Reflections from UKGovCamp 2019

On Saturday I attended my first UKGovCamp. It was a day full of energy, openness, honesty, connecting, reconnecting, challenge, wisdom, catharsis, enthusiasm, and a whole bucket full of heart.

I nearly didn’t go (gasp!), having not received a ticket through the lottery. Thankfully some wonderful twitter folks suggested that I could participate as a volunteer, hence the rather fetching sash in all the photos (artfully created by Janet Hughes).

It was a whirlwind of a day, hence it’s taken some time to collect my thoughts. I made pages and pages of handwritten scribbles on the train home, some of which have made it into this blog post.

TL;DR: It was tremendous, would definitely go again.

Organisers and campmakers of #ukgc19 ❤ Photo credit: Lisa Jeffery

🌟 Best bits 🌟

One of the joys of events like GovCamp is the chance to meet your twitter heroes in real life. I had a number of “Ooh I know you from twitter!” moments throughout the day, which are quite silly but also a lot of fun. In particular, I was really pleased to see Amanda and (finally) have a proper conversation with Dan Barrett.

Amanda is a powerhouse of energy, and led the pitching session with aplomb. I was particularly touched by her tribute to David Pearson. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but it is clear to me that he meant a great deal to very many people.

I saw Dan at the pub on Friday night, and he asked some really perceptive questions that made me think differently about recent work challenges. We also talked about hobbies, and insights from work-related data sets (if you are a data nerd and haven’t yet read about Dan’s cake experiments, you are missing out).

I was incredibly excited to see Lizzi Standing and Jenny Vass pitch a #weeknotes session* (especially as I missed the equivalent meet-up at LocalGovCamp). It was extremely well attended, with a good mix of current ‘noters and curious observers, and there were a number of thought-provoking questions about the value of weeknotes, knowing how much to share in what format, and our commitment to writing.

I do hope these conversations will spark a few more to join our community, as I learn so much from reading others’ accounts.

*Notes from all the sessions can be found here. Weeknotes @ 12:10, room 5.

Questions included ‘Who is the audience?’, ‘How do you filter the content?’ and ‘Do you need to have permission?’

I appreciated the thoughtfulness of the organisers, and their efforts to make everyone feel welcome and included. The crèche was highly admired by a number of the adults (myself included — it looked amazing), and I am so pleased to see the funds for ‘swag’ redistributed in this way. There were also smaller details I noticed throughout the day like the quiet room and provision of lactose-free milk with the tea and coffee that made me smile.

I acquired a few more stickers for my collection, which I immediately adhered to my laptop when I arrived home. Each one tells a story and they often act as conversation starters in the office. I was a bit sad to miss out on @jukesie’s latest designs though (I don’t suppose you have any left?).

The new additions: “Be generous” by Sam Villis and “Not Just London” by Sharon Dale

There was some kind of supercharged energy around the Ministry of Justice on Saturday which is hard to describe but completely inescapable. Here were 200+ public servants who gathered voluntarily at the weekend to talk about how to make Government better. I tell you what, if you’re feeling down or stuck in a rut, there’s no better thing than to surround yourself with energised peers with a desire to make a difference.

💡 Learnings 💡

It takes a huge effort to make events of this scale work seamlessly, and even the smallest help is appreciated.

Networking really isn’t so scary when you find your community of people.

Pitching really is scary, even if you’ve done it before.

Corridor chats can be more meaningful and memorable than sessions.

Internet friends are even more wonderful in real life.

We can all take small actions to be more inclusive, like putting our pronouns on our name badges.

Leaders are enablers of those around them.

Acronyms and initialisms are different things. Also, they’re everywhere.

Always wear sturdy shoes to a conference.

Making connections doesn’t stop when you leave the venue.

Live tweeting is a fun substitute for taking notes when on the move.

All my tweets from the weekend are in this thread

🎉 Surprises 🎉

I am repeatedly astounded at the positivity and humour that exists amongst public servants, considering the level of challenge we face on a daily basis. Working in this sector is tough mentally and emotionally, yet it seems to attract the best of folk.

Despite being my first IRL encounter with many of the #weeknotes crew, it felt like a meeting of old friends. Jenny and Lizzi did a marvellous job in creating a space of safety and honesty, and I was able to share some of my experiences of ‘weeknotes as therapy’ as a mechanism to work through times of high anxiety, which I’ve found difficult to verbalise at work.

Weeknoters assemble! Photo credit: Jenny Vass

Book swap! I had a stroke of luck and found a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, donated by Lizzi Standing. In exchange I gave my copy of Weapons of Math Destruction, which was duly picked up by DavidBuck. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into my new tome, although it might take me a while to pore my way through it’s 400-odd pages of tiny text…

I’m not sure I will ever get over the surprising feeling that occurs when people approach me because they’ve read my stuff on the internet. Although my logical brain knows that this is public, it still feels very odd when my virtual and ‘real’ lives collide and I’m never quite sure what to say.

Enormous thanks to Jonathan Kerr and Graham for coming to say hello, it’s lovely to put faces to names and was a real boost to my self-esteem. I’m only sorry that I didn’t make enough time for a proper conversation.

Part of the reason these notes have taken so long to write is that the exhaustion hit me like a tonne of bricks on Sunday. I underestimated how tiring meeting new people and the continuous conversations would be, and I’ve been suffering for it this week. I have no regrets about going, but perhaps next year I’ll book Monday off for recovery time.

🚀 Even better if…? 🚀

I’d love to see a version of TeaCamp or similar for non-Londoners, to keep the conversations going.

Next year I’ll do my prep, be brave and lead a session.

Goal for 2020: Get my name on the wall

I will strive to have fewer, deeper conversations. I got a bit overwhelmed by the occasion and wanted to say hi to everyone, but that meant cutting some conversations short.

A particular bug bear of mine (not specific to this conference) — could we have less furniture in the the session rooms? I find boardroom tables quite claustrophobic and restricting.

I think we should encourage greater use of the ‘two feet rule’ — that is, if you’re not enjoying or finding value in a session that you step out and go to another. I hesitate to do this for fear of seeming rude, but if we all did this more often then we could all attend more sessions… win-win?

It was great to see Cate McLaurin, Lizzi Standing, Neil Lawrence and Philippa there representing #localgov, but I still felt vastly outnumbered by Civil Servants. I shall certainly be encouraging more colleagues to join us next year, as I think Local Government could learn a lot from these kinds of collaborative, open events.

👏🏻 Finally, Thank You 👏🏻

To Louise Cato for recommending GovCamp. Hopefully this blog post will encourage someone else to enter the lottery next year, and pass that recommendation forward.

To Nigel, who captured the day perfectly on film.

To those who have written their own reflections, I have enjoyed reading every single one of them.

To my fellow attendees: it’s the people that make the experience, and I enjoyed your company enormously.

To the Organisers, past and present, for making it all possible.

“The participants ARE GovCamp” :) Photo credit: Mike Rose & OP Nigel Bishop

Until next year 👋 #ukgc20