On Saturday 25 September, Helia Phoenix (Web Editor) and Kevin Davies (Outreach Manager) went to the Parade in Roath for Wales’s first GovCamp (GovCamp Cymru). By way of explanation, GovCamp is a gathering of people who work in the public sector to ‘discuss, create and innovate – looking at how technology, new thinking and public services can improve society’. A large remit for a day-long event.
GovCamp is also what’s described as an ‘unconference’ – which means there’s no agenda set beforehand, and no keynote speakers – people turn up and pitch what they’d like to talk about for a session, and then the sessions are assigned to different rooms, and you can go from room to room taking part in whatever sessions take your fancy.
Although the terminology used around ‘unconferences’ might put you off and make you think it’s very web based / nerdy / tech focused, actually the conversations are about very broad topics (on Saturday, they covered things like engagement, scrutiny, use of language (Welsh and plain), education, etc).
In the morning, we attended a session on ‘online democracy’ which was run by Dave McKenna, a Scrutiny Manager for Swansea Council. In Dave’s words, the session was about ‘the minutes, agendas, reports etc etc that local, devolved and national government make available through their websites. The idea was simply to start a conversation about how this stuff could be improved, who uses it, what they want and so on’.
Dave wrote up his notes about the session and came up with ‘Seven questions for government’ (but obviously they all apply to work we do at the Assembly as well).
The second session Helia went to was about ‘March Madness’, which was about budgeting and better planning of spending throughout the financial year. Helia wrote something on that session for the Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Team’s blog about the day:
If you work in a busy, high-tempo team like I do, you’re often very busy ‘doing the job’. Budgeting for the year ahead should be one of the main focuses of your work, and you should revisit that plan throughout the year, making amendments to it as you go along. But some people don’t manage it as well as they might be able to. The session was attended by individuals from local authorities and housing associations, and we discussed how money is extremely tight in the public sector at the moment, so it’s more important than ever to be pragmatic with your budgeting. The group shared some best-practice examples of how you could manage your budget.
There were two great examples that I came away with; one very simple, that anyone could achieve in their own team, and one a lot more elaborate that would require the support of your senior management.
1 – the simple solution. This came from Torfaen Council. Throughout the course of the year, this team operate by spending on business critical things, but they’ll also make a list of things they’d do if they come in with any cash at the end of the year (so upgrading their technology, perhaps buying new software, etc). Then, in February, if they find themselves with an underspend, they can use the money in that way. So they still fit into the ‘March Madness’ spending pattern, but they do it in a structured way that ensures they are using their money in the best way they can.
2 – the complex solution. Monmouth Council has a central pot of money that is used as an innovation fund. Departments that manage to save money and have an underspend at the end of the year put the money into that pot. Half is used for paying off debts, but the other half is made available for departments to pitch for. They put in ideas of projects that they wanted to run, and senior management would decide how the money was given out for those projects. This rewarded departments for good financial management, and also permitted them some freedom to try different ways of delivering their services that they might not otherwise have been able to try.
You might not be likely to persuade anyone in your organisation to do Solution 2, but Solution 1 is a really easy way of structuring spending so money is being used in the best possible way, and it’s really very easy to do. Anyone can do it.
After lunch Helia held a session posing the question ‘what’s the point of websites?’. This was a slight continuation on the session on online democracy that happened in the morning: when you’ve got a website that’s just about informing the public, do you even need a website? Can you just make do with using Facebook to communicate with your readers and then some kind of online document store (maybe like Google Documents, which is basically just an online document library)? Lots of interesting points were raised from attendees, who were from housing associations, local councils, GDS in London and also from the corporate communications team at the Welsh Government. The notes from the session are available here.
That session over ran considerably, but we did catch the last minutes of a group of people talking about the possibility of setting up an organisation like GDS in Wales. Notes from that session here
Overall, it was great to meet so many people who work in public engagement in some form (many were actually from England and had come over to see how things were done in Wales). It was also great to share best practice and see examples of work in other places that we could borrow from in improving things here.
If you’re interested you can see a full list of all the sessions that were held here on Google Docs.