Over the weekend I went to my first LocalGovCamp in Birmingham, an unconference for local government across the UK, where attendees set the agenda by pitching ideas for discussions.
What is local government for?
The most thought provoking discussion for me was in Kelly Doonan’s opening session, which asked “What is local government for?” A seemingly straightforward question, but with no easy answers. My takeaway from the session was that local government should be an enabler to help people make their local area a better place to live. What particularly fascinated me was that this chimes with Kelly’s team’s approach to their work. I’ve previously had a great Unmentoring conversation with Kelly about how an enabling mindset means that they’re helping people at Devon County Council to deliver better services. I’m going to steal Ghandhi’s wisdom and pass it off as my own here – this seems to be a great example of “being the change that you wish to see”. We can’t provide enabling services for citizens without applying the same approach to our work with our colleagues.
Glen Ocsko’s session on Gameification allowed me to reflect on the work that we’re doing with Good Practice Wales and Bangor University on Behaviour Change, where we held a Festival in Bangor to share public service approaches. At the festival Professor John Parkinson looked at Gameful Design, and Professor James Intrilligator looked at Drinking, Games and Behaviour Change, which included a fascinating discussion on the Chimp Shop App that encourages people to drink less. It was great to compare and contrast this with approaches from the session. Nick Hill shared The Fun Theory’s work, who have lots of great examples of gameification that could be applied to encourage positive behaviour change.
Blockchain and government
Ingrid Koehler led the Blockchain and government session, which gave me a good chance to ponder what the emerging technology might mean for the Wales Audit Office’s Financial Audit work. It was amazing to think about how transactions could be tracked across government. We spoke about what a small, safe to fail pilot might look like (it’s well worth reading Chris Bolton’s post on Trojan Mice for more on this approach), where money raised from charges could be tracked so that you can see exactly what it was spent on. A potential new era for government financial transparency? But it could also be something more – Benjamin Taylor shared a fascinating link on building a democracy contract on the Blockchain, and what do the open processes mean for public trust? Ingrid shared this interesting report on what it might mean for government.
Why we hate the voluntary sector
Just to be clear, I don’t! But I attended this spikily titled discussion by Pauline Roche as I worked in the sector for eight years, and Huw Vaughan Thomas, the Auditor General for Wales, always talks about how public services won’t be delivered by any one sector in the future. It was fascinating to hear how a fear of lack of control leads to local authority services being kept in house, but also really interesting to hear how groups like Snow Angels could add expertise and value in crisis situations.
The best bit… the networking!
But the most useful part of the day was the opportunity to network and share ideas. It was great to meet new people who are doing great things, as well as finally meet people who I’ve spoken to online in my role (hello Albert Freeman!).
When I caught up with Kelly Doonan after the event for a chat, we spoke a bit about the potential for the Wales Audit Office to do our good practice work differently. Kelly told me about how immersing yourself in examples of alternative approaches can help you to understand how the nuts and bolts of particular approaches can be applied in complex environments.
Devon County Council visited a a user research company, Revealing Reality, to look at how they recruited candidates for a diary study. Participants received a hard copy A4 diary and a pack of stickers to represent different channels and devices. They were shown how to complete the diary, which involved putting in some personal details and then recording their media consumption for a week by writing in the diary and adding stickers. They were able to look at the diaries and ask questions about the techniques and the data.
Kelly also visited the DVLA in Swansea for a user research GDS Cross-Government Meet up, where speakers literally show you exactly how they are working – explaining in detail what software, tools and methods they are using and with pictures to show you what it looks like. You can attend a session and then go away and adapt the approach to meet your needs.
So all in all, LocalGovCamp was a great day. If you’re looking for something similar in Wales, GovCamp Cymru has been confirmed for the 24th of September. If you fancy meeting new people and developing new approaches, put the date in your diary and get involved! I’ll see you there!