We had lots of fun at GovCamp 11 last Saturday. But even more importantly, we learned some things:
- Open Source is Good
I was impressed by the number of Government departments and organisations that are increasingly using Open Source tools, apps and platforms. It’s encouraging to see that the coalition’s progressive push toward transparency and online engagement is supported by a like-minded development infrastructure. The benefits of using Open Source is an investment in a development community that continually improves and communally finds solutions to problems. At this year’s UK GovCamp Chris Chant, recently appointed Interim CEO of Digital for the Cabinet Office, kicked off the day stressing his desire to implement more Open Source in their ICT strategy, I also saw examples of DEFRA’s migration to the WordPress platform, and we had the opportunity to demo our Open Source consultation platform Citizen Space.
- Open Data has Potential
A couple of years ago it was Social Media, this year’s conference buzzword was Open Data. The Government’s requirements for transparency have meant that there has been a new wealth of Open Data. This has brought both confusion and an excited intrigue into the possibilities. For some there is confusion over what it actually is, what can be done with it, and whether it should even be Open! For others it is a foundation for both presenting challenge and encouragement to where we are as a democracy and also where we can go forward. Open Data is certainly in it’s infancy and, for early adopters, there is an agreement that not all data is in a ‘helpful’ or usable state. The general consensus from the conference was that with a foundation of good data and interesting narratives, Open Data has the potential to be both insightful and provocative for our democracy.
- What’s on the mind of the public sector
From the sheer number of break-away talks that were suggested at the morning session, there was a great feeling of people wanting to get together to discuss what they and others were doing. The topics were diverse and touched on the broad (e.g ‘How to do online consultation’) to the specific (e.g ‘How not to present open spending data’).
The make-up of attendees also painted a good picture of the Government landscape and to take a snapshot of the different talks running provided a representation of what’s on peoples’ minds in public sector technology.
- We’re all in this together
Traditionally, at conferences where people from both the public and private sectors are present, there’s a real ‘them and us’ mentality to the thing. Often this is not helped by conference organisers who corral the ‘suppliers’ in an exhibition area and keep them away from the main events, but it’s also been a symptom of how the public sector works, especially in the UK. Now though, finally, the barriers seem to be breaking down, and people are realising that both sides are working in this area because they’re passionate about it, and that we’re all made stronger by working together. Govcamp had a really great vibe of everyone being equal for the day, no matter what their background, meaning everyone could make maximum benefit of the knowledge and experiences of everyone else there, no matter who they were.
- Go to GovCamp 2012!
If you’ve read the above 4 points and hadn’t come to this conclusion already, allow us to re-state it – “If you have even the slightest interest in technology use within the public sector, go to GovCamp”. You’re guaranteed to come away with a head full of ideas, a better idea of who’s who, and an inflamed passion for getting things done.
Here’s some GovCamp-y links where you can find out more: