(Quietly) going where no-one has gone before


Next week we’re running the first silent govcamp

About 40 people will come together in Cardiff to discuss answers to the question

“How can we improve the use of evidence in public services?”

But they won’t speak.

Plenty of people have booked but if you’re lucky there may be a space thanks to someone returning their ticket.

This post is to give them (and you) some idea of what to expect.

How it will work (probably)

We’re running the event in the Innovation Studio at Tramshed Tech in lovely Cardiff, Wales. This has its own entrance onto Pendyris St and, from 1.30pm on Thursday 18th, coffee and tea will be available at that entrance. Speaking will be allowed in the refreshment area. No speaking will be allowed* in the main studio.

In the innovation studio will be seats and tables with a wide range of pens, post-its, cards, pencils, crayons and other materials to help you draw, write or doodle your thoughts. You won’t need to bring anything but if you want to bring art materials, special pens, lovely card and so on then we 100% encourage that.

We’ll kick off at 2pm. We’ll first of all ask people to think of broad topics or areas they would like to explore (the organisers will probably speak at this point). Not everyone will have a a suggestion and that’s fine.

Those that do have ideas will have a few minutes to create a brief description of the topic on card or paper and then these will be placed on walls or windows spread out around the room. We’ll allow another couple of minutes to shuffle them round (in case there is duplication or people think that their topic should be closer to or further from another topic).

Then we’ll start the discussion.

The discussion will take place in silence. People with thoughts or suggestions or comments, or web links will write, draw or otherwise create them on card or paper and add them to the wall near the relevant hub. Then other people will respond to those comments, questions or suggestions.

We’ll finish at 3.45pm and ask everyone to reflect on the experience and then share their thoughts (in silence). At 4pm we’ll allow talking again. We’ll photograph all of the content on the walls and publish a photo report (over on thesatorilab.com probably but I’m sure I’ll blog about it too).

Probably those who are sufficiently interested will then visit a pub.

If this works it will enable all the people in the room to take part in a series of slow, deliberate, thoughtful conversations simultaneously.

If it doesn’t work then there’s still the tea and coffee (and the pub).

Why would we do this?

It’s an experiment.

The inspiration came from discussions about how we can unleash the awesome power of introverts. There’s something great about a buzzy, noisy, enthusiastic unconference but not everyone finds it easy to contribute in a buzzy, noisy enthusiastic environment.

So we thought: let’s flip the idea and create an environment where you can be confident that you won’t come under pressure to speak or to perform in public. Because nobody is allowed to speak. And even for the socially confident amongst us, maybe being forced to slow down, be reflective, communicate in an unfamiliar way will be helpful. A form of deliberate cognitive disfluency.

Maybe we’ll discover a radical new way of organising events, more likely we’ll develop some insights for what aspects of this approach work or don’t work.

There’s a bit more about the thinking that led to this idea here.

*Quiet speaking will be allowed for accessibility reasons for example to enable visually impaired people to participate fully and organisers will do a little bit of speaking for the purpose of announcements.

SilentGovCamp is only possible thanks to funding from ukgovcamp and govcampcymru.

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I work at The Satori Lab we also host ODI-Cardiff.

We provide an exciting range of data services.

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