Thoughts on UK Gov Camp 2019

Last weekend I attended UK Gov Camp. It was a long day but so full of interesting things that I will be thinking about it and drawing on the energy from it for months to come.

This was my 4th Gov Camp, and probably the one where I felt most comfortable. That’s all because of the fact that I knew people (well, ‘ohh, I know you from Twitter’ knew them, anyhow.)

Gov Camp was a win for stickers this year!

Big side note: There were definitely still moments where I felt completely out of my depth though and I’m not sure that the feeling will ever go away. I think we all have imposter syndrome to some extent and mine certainly comes out at events like this. I look around the room and see so many people doing so many good things and think “‘Yikes, I’m just a local government officer trying to keep things ticking over in my small corner of the world. What can I add here? The fraud police are on their way to throw me out!” I have to take a lot of deep breaths and try and work out what I can contribute whilst trying to stop myself anxiously spewing word vomit everywhere. (A completely gross visual. Sorry.) I think Louise Cato puts it best:

What I see is a poor reflection of myself through nerves. I see me over-compensating with many, many words, not all of them ones I’d have chosen had I been more my normal self. It’s like the times I come back to reality after having power-eaten a family bag of crisps in under two minutes.

This is from Louise’s post here:

General thoughts about the day

Anyway, imposter syndrome aside, let’s talk my day.

I started the day by taking some photos at Buckingham Palace (my normal pre-Gov Camp photo spot) but it quickly got too cold (and I got accosted by some strange bloke from Birmingham!) so I decided to head towards the MOJ to get warm!

There were lots of birds at Buckingham Palace.

Arrival started pretty awesomely as I quickly met up with the amazing Sam Villis and Jenny Vass. These two made me feel instantly welcome and so much more at ease. Thank you for hanging out with me and talking to me! And to Jenny for pitching Weeknotes with me! I actually went not intending to pitch, but we wanted to have a little meet-up. (Although, I was pretty silent during the pitch, so maybe it doesn’t count?!)

Awkward looking pitching. I was on ‘hold the post-it note’ duty!

Lunchtime I spent chatting. Coco Chan and I talked about the difference of local government and the big central government community at the event. Local Gov folks — do try to come along. It’s so worth seeing this in person!

I spoke to Cate McLaurin and Gavin Beckett about intranets and what their use case is (and whether there is even a use case even with all the third-party applications out there. Big, scary thoughts here considering my intranet stakes…).

Lunchtime is always hard for me at conferences. I’m never really sure what to do with myself so having people to talk to helped and made it feel less difficult. Plus, I got an awesome new ‘I Love Hackney’ badge from Cate. I’ve never been to Hackney but I feel like I should go visit now I have the badge!

Bert motoring around Buckingham Palace. Heading to Hackney maybe?

After the conference drinks were very welcome so huge a thank you to the sponsors for arranging them. I spent some time chatting to Sam, Jess, Nour Sidawi and Alex in the pub which was great. I’m not normally a post-conference socialiser, but I’m glad I stuck around and forced myself to go. Again, knowing people (even if it’s just from Twitter and Weeknotes) and having people to talk to made this so much easier!

Big thanks here also to Jess Neely for hanging out with me on the trip home. And for the fact that she didn’t blink an eye when I used the empty tube station and a 10 minute wait as an excuse for some quick toy photography.

The sessions

I went to four sessions over the day. There were a lot of sessions and there was more than enough choice (too much choice in some cases!) to keep me entertained throughout the day. You can find all the sessions, as well as notes from them here:

Below are some of my own session notes and thoughts. I’ve also included links to the actual session notes, which might make a bit more sense. I would also strongly recommend checking out the Convivio session grid to see what other sessions went on as I’m sure there is something for everyone there!

Session one: Making time and space to think better

I wanted to go to this session by Graham as I’m a big believer in making time to reflect and think about what we do. I don’t always manage to do it (rarely do, even) but we all should. This session was about making sure that we have the time and space for ourselves within our working time. There was a few good proposals for helping to make this happen:

  • Block out calendar time in advance
  • Only schedule 45 minute meetings to avoid back-to-back meetings. Set out objectives and don’t go to things you don’t need to.
  • Have the conversation with your manager/your team about having thinking time. You need to do this in order to see the larger picture.
  • Respect other people’s time.
  • Have planning time together (One example was getting your team to run sessions like ‘Things to fix in 2019’ and have it stuck on the wall for inspiration)
  • Have team members complete the ‘User manual for me’ to share how you work best with the wider team. Check out:


I got a lot out of this session and I’ll be thinking about how to implement some of the suggestions. I think it’s worth more contemplation at the very least, and that ‘manual of me’ will be coming soon!

