UK GovCamp 2012 in review

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UK GovCamp 2012 official logo
As mentioned on Thursday, Friday was the 5th UK GovCamp and the biggest yet.

The day started well (with free t-shirts and lots of tea/coffee & biscuits), and even 260 people introducing themselves to the room was kept on schedule. You can see the agenda agreed on Flickr courtesy of David Pearson.
There was a definite social media theme (managing it, measuring ROI, best practices, safety, custom internal social networks etc), but also sessions covering a huge variety of topics, both practical and theoretical.

How my day went:

Session 1 – The EU Cookie Directive (led by Peter McClymont)

This ran the expected course – no one had any new “solutions”, but we talked through some of the finer points of the ICO guidance and elaborated on their rather thin description to help those not yet up to speed. I’m in the lucky position to only be working on sites over which we have full access/control, but many people have to rely on external suppliers which makes it all more complicated. The take home was that it is really essential to perform a cookie audit and document those used on your site. Even if you are still working out how to comply with the directive, you must at least do this to show you are trying to comply.

Session 2 – Measuring ROI of Social Media (led by ?)

This is a topic that will be increasingly important as social media is embraced by companies/organisations, especially in times when budgets are shrinking.

  • While ROI traditionally looks at financial-input:financial-output, that is not necessarily the measure of success. You may be using social media specifically to build brand awareness, or for customer care/brand management.
  • Social media should not be viewed in isolation. It is just one method of communication, and each have their own demographic bias.
  • Their are many tools to measure social media ROI/impact. However these introduce their own bias. Social media is no different to anything else, if you do not understand why you are measuring it or what you should be measuring, tools will not help you.
  • In line with the previous point, don’t get carried away with Likes / Followers, they mean nothing unless they are impacting your business. (Although see point about brand awareness)

Lunch –

  • Chat with Dan Sheerer & Tim Dobson from Bytemark about life, the Pirate Party, OSS and more.
  • Beginners WordPress (led by Simon Dickson). Interesting to hear a few more advanced details of how DEFRA are using WordPress and the challenges they’ve faced.

Session 3 – Serious Games & Citizen Engagement (led by ?)

This was a topic I knew nothing about, and so was absolutely fascinating. The principle is to turn a situation / process into a “game” (a serious one, not trivialising the subject) to make it more accessible and engaging (Wiki description).

  • Gamification can help people learn, engage, understand, decide
  • Established technique in local Gov internationally
  • The development / style is very location and situation specific
  • Some acts can be gamified, others don’t suit it but can be turned into highly visual & interactive activities to get a similar boost in engagement
  • Most will deal with a fixed environment and modification of a few fixed variables. Some will be more open ended and allow creative solutions, but higher development cost
  • Hard to get causal / quantitive data from games designed to educate
  • Careful design can mean even if a user plays to lose then they can be engaged / taught
  • Games can be used to introduce a new normative / baseline. This can then allow changes to be introduced with less conflict
  • Can border on unethical / manipulation

Session 4 – Digital by Default (led by Stefan Czerniawski)

This was another topic I didn’t know much about that focussed on Local Government communications, and the problems in both defining Martha Lane Fox’s phrase “Digital by Default” and delivering a first class citizen approach to all users in a transitional period for comms.

  • A bad online experience will drive up analog comms, do it right or not at all
  • Predicting needs and providing for them minimises contact saving resources
  • Joined up management / departments is the only way to deliver the best experience. Eg contact centre tell web team what questions they always get so can be added to FAQ
  • Look at whole user journeys, then can remove inefficiency. Some councils re-opening drop-in centres as users were wasting time over phone / email getting a bad experience – also saves council money over the whole customer journey.
  • This topic has a lot of interest – there were ~25 people in a meeting room designed for 6! Very friendly and very warm..

Session 5 – WordPress Nightmares (led by Harry Metcalfe)

  • At the least test plugin updates on a demo server before deploying
  • Even better download, unzip, diff to see changes, security audit. Only use plugins from trusted devs
  • Even better than that – just build your own
  • If using off the shelf ones, at least wait after release – sheer volume of users of WordPress plugins means likely any problems will show up quickly!
  • WordPress core development cycle with multiple beta + RCs means lots of time for testing before upgrades necessary
  • Varnish is a web caching layer, very good but quite complex to write config files

Session 6 (bonus) – The state of GDS / Beta Gov (by Mike Bracken)

This was a great insight into progress with and Mike seemed genuine with all his thanks to the attendees for being the ones fighting at ground level for change within Gov. I really thing things are moving in the right direction with – finally a online service the nation can be proud of, and lots of changes since the Alpha.

Wrap Up

It was a really great day, and I certainly learnt a lot. Travelling into London wasn’t even that bad, despite the early start, and let me watch The Ipcress File for the first time in years. My opinion was, and the consensus seemed to be, that Microsoft were impeccable hosts (even if they did put the toilets outside the security zone..!) and took the jokes with good humour.

A few links to other attendees’ UK GovCamp 2012 write-ups: