UKGovCamp13 – thanks and challenge

<plug> Ok – am firstly going to use this to SHAMELESSLY plug the fact that CityCamp Brighton is happening for the third time this coming weekend (22-24th march)) so please come along if you are either local or interested </plug>.

Any post about UKGovCamp needs to start with a huge thank you to Steph Grey and Dave Briggs and this time to their Govcamp makers as well – it was great. An extra thank you this time to IBM who hosted us. While Microsoft have been very welcoming in the past I thought that the wider participation from IBM staff was a good thing.

I started the day with a now traditional breakfast with Stefan Czerniawski  where we attempt to briefly put the world to rights. This turned into a philosophical and fascinating session on identity which I will write up separately. I then pitched a session to create a discussion about the social layer within the smart cities arena which will also get its own post. In the afternoon I went to a great session on innovation run by Saul Cozens. Some of the thinking from that infected my feelings about the last session I went to – a discussion of ‘what next for govcamp’ convened by marvellous combo of Hadley Beeman and Ann Kempster.

Future leaders?

We started off by discussing ways in which we might widen access to or create more strands within the Govcamp model.  However the discussion was challenged by Tom Steinburg and taken in a slightly different direction.  He asked how we were going to make sure that the future leaders of Councils and Central Government were picked from the people within the GovCamp ‘family’ because a sophisticated understanding of digital in a cultural and strategic rather than strictly technical sense is now an essential leadership skill. I can’t argue with that. It is alarming how frequently I am working with clients who do not have these skills at the top table and even where there is an awareness of the need for these skills there is a struggle to find the right people. I have written previously about this and I think Tom is right – if those future leaders aren’t amongst the people attending things like govcamp then were are they? They are not going to be found simply in the ICT department which I fear is the belief of current leaders. I believe that they instead exist in the spaces between disciplines and are the people who are pushing their own areas forward digitally at the same time as having the ability to see the bigger picture *.

They exist but we are not spotting them well at the moment and that means that we are not able to support them. This is a problem across all public services and it needs to be solved. Its a challenge that needs to be made to organisations like SOLACE, the LGA, the College of Policing and beyond. As was said in the session – its a bad assumption to think this can all be left to GDS – however good they are.

There was a tension in the session between the view that we should be ‘doing’ something along these lines with Govcamp and the view that GovCamp was valuable as an open space for thinking and forming these ideas but was not a vehicle for this kind of campaigning.  This question as to whether you are running an event or creating a movement is one we have considered with respect to CityCamp and my feeling is that you have to leave space for both – open spaces should be about opening up possibilities to act and while the two aren’t mutually exclusive I think the two kinds of participation compliment each other.  I really admire the fact that Steph and Dave are motivated by the desire to simply and powerfully create that space but I think its important that others can take it forward in different ways if that’s what they choose to do.

I think there is a real need to make sure that this topic – the need for digital to be at the top table in a meaningful way – needs to be debated widely and I will be agitating a bit to make sure this can happen – please shout if you are interested in being involved or have any ideas for the best way to do it. We may find out we are a movement after all.

*We might say this is a kind of disintermediation of professional practice !??!

  1. Ian Chisnall

    March 17, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    In referring to leaders of Councils and Central Government it is not clear if these questions are directed towards the political leadership or the civil service. The comments do seem to imply a civil service perspective but I would argue that the political leadership also needs to understand the digital world and based on my own experience, many do not.

    • curiouscatherine

      March 17, 2013 at 9:32 pm

      Oh I think there is a whole other urgency to try and bring political and non-political into the same room to debate this stuff – completely agree the issue is as much for politicians as it is for officers.

  2. jonathanflowers

    March 18, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Picking up the leadership point …

    There are a lot of factions and interests (and movements!) that want to be represented at the top table. What does “digital at the top table” mean? Does it mean that the top table is informed by an understanding of the opportunities and issues presented by digital, or does it have to mean someone around that table who was on Twitter in 2008 and can programme the API? (I exaggerate to make the point).

    I ask because clearly there are two different responses, if it’s the former then keeping digital in the news, good case studies, sessions at SOLACE etc is the way to go; if the opportunities are as transformative as we believe then people will catch on and the good ideas will acquire their own momentum. If it’s the latter then I think that may be harder, not because the digital folk won’t get there but by definition because when they get there they will have a portfolio encompassing that and many other interests.

    My strong suspicion is that the future leaders are well represented at GovCamps, because there are many folk who are bright, personable, and who care (extraordinarily so typically on at least two of those dimensions!).

    Digital at the top table is a means to an end. What is the end?

    In your post the “end” appears to be “a sophisticated understanding of digital in a cultural and strategic rather than strictly technical sense is now an essential leadership skill”. I’d hypothesise that in this context “sophisticated” means “able to engage meaning fully with a range of different issues, perspectives and knowledge areas such as business strategy, a nuanced understanding of leverageable resources and sources of differentiation, citizen-centricity, change management within and outside the organisation, democratic engagement… It may be that it is easier to inculcate the necessary knowledge of digital opportunity into folk who possess these other skills already?

    Another thought on this is that it may not be possible to rely on many of the best and brightest digital talents around because although they may possess the skills and attitudes to ascend to a top table position, it is entirely possible that they won’t want to. Or not en masse anyway. And it will be interesting to see how the first few folk who asecend into senior positions are percevied by the rest of the digiatal crowd – I have a strong hunch that they will be perceived as sell-outs rather than role models.

    Sorry, bit of a plurge, I have a week’s work to start! I just wanted to kick the tires on the unchallenged assumption that the digital community must position its own for greatness!

    Having said all of that, it is very clear to me that there is much less of a structure for the digital folk who do wish to ascend into roles of greater influence (if not always greater actual power) than there is for other professions. I do think this is an issue – not necessarily because we need this to happen to get digital up the agenda but more simply because it has the potential to be a shocking waste of scarce talent if people can’t progress. It was something we kicked around at LouLouK’s session and I haven’t gone hunting her blog about it yet.

    • curiouscatherine

      March 18, 2013 at 9:14 am

      Excellent picking apart Jonathan….

      yes – for me saying ‘digital’ is a cipher for a cultural and strategic understanding of the way in which digital can and will change things. The reason that I put the nuance on the digital rather than just grafting some digital onto folks who otherwise have these characteristics is that I think to be effective in these roles you need to have a strong mental model of the way in which some of these things work. yes – this could be taught but perhaps I am keen to short circuit this process and find the people who already ‘get’ this stuff – this will not be the long term solution!

      I think you are spot on when you say there is a real issue as to whether or not the people we are talking about will want to take on these kinds of roles – and whether the community that has produced them will then be supportive of them having to take on more corporate behaviours. In the long term this is addressed by culture change and new networked models of leadership (I hope) – in the short term lots of friction and conviction needed.

      However we describe talent though – you are right – we are not spotting and nurturing it in its widest sense and this is ultimately what will come back to haunt us if we don’t address it.

      Liking the tyre kicking


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