I went to yesterday's UKGovCamp mainly to catch up with people I don't see enough and to stay in touch with what is happening in the Digital Gov world. I don't think I was alone. The majority of people gave the impression during the introductions that they were there to learn.
I don't think it was always like that.
My memories of the first UKGovCamp in January 2008 are of a smaller, angrier, and impatient group of people who were there to work out how to change the way Government did digital.
IIRC there were conversations about publishing content and data in a machine readable format, about government gaining a human voice, about becoming more agile (although I don't think we used that word) in procurement and development. We wanted innovation. Lots of it.
We talked about ways to get decision makers on board. We knew what had gone before wasn't good enough and we wanted to make it better. It was very exciting.
It seemed to me yesterday that the session which generated the most excitement was the last one. Mike Bracken, the GDS Digital Director, gave an overview of what he and his 180 strong team are up to. The room was packed, at least 5 people came to the front to take photographs in a mini-papping session.
One department web manager asked Mike when they should expect to turn their domains off. It was a brilliant question. Very simple but massively loaded with other issues. Prime among them being: is it worth us innovating with the imminent move to a single domain? It encapsulated something for me that has been apparent for the last 6 months. If you want to be doing cool digital stuff in government then you need to be in GDS working on BetaGov.
In 2008 it was the people participating in UKGovCamp that were doing the cool, innovative, digital things in Government. Now we are looking at others doing that innovation and wondering what impact they will have on us.
In one sense it is mission accomplished. Mike Bracken acknowledged the debt that GDS owed to GovCampers. We wanted that innovation, we helped create the environment that meant it could happen. GovCamp succeeded.
But there is a danger – it was said that in today's economic climate we can't afford to let "1,000 flowers bloom". The innovation currently being displayed at GDS means that this is not a big concern at the moment. But how about in two years or five years when those innovators move on, or a new generation of users need services. Where will the innovation come from. UKGovCamp 2017?