So…CityCamp London…..where to start??
Firstly with a huge thank you and congratulations to Dominic Campbell and I suspect, more quietly, Carrie Bishop and the rest of the team who ran an amazing event with enthusiasm, generosity and intelligence – and I didn’t even manage to make the last day. FutureGov, I am not a fan girl type but I am now officially a fan.
Its easy to get very jaundiced about these kind of gatherings and the fact that I have been to a lot of conferences over the last few weeks makes me all the more inclined to view to whole thing rather cynically (yes – this will be a huge surprise to anyone who knows me) but I have to say that Friday afternoon, and to a far far greater extent the Saturday, really blew me away. Why? Good question. Firstly – the quality of the speakers was excellent but more importantly the quality of the attendees was fantastic and the format gave us chance to explore each others expertise. Even within the more traditionally arranged Friday session there was more time for Q&A than is usually managed. I have never been so spoilt for choice in terms of interesting and engaged people who could hold a real debate about democratic, social and technological change. I certainly didn’t agree with them all but the discussion was great. Part of this is the acknowledgement by choice of format that there were at least as many experts in the crowd as with the organisers and that the real benefits are in learning from each other – yup anyone would this was a little like co-production…… Not a surprise for the unconference crew but I think this was done unusually well.
I’m off to the SOLACE annual conference this week and I cannot help but contrast the way that will work with the way in which CityCamp is arranged. SOLACE will have some good speakers but it will be in a traditional chalk and talk format and will not challenge the audience to participate. Its a small thing in the face the kind of changes we want in government but perhaps we should have a goal to expose senior decision makers to these new ways of engaging so that they can see how productive it can be – less threatening and more enlightening perhaps than forcing them all to crowdsource their budget from the getgo…
It also struck me that though London is a great starting point the CityCamp format could really flourish for a smaller city where the issues are perhaps more contained. CityCamp Brighton anyone? #ccbtn
And one last thing before some actual content – I am one of the people who constantly highlight the lack of gender balance at events and I think CityCamp did much better than most – but still not good enough if I think about the line up on the Friday. I’m not even all that militant about this stuff – but its starting to irritate me and I find it hard to understand why this is even an issue any more. I know that FutureGov in particular are gender blind and not consciously making wrong choices – but why is that women just don’t end up more prominent when you are talking keynotes and main sessions? Its not because there aren’t enough of us doing interesting stuff – and I normally get sympathetic nodding when I point out what is to me the glaringly absence so I can only conclude that we are not as successful at the self publicity that puts people in the frame with the agenda writers (not something I feel I have a personal issue with (!!) and have often concluded that the fact that I am running a company makes me less agenda acceptable – though I could of course just be dull – anyway). So – have made a resolution to start raising the issue as soon as I see the line up rather than moaning about it at the event and you can feel free to suggest women who could be put forward – and here is the start of a twitter list as well. BTW – its obviously an even bigger issue for anyone from an ethnic minority or even disabled group – I just choose to make a fuss about the lack of women and leave it to others to raise other issues.
But now for some actual content
But on to some real content. From the Friday session I enjoyed hearing from John Tolva again, was delighted by the the Lambeth Youth Mayor folks and particularly enjoyed Nathalie McDermott talking about accessibility in a fresh way. I was deeply deeply irritated by the very designy type chap from Berg as to be honest and had to go off twitter and DM my concerns with the much more even tempered @DaveBriggs (thanks Dave). I just have no tolerance for this blue skies stuff where I don’t see it backed up with action. Crazy ideas are easy – radical action is not and there is not enough of it. The political panel was interesting – but fell into the category of people trying to do the same thing better rather than changing the game – more on that later.
Democracy ought to be better
I ran a session on Local Democracy in the morning – this was a Democratic Society thing and aimed at talking through the issues of change that local politics are feeling acutely with the additional complexities of the London political system thrown in. I tried to outline the scope of the session with these points:
Of course I was just as eloquent when presenting to the session….
I also used the contentious phrase “democracy is not broken – its just at risk of becoming irrelevant” which drew some debate – lots of people feeling that democracy is indeed broken. I still stand by my view – lots of people feel that they are unlistened to or unaccounted for but in fact most people just don’t think about it as actually the current system works well in the day to day for them. That is not to say that it doesn’t need a radical shake up – it does – but I say this more from the point of view of anticipating the nature and rate of change that will be forced on it by social change and wanting to pre-empt that in a positive way. Even with our current and growing democratic deficit we are still so much better off than so many other places – which is why I want to evolve and adapt our system rather than calling it broken and writing it off.
However – debate was lively and though we didn’t always agree we did I think tease out some specific issues – all in my own words so anyone who attended feel free to correct:
I think the clearest consensus was that this is not a question of using new tools to improve existing structures – we all felt that democratic process needs to change and develop to respond to a very different social environment and if we really all believe that then we need to start lobbying for it at a local as well as national level. Lets at least have the debate please.
So – apart from being enjoyable was this any use? Not sure – I think we could bring out a few principles that we could a wider debate about but its too wide a subject to have an impact in an hour. In terms of what I took away I would say:
I would be very interested to hear views from other participants as to whether they agree with this summary. Also will be reflecting on my facilitation style as I was told (by different people) that it was the least democratic event they have been to and the best facilitated – really not sure what to do with that though I still stand by my respect for an orderly queuing system for these things!!!
And some great conversations
The lovely thing about this format is you get to meet so many interesting people – had a really good debate with Chris Taggert of Openly Local about how we can push our work @ Public-i in a more open direction without losing site of the fact that we need to pace any changes at an acceptable speed for our clients. I have been struggling with the fact that I believe that systems should be as open as possible but that I also believe this is a choice the client should make (or be lead to!) rather than making it for them. The conversation really helped me with my thinking and we have a few immediate things we can start working on – we will be picking this up properly over at the Public-i blog soon.
I also met the man behind Tweet a London Cab – Richard Cudlip – and was fascinated to hear about what he is doing – definitely one to watch.
I also really enjoyed finally meeting the Lauren aka RedJotter who is behind MyPolice and catching up with Nick Keane to talk Police matters….its always interesting to think of this stuff from a policing perspective as they are a group of people with a genuine dilemma in terms of how they retain authority in an increasingly networked world.
I had some many other excellent conversations but will leave those for follow up and personal thanks to people. Next post will be a change of pace – either the much awaited return to thesis writing a section on co-production or a rather less cheery summing up from the Solace conference – lets wait and see!