — main stage, session breakouts, go between sessions, event vs session chat — very good and follows needs of in-person event.

easy to navigate and understand

Tricky to see the person who is speaking and follow the chat window. Scroll up to speaking person and screen jumps down when new chat comment appears

I had lots of audio problems due to using Safari. At first it was fine but then randomly some speakers were either almost completely inaudible or had a robotic distortion. Refreshing the browser sometimes helped. Switching to Chrome seemed to solve it.

The ability to be a silent observer makes it hard to facilitate a participatory workshop, because you’re not sure of the status of people who are silently observing.

I enjoyed using the platform — first time using it. However, just a quick note that when viewing the sessions board and clicking to scroll down, the page would force jump to the top, I think this may have been because the numbers (people entering rooms) would refresh every couple of seconds?

It’s counterintuitive when you click “Leave” but you’re still in the room!

Not sure about the exhibition — either the stands failed to grab me, or there is something not quite right about how hopin presents them

[3] Transcript of pitching feedback

One of the cool things about traditional GovCamp is that you could continue writing pitches while they were still being announced — so a good pitch might inspire another. Couldn’t do that today

People need to see and vote on all of the pitches, only seeing 5 random pitches wasn’t fair. A spoken pitch might have also been useful for people to explain properly instead of a few lines.

some way to facilitate people who don’t want to pitch still being able to vote without having to add an N/A pitch. I had 4/5 N/A pitches to vote on :(

It was great to experiment with the pitching app, but I do think I would have got a better sense of what people wanted to talk about and whether it was for me from a spoken pitch.

Was not a fan of the “anonymised” text-only pitches. Maybe open up a text area (similar to the app) a bit early, then let people have their 30 seconds in AV to make a pitch as normal? Need to hear all the pitches, not just see teh random 5 that are presented for up/down voting (even when there are no N/As!)

Atmosphere has been very, very good. Although, something a bit more interactive right at the start (and a less technological approach to pitching and voting — do we need voting?) would have been good

The pitching and voting app needs a bit more work but HopIn worked well (when my boradband (sp)worked well!)

Some way of seeing all the sessions before the first one started. Would have been good to plan my day rather than having to make snap decisions about what to go to

make it clearer to the people pitching that they do have to lead or at least attend their own session — did notes for 2 sessions where pitcher wasn’t there

In terms of the crowdsourcing app, I’d suggest having an option for those who do not wish to pitch but who only wish to vote. That will remove the need for folks to write ‘N/A’ into the pitching box and will give folks a better chance of having real pitches to vote on.

Would be good to add pitches throughout the day instead of upfront — there is space for more

It would have been useful to know what the sessions were in advance. Also I have the feeling that lots of sessions had the same topic, it wasn’t easy to know which one to attend.

I got x5 N/A when voting. Be good if there was a way to filter, remove the n/as and — before voting goes live. Kinda felt my vote didn’t have the same impact as others

opportunity to add pitches during the day — often takes time for the juices/courage to warm up!

would be good to know after the voting who the pitcher was so that we know who is running the session! think some sessions could have been consolidated too

It would have been useful to know what the sessions were in advance. Also I have the feeling that lots of sessions had the same topic, it wasn’t easy to know which one to attend.

Can the pitchers turn up to their own session, not that we didn’t have a good discussion any way but could give us some direction of what they wanted to get out of the session

Those who were facilitating the first sessions didn’t find out until only a few minutes before it started, so didn’t have much time to prepare.



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Sharon Dale

Sharon Dale


Dot joiner, convener, virtual working enthusiast & stroke survivor; Current guiding principles - Make Good Choices - Be Intentional - Inspect and Adapt