Attending UK Gov Camp 2019

Last weekend I attended UK Gov Camp. It was a long day but so full of interesting things that I will be thinking about it and drawing on the energy from it for months to come.

This was my 4th Gov Camp, and probably the one where I felt most comfortable. That’s all because of the fact that I knew people this time (well, ‘ohh, I know you from Twitter’ knew them, anyhow.)

Most of this article is taken from my post about the day on Medium. There’s more personal thoughts over there. The bits below are around the sessions and Gov Camp in general that are useful to share within the team and across the council.

The sessions

Gov Camp is an unconference and built around short pitches made by attendees. There were five session slots and a multitude of rooms and sessions for each one. I went to four sessions over the day. There was more than enough choice (too much choice in some cases!) to keep me entertained throughout the day. You can find all the sessions and notes online.

Below are my own session notes and thoughts. I’ve also included links to the actual session notes, which might make a bit more sense. I would also strongly recommend checking out the session grid to see what other sessions went on as I’m sure there is something for everyone there!

Session one: Making time and space to think better

I wanted to go to this session by Graham as I’m a big believer in making time to reflect and think about what we do. I don’t always manage to do it (rarely do, even) but we all should. This session was about making sure that we have the time and space for ourselves within our working time. There was a few good proposals for helping to make this happen:

  • Block out calendar time in advance
  • Only schedule 45 minute meetings to avoid back-to-back meetings. Set out objectives and don’t go to things you don’t need to.
  • Have the conversation with your manager/your team about having thinking time. You need to do this in order to see the larger picture.
  • Respect other people’s time.
  • Have planning time together (One example was getting your team to run sessions like ‘Things to fix in 2019’ and have it stuck on the wall for inspiration)
  • Have team members complete the ‘User manual for me’ to share how you work best with the wider team. Two versions of this online: ‘A user manual for me‘ and ‘Manual of me‘.

I got a lot out of this session and I’ll be thinking about how to do some of the suggestions. I think it’s worth more contemplation at the very least, and that ‘manual of me’ will be coming soon!

Session two: Weeknotes

This was the session Jenny and I pitched to get the Weeknotes gang together and to share our experiences with others interested in the concept.


Lots of interest in Weeknotes! (Photo credit: Sam Villis)

The session itself was packed, which was really overwhelming! There was however a LOT of support in the room, including brilliant contributions from @jukesieDan Barrett and so many other weeknoters.

Jenny Vass was a brilliant facilitator, encouraging everyone to have the chance to talk. I learnt so much just watching how she managed the room!

We had a list of questions by the end of it that Sam has now written up in a great write up of the session.

I was too busy talking and listening to really make a lot of notes in this session. One thing I did write down was around using your Weeknotes to hold yourself to account. In this sense it’s about stating what you are doing, but using that statement to make sure you do go and do it!

I also made a few notes on questions that James Arthur Cattell mentioned being asked in their team stand-ups via Slack:

  • How do you feel?
  • Where are you today?
  • What have you done since the last stand up?
  • What are you doing today?

For teams that work remotely I think this is a really nice way to catch everyone up quickly and find out more about what everyone is dong and feeling. I get the impression it helps people touch base with everyone and lets things tick over more smoothly. I’d love to try it and hear more about how this works in practice.

Session three: Coffee break

My personal coffee camp. I took this session off to de-compress a little and get ready for the afternoon sessions.

Session four: Bookcamp!

An annual favourite for me is #bookcamp with Louise Cato! Gather round a table and share your favourite read of the last year! What could be more inspiring? Louise has already created a list of all the books we discussed and there are quite a few I am keen to get my hands on!

Even though I read very little last year, I loved listening to people talk about so enthusiastically about the books they loved. It’s a personal insight into somebody and as a (normally) avid reader, fills me with happiness that books are able to bring strangers together!

Session five: Introduction to user story mapping

I was really looking forward to this session after the pitch for it as it’s something we don’t currently do a lot of in our team but that I think would really help us to deliver things more quickly than currently happens. As the final session of the day, it was good to do something interactive as well.

The first task was to write out (one item per post-it) everything we do from waking up to leaving the house in the morning. There was a lot of frantic scribbling as everyone had just five minutes to do this. After this, we got together in groups and stuck our post-it notes onto the wall in groups of related tasks (for example most of us turned the alarm off first).

Post-it notes on the walls!

It was quickly noted that there was a difference between those with kids and those without, so perhaps we might need two groups for the tasks. We didn’t get as far as doing this, but it was something to consider. We then grouped the tasks under headings to give more order to the story. For example we had things like ‘orient self’, ‘caring for others’, ‘basic dressing’ and so on.

We were then told to imagine we had just 15 minutes to get out of the house. We had to decide what we would still have to do in this situation. This produces a constraint that forces discussions around prioritisation. This is such a simple way to explain how to map a story and prioritise. It really clicked with me.

I think this would be a really good activity to try in our team. Perhaps we could map out how we deal with emails coming into the inbox, or how we approach writing a piece of content. This could then help us prioritise our working as a team. Once we understand how it works, we can start to apply it to wider project work, such as delivering on a new online service.

To wrap up

Gov Camp is awesome. You should try and go.

I really had a great time and it’s left me full of excitement and enthusiasm for what’s happening in digital in the public service.

Thank you to all the volunteers who shared their time and energy to run the day. Thank you to all the sponsors for helping make an event possible.

And last but by no means least, huge thanks to everyone who went and made the day so full of energy and enthusiasm, showing that the public service really can be a rewarding and brilliant place to work.

Other posts to read on Gov Camp

So many wonderful posts are appearing on Gov Camp. Here are a few more not already mentioned that you should read if you want to get a feel on how the day is:

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