An update from Councillor Alex Coley on the largest and longest unconference
A local resident is looking for donations of surplus apples from back gardens
Welcome to the environment update for August 2018. July has been a
An update from Councillor Alex Coley on the largest and longest unconference for UK local government.
On Friday and Saturday I went to LocalGovCamp for the first time since 2010. This year was the 10th anniversary and feels like a much more orchestrated experience. I’m now a member of the steering group for LocalGov Digital which organises the event, so I got to enjoy some insight into how it all works.
It’s been described as a festival for local government, and over the years has been attended by some of the most innovative and influential people in local government digital.
What’s the value in a conference for local government?
Seeing a cynic on Twitter questioning the value of #localgovcamp got me thinking what value I got this year and how I might measure that.
Day One is for supplier engagement. This is really useful for market testing and product assessment. It’s also a great opportunity for peer evaluation when you are looking to solve common problems, write requirements and hear experiences of using suppliers. Taxpayer money (and grey hairs) can be saved when local government professionals help each other before procurement begins.
Day Two is the unconference. The agenda is created on the day by individuals pitching for sessions which are then voted on by the audience and added to the schedule in a grid. There is a pure and spontaneous energy to this direct democracy. New initiatives, programmes and units come out of like minded people getting together and fostering a culture of innovation and change. Like, you know, the Local Digital Declaration and the Local Digital Fund (which opens Monday 24th September).
More than just a return on investment
Professional development is in very short supply. Budgets have been slashed, many local authorities are on the brink and frontline services need to be protected by saving money on anything and everything in the back office. Aside from statutory training, for the most part, you are responsible for your own professional development. Giving up one Saturday a year to meet, exchange ideas and share experiences with other fellow professionals is a very good return on your time.
Every other sector and industry I can think of involves networking. This need not just be about finding a supplier, or a supplier developing business. Should government spend money on creating a job matching exchange? Probably not. Professional connections are important. Building relationships can lead to finding a new opportunity or hiring a much needed new member of staff, without needing to spend taxpayer money on recruiter fees.
Sharing experiences might be the greatest intangible of all, and the most valuable. Sharing means learning, it means not duplicating mistakes and it means doing things better by copying someone else’s success. It’s also cathartic and therapeutic, you are not alone. Retaining good people is harder than ever in a sector under enormous pressure. People need support and we need to help each other in hard times.
Professionalism, inclusion and political commitment
I’m also reminded how far we have come. I first attended LocalGovCamp in 2010 when it was pretty new. I had just become a civil servant and was trying to find my way by attending as many events as possible. Trouble with the WiFi was the most common grievance and venues were donated by sponsors rather than hired out. Gender diversity was barely on the radar as a publicly acknowledged issue. This year it was called out loud and clear, and women were invited to pitch first to lead the sessions.
I was also very encouraged to see councillors attending both days, which was unheard of a few years ago. This led to a dedicated session in which members (including me) spoke about their own challenges and how we might work better with officers to deliver a better service for our residents.