Sshh! Would you come to a silent govcamp?

I was talking to someone about open data last night (not a total surprise: I was out for a curry with a bunch of open data node folk). And this made me remember where I first heard about open data. It was at an unconference (hyperwm as it happens). Hadley Beeman, then of, explained it very simply and clearly to me. And nothing has been the same for me since.

In fact unconferences have provided me with an immense amount of learning.

Terence Eden gave me a masterclass in QR codes. I heard about blockchain. I discovered Agile. And service design. And innovation methodologies. And wikipedia. All at unconferences.

So, in short, I’m a fan.

From the first unconference I went to (localgovcamp of Yorkshire and the Humber since you ask) I was hooked.

Here were events that worked for me. Participative and inclusive, suspicious of hierarchy, low on powerpoint and high on energy.

But I worry that, as a community, unconferences (or perhaps, more specifically, their public sector inclined versions the govcamps) are becoming a bit comfortable. There is “a way” in which unconferences are done now, we haven’t eradicated hierarchy and, though they are more participative than your average conference, they favour the socially confident and extrovert.

I’ve been mulling an idea since the excellent unconference on unconferences crystallised some of these issues for me. And I have one of those nagging ideas. One of those ideas that won’t go away. So I’m doing what any self-respecting unconference-er does and putting the idea on a blog to see what others think of it.

I want to hold a silent govcamp.

This is how I think it might work:

- we would need two rooms. In one room the govcamp happens (main room). In the other room the refreshments happen.

- the main room has a huge amount of wall space upon which post-its, cards and paper can be typed

- following the introduction in the main room talking is not permitted in the main room. Talking is permitted in the other room.

- instead of a pitch people with ideas or questions write them on post-its and place them on the wall

- instead of spoken conversations in a circle of chairs people write (or draw their responses, thoughts or suggestions) on post-its or other pieces of paper and put them on the wall next to the relevant questions or ideas

- so over the period of the govcamp the conversations would evolve around the walls. You wouldn’t need to go into break out rooms and you wouldn’t have to choose between topics because you could take part in all discussions.

- recording would be no issue. At the end of the govcamp we would simply photograph and publish the walls.

- people are asked not to talk about the topics in the other room but instead to take part in discussions on paper in silence (I see this as important to ensure people aren’t put under pressure to go and talk when they don’t want to)

Why I think this might be a good idea:

- the original idea stemmed from a discussion about how to harness the awesome power of the more introverted by creating an environment where people can contribute without having to be the focus of the room or the group. I still think this is reason enough to try it.

- I also think it could create a very different vibe, more reflective and meditative which could allow a very different framing of questions and solutions than the “traditional” govcamp

- I am aware that there are people who like to communicate visually and talking doesn’t benefit them

- I’m interested in the idea that it could create disfluency: deliberately slowing people up and making them process the issues more slowly

- Because you might well not know who wrote (or drew) anything it should be very disruptive

to hierarchies

- It’s a different approach and I think we should keep trying different approaches

So I propose to try and run this as an explicit experiment in the summer of 2017. Probably in Birmingham for reasons of convenience and familiarity (mine).

But I’d like to get a sense of whether anyone would come?

And I’d appreciate any suggestions that could improve the initial ideas.

So I’ve set up this Google Form to capture interest in what, inevitably, I seem to be calling SilentCamp. Please give me your feedback. It will take mere seconds.