That’s a fair description of BarCampUKGovweb (although I guess the easy doesn’t apply if you organised – hats off to Jeremy, Emma and co.).

My way of describing BarCamp is that it is a conference without the interminable self-promoting presentations.  It is self-organising to the extent that the agenda can and does change right the way through the day and more time is spent discussing and networking than listening to people tell you things you could have read if they’d been bothered to share it online.

More information about BarCampUKGovweb is on PageFlakes.

I want to use this post to make a few comments about the day and to move the conversation forward.  This is needed because the one frustration I felt about the day was that everytime the discussion was coming round to solutions and actions someone would pop their head around the door and say

lunch/coffee/next session was being served.

Point One:  Government is not homogenous.  Not every politician is only interested in getting re-elected. Not every civil servant wishes to avoid risk and the public.  Some are making great efforts to get their departments using the internet.  Not all civil servants want to create a barrier, a them and us, but some find it difficult not to.  In fact after a day of complete informality and mixing between civil servants and others there was an announcement that one team at least would go away, consider what they’d heard and report back to the group.  And there was another who said they would set up a wiki and invite the private sector in to help be part of an ‘education programme’ about the internet and social media to senior managers in their department.

Point two:  I still don’t get the CoI’s Web Rationalisation strategy.  I sat and listened to the arguments for it, I studied the colourful diagram that sets out something, I tried to be open-minded about it.  As far as I could tell it was about making it easier for people to find things on govt websites and for the information to be better presented.  The CoI’s solution seems to be to rationalise all the existing sites and prevent the creation of new sites.  The majority will be subsumed by DirectGov and BusinessLink.  Why can’t some simple things submitting site maps to Google and providing better guidelines on readability be applied to new and old sites alike.  This would allow for innovation to continue within Govt rather than rely on it occuring outside.  The point was made that Govt is not good at innovation.  Is making innovation more difficult the best way to go about getting more of it?

What made the web rationalisation discussion even more pertinent was that it came straight after Nigel and Simon’s show and tell about how WordPress makes content innovation infinitely more easy than it ever has been by taking out the need for lengthy IT procurement and consideration.

Point Three: We’re not looking for a big idea.  One of the last sessions of the day was led by Michelle Lyons from the Ministry of Justice about how to build the capacity and skills within Govt to use social media.  For me this was the most important session of the day.  How can we expect the right strategy to be approved, to have the right funding, to have the right culture of communication unless the people in decision-making positions better understand how the internet is transforming communication for the world.  Projects like Cllr2.0 will help at the local level and if Justin can pull off the ‘education programme’ then at least some positive action will be happening.

Finally, the best part of the day was to meet some old friends from this area and to meet some new ones like: Feargal Hogan, Dave Briggs, Tim Davies, Simon Dickson, Nigel Dunn, Jeremy Gould, Ed Venning, Alex Butler, Emma Mulqueeny, David Hamilton, Nick Keane, Tom Steinberg, Ivo Gormley, Paul Caplan, Nick Booth, Rob McKinnon, Richard Pope, Jack Thurston, David Osimo & Michelle Lyons.

1 Comment

Simon Dickson · 30th January 2008 at 9:34 am

You’re spot-on about the Web Rationalisation session – and that’s what I was trying to tease out, with my follow-up questions. I don’t disagree with the need to rationalise: things were getting stupid. (And two is a nice target to work to, although I bet we’ll end up closer to 200.) But you’re right: a commitment to Google Sitemaps, and even something as basic as RSS would allow us to join thing up much, much better. Of course, if you’re on WordPress, you’ve got one covered instantly, and the other is just a plugin away… 🙂

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