Weeknotes S02 E21 — UKGovCamp XtraLoud

Bigger isn’t always better, but in-person events rule

Neil Lawrence
4 min readJan 22, 2024

This week saw a long-awaited return to in-person GovCamp. Although I’d signed up for the online events during the COVID years I’d found it difficult to immerse myself in them and get the same level of engagement. They also lacked the vital #HugCamp opportunities.

This time round I was on the company ticket as Placecube was one of the (many many) sponsors of the event. So that changed the dynamics slightly, but frankly spending a Saturday with interesting and inspiring people you can imagine this wasn’t a hardship (to quote Oliva Coleman).


There were many changes this year. The departure of Amanda from being Event Goddess (replaced by the more than capable Imran), a new venue (the swanky Leonardo Royal London St Paul’s), double the quota of tickets (a huge 500 attendees) and a farewell to the unconference pitch in favour of a 25/10 crowdsourcing technique

For me these didn’t land as well as I’d hoped.

I absolutely applaud the intent to enable more people to attend, and to change the way the unconference agenda is put together to accommodate this (and to help neurodiverse people engage more easily), but the end result for me was just an overwhelming noise. The new venue also amplified this as we were two floors below ground level with hard surfaces everywhere. For someone at the early stages of hearing loss this just alienated me.

I know pitching is time-consuming, but you got a little more context behind each session idea in the allotted pitch time with an idea of what was coming in the day overall. Peering at the small cards on the pitch board (after a quick run to get my glasses) didn’t get me as enthused about them.

And I SO missed the traditional Ministry of Justice venue. It had an intimacy but also space to breathe. So maybe bigger isn’t better, for me at least.


Despite my misgivings the sessions themselves were much as they’ve always been; interested and interesting people offering great incites and enthusiasm, with the occasional miss. And despite the increased attendees none of my sessions felt too crowded.

I loved Chloe and Jaye’s session on Digital ID which was way more than I’d expected. They’ve landed a fascinating contract with the Scottish government and displayed a real passion for this area. The attendees had loads to offer on the subject from lots of different backgrounds. I ended up catching up with them both for a CorridorCamp chat which was one of the best of the day for me.

A small things/big impact discussion was fun for some one-liners about successes.

I indulged myself by going to Eleanor’s session on content where I felt I had more to contribute than other sessions having managed a content team, and my good friend L was there to share her recent experiences with a content migration. We shared the dangers of content designers becoming the Word Police/accessibility enforcers rather than solving problems for organisations.

This year I left far more sessions than I have in previous years. The session on Digital Marketplace was really just another of those procurement discussions with (mostly) suppliers talking about how hard stuff is. Didn’t get much out of that. That also applied to the session on the replacement for GDS Digital Academy which felt more like a verbal organisation chart for people that have worked in GDS. Likewise the session on procuring based on open source and user needs (where the pitcher didn’t turn up) felt more like just the pros and cons of buying off the shelf.

I have to admit I was really flagging by 4pm and desperate for the bar/food to be served. Having an open bar wasn’t something I’d encountered outside of a wedding so that end of day beer(s) was truly welcomed!


I thought it would be harder spotting people I knew to reunite but actually it wasn’t hard at all, and it was great to see old faces. Due to the lag since the last GovCamp I have to explain a move to Dorset AND one to the private sector.

Amanda’s fashion chic is as sparkling as her personality

I didn’t think we’d get so many conversations at our suppliers stand, but some of these were the most in-depth, interested and interesting I’ve had. I learned all about personal data in the NHS and steps to combine with care data, one I hope we manage to follow up on. I even gave Julia from Oxford Insights a 3 min briefing on the structure of local government!

The ‘tribe’ thing is often spoken in relation to this meetup and I really believe that. Navigating a friend attending for the first time through the myriad of faces to chat to a few brilliant people paid dividends for her I think, and it was great to see her making her own connections. This is the life blood of the digital community.

To and from

Ironically, despite having moved to Dorset since the last in-person GovCamp I ended up travelling there and back from Oxford, partly to accommodate a visit to my in-laws but mostly to take advantage of the better (and faster) trains. This experience did amplify my desire to move back to somewhere on a main train line rather than continuing to cope with the Dorchester cattle trains I usually have to go on.

I misjudged the time to leave (although it may have had more to do with the fine company and sambucas) so didn’t get out of London until gone 9pm — the latest I’ve ever stayed after a GovCamp!



Neil Lawrence

Product Owner with Placecube. Local Gov survivor. All views are my own. This is a Format #2 blog (https://www.usethehumanvoice.com/formats/)