So I was lucky enough to be one of the people to attend the world’s first ‘someconference‘ at Devon County Council on Friday last week, Open Space South West. Here are some pics. It was the brainchild of Carl Haggerty – who expertly brought together a rich mix of the digitally disruptive with local government folk in the resplendent surrounds of the County Hall in Exeter to talk about local government and the challenges it faces in the digital world. The reason I’m using the ‘someconference’ moniker is because it was a mix between a planned conference with speakers and an unplanned conference where everything is decided on the day, an ‘unconference’. This had some speeches – and then, later, some unplanned workshop sessions where everyone got to chew the fat. I didn’t get to stay for the whole day but there were plenty of things in my notebook – and most of them (apart from the occasional doodle) are probably worth sharing…
1). We heard from Phillippa and Simon at Refront at the beginning of the day. Based in Devon, they are a service design agency based in Taunton who have been helping government clients (among others) with digital innovation. I was struck by a couple of insights that came from their interviews with the public, asking them ‘what should digital government look like?’
- The first thing was that, perhaps quite obviously, a large number of people have absolutely no vision of what it should look like because they’ve never considered going online in this way. That can be hard to come to terms with – but it is worth bearing in mind!
- I was also interested in pretty much the first statement they meade – that it was important not necessarily for government to do stuff but to make things possible. This statement was made in relation to the local economy, but it could be applicable in many other ways.
2). Our very own Catherine Howe was next to speak. I hastily wrote down one particular quote from her which I think is quite telling… “It is easy to become attached to an idea and to pursue it past the point of reason. But it is very difficult to remain credible if you are not listening to new evidence and keeping your mind open.”
Catherine said it was essential for local government in the digital age to “do more thinking in public.” She also argued that local government needed to start to develop a digital ‘civic space’ in which people could start to develop a democratic relationship with local government.
3). I think Carrie Bishop‘s presentation was so interesting I actually stopped writing notes – nonetheless there were plenty of tweets and I was taken by her argument that we should be ‘digital by design and open by default’. As Catherine acknowledges this is subtly different to the ‘digital by default’ position that we’ve taken before. Here’s a video about that…
4). We heard form other speakers, including Justin Griggs of the National Association of Local Councils, Dave Briggs, of Kind Of Digital and Dr George Julian of Ripfa. Justin pointed out that while the rest of local government is contracting, the parish-council sector is the only that is expanding, both in numbers and in its spending. Dave gave us a very entertaining personal view on the way that local government is changing with the web – and how it has affected him. (It was so entertaining that someone noted people had stopped tweeting!) And George gave us a fascinating overview of the work that Ripfa has done. I’m guessing all three will share more of their ideas on their respective blogs, soon.
5). I was blown away by the amazing work that has happened in Cornwall, Shaped By Us, presented to us by Andrea Siodmok, who is chief designer at the Council. Just watch this little video to get an idea. I think it’s the way that those involved really spent time thinking about how they could capture people’s attention that stands out. Sometimes when we’re worrying about how to make things more open or more digital we forget that we need to do that more forcefully.
6). I was only able to attend one breakout session after lunch, entitled ‘How do we convince local communities that change is possible?’ I’m (self-evidently) not a local government person, but it was great to sit round and try to work out what might help to do that. The chat focused on some of the things local government itself must do – and included talk of better internal communication, transparency and much more (it may be something for a post). It proved, once again, how much passion there is in the sector and also that there’s plenty to do.
Picture from Devon County Council’s Open Space South West set on Flickr. (I sought permission to use this, but believe it will soon be available on a Creative Commons Licence.)