CityCamp London – really bloody marvellous

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:

  • Democracy in London is unusually complex – the interplay between GLA, Mayor, Boroughs as well as informal groups and the fact that as the capital London gets more than its fair share of media attention
  • There is a huge pressure on democratic structures from the network society and the fact that people are willing and able to participate informally – and London is also ahead of the curve in terms of technology adoption
  • Most representatives have neither the skills nor the inclination to engage with the public in the way that the public is increasing engaging with each other – collaboratively, productively and socially

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:

  • With a couple of exceptions we were a white middle class Guardian reading crowd and Joe Simpson (from the Leadership Centre – sorry I kept calling you grumpy Joe) did rather forcefully point out that this hardly gave us a mandate to speak for ‘the people’. No-one could disagree with this point but the push back was the feeling that we all believed it was important and that the new approaches we were discussing would help address this issue
  • We did not speak about technology – and this is important – we more focused on how new ways of working offer up meaningful opportunities to try different models and decision making and representation
  • This kind of debate always leads to a discussion as to whether a representative model is the right one and this was no exception. I am not sure that we reached a consensus apart from saying that we all felt that representation needs to change and allow experts and activists in specific areas to be more directly involved and that democratic forms need to adjust to accommodate this
  • When talking about representatives we (rather jargonistically) talked about the need for active listening from politicians – how do help them listen to a wider group of people but also acknowledge and communicate the fact that they have heard back to the citizens.
  • We also talked about the value of effective face to face meetings and the need to build more of these into the process (very DemSoc this is so I was pleased it found its way in without me saying it)
  • And finally – we all agreed that we need to find ways of getting homogenous communities to speak to people outside of their group – and the get people talking at the decision making unit level where they can start to trade off their own compromises. In social capital we need to think how to create bridging capital as people tend to be better at creating bonding capital themselves

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:

  • We need to start the conversation around local democratic reform – need to think about how to do this
  • Representatives need tools to help them listen and react and these need to use new technologies if they are going to be effective
  • There is a danger in supporting hyperlocal growth online if we don’t also think of ways to connect these communities into a bigger democratic whole
  • Bringing people together physically can be the most effective way of moving debate forward

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!

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  2. Nick Keane

    October 10, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Thank you for the write up of CityCamp, London. I could was able to attend on Saturday and I can only echo your comments on the quality of the event and the thanks due to Dominic, Carrie and team.

    I’d like to say something about the gender balance. I was aware of the issue being raised during the saturday and did a quick audit of the Policing 2.0 event which I’m organising for the 18th and then went “phew!” Six speakers in the morning session evenly balanced; including yourself, there is Cat Drew, Head of Neighbourhood Policing and Neighbourhood Activism from the Home Office and Amanda Neylon, Head of e communications from the Metropolitan Police (@amandaneylon). In afternoon workshops Julia Burns and Kate Buckland, Public Relations Officers with Sussex Police, Christine Smith (@sc2221) – web manager and so much more from Sussex Police and Natalie Proffitt, New Media Manager from Leicestershire Police (@natalieproffitt). I have to say that while Natalie is leading a Google Tools workshop – during CityCamp on Saturday I was following her use of twitter and other social media tools as part of the policing response to the English Defence League demonstration and it was excellent – so much so I’ll be asking her to present on that at a future event. There is the remarkable Lauren Currie (@redjotter) from MyPolice, sadly without her partner Sarah Drummond (@rufflemuffin). Finally Tiffany St James who is just brilliant(@tiffanystjames) is my social reporter.

    Two reasons for saying this

    Obviously great candidates for your list.

    Secondly (and the reason I went phew) and as the person organising the event, all speakers/workshop leads were chosen on the basis of content not gender. I was looking for great case studies and (in the morning sessions) people who could speak about policy. Both genders are doing great and innovative work in digital and social media, there is no reason for gender imbalance when organising or presenting at events.

    Talk soon


    • curiouscatherine

      October 11, 2010 at 8:31 am

      Nick – thank you – I should have mentioned your event as another exception – and I know you have been thinking about this. Will add your suggestions to the list which seems to have got a life of its own already! See you next week – C.

  3. Sharon O'Dea

    October 11, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Great blog, Catherine. Just to pick up on the point about gender balance: this event was better than most in this regard, but still not quite there (started off very male-dominated on Friday, but recovered towards the end with the lovely Nathalie and Anne McCrossan).

    Carrie Bishop wrote a great blogpost a while back on this issue which includes some suggestions for addressing this. Here:

    On a related note, a few of us have an irregular, informal gathering of women working in the gov webby sphere where we talk about these kinds of issues. Drop me a line if you fancy coming along.

    • curiouscatherine

      October 17, 2010 at 2:31 pm

      Thanks Sharon – Have now got Carrie’s post and will definitely include this in the mix when I put some ideas together on this – have been away again this week but want to try and put some more work into this the week after.

      I would love to be included in your irregular gathering – will DM you for details – thank you!

  4. Carla

    October 11, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Great to meet you on Saturday and interesting to read your round up. There’s definitely a fair few of us now in the ‘ideas are easy’ camp. Definitely interested in a Brighton city camp, and on the theme of balance, ways to include families and digital widows/widowers would be great.



    • curiouscatherine

      October 17, 2010 at 2:29 pm

      Ditto Carla – very good to meet you and hope you got home in time – I just managed it!!

      I think the idea of doing something with partners/families at the Brighton event is a brilliant one – especially since Brighton has so much accessible stuff to do so we will do our very best to bring that into the mix (and soon as planning is rushing ahead already).

      Am doing a session at Policing 2.0 tomorrow and will make sure that I don’t fall into my own ideas are easy trap…

      Spk soon I hope, C.

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  6. fred6368

    October 12, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Great post Catherine, and, after 13 years of trying to link new tech & politics, I found it a really inspiring event. You asked for responses;
    *Start the conversation around local democratic reform – need to think about how to do this;
    This needs to have a focus on how to shift from representative to an inclusive participative democracy. Co-creating education, community responsive curricula, neighbourhood budgetting, co-creation of services.
    *Representatives need new technology tools to help them listen and react ;
    Tools and skills, and new CPD to reveal the collaborative affordances of new tools, which also enable peer-to-peer development across councils.
    *Supporting hyperlocal growth needs to connect communities into a bigger democratic whole;
    Make the ‘trusted intermediaries’ who grow out of hyperlocal activities recognised spokespeople and build local gov structures out of hyperlocal actions.
    *Bringing people together physically can be the most effective way of moving debate forward
    The conversational model of government! Let’s build structures out of conversations; Digital Agora, social media & citizen journalism as part of local government.
    Exciting times I think
    Hope this helps

    • curiouscatherine

      October 17, 2010 at 2:33 pm

      Definitely helps Fred – thank you

      I think the starting point for me is what you say about the need to create this conversational form of government that has space for these new kinds of representative structures. We’re trying something along these lines with some Democratic Society ideas so will try and blog when this is further along

      Good to meet you


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