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LocalGovCamp - A Survivor's Guide

Travelling up on the 7am ghost train, I sat with a colleague heading to London for other reasons. When asked, I said I was off to an unconference. “Are you a Roman Catholic, then?” was his reply. Say it slowly, and think about penguins. You’ll get it.

The day taught me a lot about the unconference toolkit. I’ll remember to take mine next time. You need to take:

1) Your geek-alarm – it will go off. It’s usually the site of the scraggy pullover or the laptop adorned with campaign stickers that does it. Expect them to be outnumbered by real people, though.

2) An intact sense of humour – particularly at what might pass for “breakfast”, if provided.

3) Some means of time travel. - I like the unconference way of designing the agenda , allocating time-slots, rooms, etc , by benign mob rule at the start of the day. A bit annoying when you go to your chosen second session, and find that while you were in the first, they moved it forward to run simultaneously, in another room. This gave me a good opportunity to commandeer a plug socket for 45 minutes to charge up my laptop. I’d have selected a different session, but there wasn’t one I was keen on – an unconference risk. You’ll have plenty of choice, and no shortage of other session refugees with whom to network, hunt plug sockets, etc.

4) A two way adaptor in your toolkit – no one’s laptop batteries last like the adverts say. Less chance you’ll come to blows over the plug sockets.

5) A very open mind. The nature of these things is to challenge. Challenge what you’re doing, and what you’re not, challenge what you believe and why you believe it.

Anyway, localgovcamplondon:

Justin Griggs (NALC), Hugh Flouch and Will Perrin ran a cracking opening session for my day, enigmatically headed “Harry Potter and the Vicar of Dibley”. It was about grassroots (ie Parish) local government and community engagement. My introduction to the concept of “ram-raiding” your local council. Very thought-provoking comments about areas where the local active on-line community far outnumbers the people who voted in local elections.

When it comes to “Embedding Social Media”, the early adopter local authorities quickly floated to the surface. Not yet sure whether anyone is really learning from anyone else’s experience, or whether all are just ploughing the furrow they think will suit them best. Or should that be “all reinventing a similar wheel”? And what does happen when 170,000 residents have a Facebook page, but only 20,000 buy the local paper? The demographics are going to be so much more important than the widgets.

Naked Council” was, for me, the session of the day. Nothing technical, not even hugely well attended, but as an intellectual exercise, Anthony Zacharewski’s (The Democratic Society) premise that there was value in trying to determine what local government would be like if invented today, with no history, preconceptions, or statutory framework was compelling. And very hard to keep it truly “naked”, if electoral democracy and accountability still need to be built in. team@nakedcouncil.co.uk will get you on the mailing list.

Local by Social was another session about mainstreaming social media. Social by social had limited resonance at local levels, say its protagonists. Local by Social is a re-run, focused on local impact. I like the comment that “Social media cannot be on the list of things perceived by local councils as “threats”.

The Internal Comms session I attended suffered from end-of day delegate fatigue. I believe it is vital to distinguish between the types of conversation that exist, and those within an organisation are important. Yammer and its ilk give people a “safe” place to learn social media skills, to storm, norm and perform. Takes courageous managers to encourage it. It might bite, and might be all the better if it does, from time to time. It might throw up the weird and off-the –wall. That way lies innovation, of course.

If they do it again (localgovcamplondon, that is), I’d go again, because it would be different. But I’d take my toolkit.

- You can find the #localgovcamp Twitter stream here, photos here and videos here.

- A special thank you to Tom Phillips, Community Liason Manager for Kent County Council for the wonderful blog post.

Picture: A wall of sessions written on post it notes organised into different rooms and times for #Localgovcamp @ Birmingham with thanks to jamie_garner for publishing on Flickr under a Creative Commons license some rights reserved.

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