Session two: Weeknotes

This was the session Jenny and I pitched to get the Weeknotes gang together and to share our experiences with others interested in the concept.

Lots of interest in Weeknotes! (Photo credit: Sam Villis)

The session itself was packed, which was really overwhelming! There was however a LOT of support in the room, including brilliant contributions from @jukesie, Dan Barrett and so many other weeknoters.

Jenny Vass was a brilliant facilitator, encouraging everyone to have the chance to talk. I learnt so much just watching how she managed the room!

We had a list of questions by the end of it that Sam has now written up in a great write up of the session:

We also had snacks.

Thanks to Katy McNel for bringing the Scottish treats!

I was too busy talking and listening to really make a lot of notes in this session.

One thing I did write down was around using your Weeknotes to hold yourself to account. In this sense it’s about stating what you are doing, but using that statement to make sure you do go and do it! Silly example time: if I say I am going to stop writing this post and read the last 20 pages of Slaughterhouse 5 (my book swap pick), then I really ought to go do that. (Morning edit: I didn’t.)

I also made a few notes on questions that James Arthur Cattell mentioned being asked in their team stand-ups via Slack:

  • How do you feel?
  • Where are you today?
  • What have you done since the last stand up?
  • What are you doing today?

For teams that work remotely I think this is a really nice way to catch everyone up quickly and find out more about what everyone is dong and feeling. I get the impression it helps people touch base with everyone and lets things tick over more smoothly. I’d love to try it and hear more about how this works in practice.

Session three: Coffee break

My personal coffee camp. I took this session off to de-compress a little and get ready for the afternoon sessions. I spent a little time chatting with Sam, Nour and a few others (including the awesome and friendly lady in the Lucy and Yak dress whose name I didn’t get!)

Session four: Bookcamp!

An annual favourite for me is #bookcamp with Louise Cato! Gather round a table and share your favourite read of the last year! What could be more inspiring? Louise has already created a list of all the books we discussed and there are quite a few I am keen to get my hands on!

I’m definitely going to try and read a lot of these, including a few books about loss (Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, for example) owing to some personal things going on. I think this will help.

Even though I read very little last year, I loved listening to people talk about so enthusiastically about the books they loved. It’s a personal insight into somebody and as a (normally) avid reader, fills me with happiness that books are able to bring strangers together!

Anyway, lots of inspiration and excitement about books for me from bookcamp, so thank you Louise!

Session five: Introduction to user story mapping

I was really looking forward to this session after the pitch for it as it’s something we don’t currently do a lot of in our team but that I think would really help us to deliver things more quickly than currently happens. As the final session of the day, it was good to do something interactive as well (the exhaustion of the early start was creeping in!).

The first task was to write out (one item per post-it) everything we do from waking up to leaving the house in the morning. There was a lot of frantic scribbling as everyone had just five minutes to do this. After this, we got together in groups and stuck our post-it notes onto the wall in groups of related tasks (for example most of us turned the alarm off first).

Post-it notes on the walls!

It was quickly noted that there was a difference between those with kids and those without, so perhaps we might need two groups for the tasks. We didn’t get as far as doing this, but it was something to consider. We then grouped the tasks under headings to give more order to the story. For example we had things like ‘orient self’, ‘caring for others’, ‘basic dressing’ and so on.

As a final thing, we were then told to imagine we had just 15 minutes to get out of the house. We had to decide what we would still have to do in this situation. This produces a constraint that forces discussions around prioritisation. This is such a simple way to explain how to map a story and prioritise. It really clicked with me.

I think this would be a really good activity to try in our team. Perhaps we could map out how we deal with emails coming into the inbox, or how we approach writing a piece of content. This could then help us prioritise our working as a team. Once we understand how it works, we can start to apply it to wider project work, such as delivering on a new online service.

Other posts on Gov Camp to read

So many wonderful posts are appearing on Gov Camp. Here are a few more not already mentioned that you should read!

To wrap up

Gov Camp is awesome. You should try and go.

I really had a great time and it’s left me full of excitement and enthusiasm for what’s happening in digital in the public service.

Thank you to all the volunteers who shared their time and energy to run the day. Thank you to all the sponsors for helping make an event possible.

And last but by no means least, huge thanks to everyone who went and made the day so full of energy and enthusiasm, showing that the public service really can be a rewarding and brilliant place to work.