This week I went to the Government ICT conference at the QEII Centre in London.
And then I left.
To my credit I did get through to lunch, I did network with some other LocalGov types and I did talk to some suppliers. So I did all the things you’re meant to do. Except get anything much out of it.
There were some top speakers; Iain Patterson (GDS) doing the keynote, and Adam Cooper (GDS) talking about GOV.Verify. Also a talk from Staffordshire about working in partnership to create a joint mobile app (that doesn’t work on all platforms, but let’s just leave that there).
But I hated it. I hated how it made me feel and how it made me act.
However, I had some good advice on how to cope from friends…
…and also a challenge or two…
While I won’t assume to tell a conference organiser how to make money I will take the Richard Barton challenge!
So let’s assume for a moment that conferences are organised for attendees (naive I know, but bear with me) and draw up a set of User Stories to test the conventional conference (represented by GovICT) against the unconference (represented by UKGCX). We’ll give each a score just for the hell of it.
“As a conference attendee, I need to feel inspired and motivated by what I hear so that I do something positive with it afterwards”
GovICT: 5/10 UKGCX: 10/10
After an hour my motivation for GovICT was to get through the rest of the day (partial fail). In writing this I feel I am doing something positive at least. So there’s that..
I did feel excited about GOV.Verify. The breadth and scope of what is being planned is way beyond my expectations, and the team has done an amazing job to sign up 1m people already. So a 5/10 for that
After UKGCX I spent three days straight telling people about it. I’m still talking about it now.
I wrote a blog about it and set myself some action points in it. I followed up with emails to new contacts before they contacted me. I was inspired and motivated. I still am.
“As a conference attendee I need to participate fully in my experience so that I get the most out of it”
GovICT: 2/10 UKGCX: 10/10
For GovICT I got to sit and listen to three presentations in a row. Like being at the cinema really, except you didn’t get to choose the film, and there were no explosions.
The keynote and first session speakers from GDS were really good but in the end it was being talked at rather than to. I consumed rather than contributed.
Then I got to choose which supplier-based lecture I sat through (from a choice of 5 per session). I can’t claim it was really the experience I was looking for, however.
The session lasted an hour, with 5 mins for questions at the end. It was all about servers and technology, with lots of acronyms that make those in the know feel comfortable. We did get asked if it hadn’t been the session we had expected (I put my hand up, but there was no follow through).
At UKGCX you got to make your own conference experience. Choose the five sessions you want to go to. If one isn’t working for you, step out and find another. Skip a session and make your own space for thinking, relaxing or conversation. Total freedom. Total control. My experience, my responsibility.
Better still, if no one is organising a session you want to be in, you can run one yourself by pitching it to others. Unconferencing is a real game changer. I find it difficult to explain to people who haven’t experienced it as it sounds a bit ‘free love and kaftans’ but it just works.
“As a conference attendee I need to meet new people to create new opportunities and appreciate other approaches to working”
GovICT: 4/10 UKGCX: 10/10
So in both cases I met people I knew as I walked in. That was great.
For GovICT I met two people that knew me but we hadn’t spoken before. We had a good chat for a while (amongst the noise). I also met some suppliers. There were lots of those. They were keen to meet me too, I think.
But UKGCX was another experience altogether. While conferences exist to promote networking as one of their advantages, unconferences are networks that happen spontaneously and creatively, not through allocated periods of interaction (“off you go and network now”).
“As a conference attendee I need to feel welcome and relaxed so that I enjoy my experience”
GovICT: 5/10 UKGCX: 10/10
There were a lot of very nice staff on hand at GovICT; signing me in, handing me my event documents, serving me food and drinks. All with very nice smiles.
At UKGCX I got warm smiles, handshakes, hellos and great conversation. And a hug (I like hugs). No one paid them to do that. I don’t think they did…
At both events I met people I knew, either in person or virtually. At UKGCX I felt relaxed enough to come out of my shell, interact more and talk to new people I didn’t know.
At GovICT it was loud and crowded, with few places to sit or quiet places to retreat to. The venue was geared around suppliers, so wherever you stood you were right next to a stand with a batch of eager salespeople. I found myself reverting to type and withdrawing. A kind of low confidence muscle-memory took over. My phone was my sanctuary. I was bored.
“As a conference attendee I need to see a panel session that is diverse so that I won’t think tech is dominated by white, middle aged men”
GovICT: 3/10 UKGCX:10/10
“As a conference organiser I need to make money so I can put on more conferences”
GovICT: 9/10 UKGCX: 6/10
Both events were scored down a little here as they failed to charge their attendees any entrance fee. Some useful learning could be gained from Capita-based events, which cheerfully wave aside any concerns about austerity and reduced training budgets in the public sector.
UKGCX did manage to accumulate £17k through sponsorship, but they just haven’t quite gotten the hang of this making money lark as they’re planning on giving it away through seed funding for other camps throughout the year. Well, that’s where free love and kaftans will get you I guess…
The auspicious venue for GovICT would suggest that spending money was certainly not an issue. And the lunch. I suspect the sheer number of suppliers ensured for a healthy income for Partnership Media Group (trading as GovNet Communications), and that’s no bad thing. Good luck to them.