I suspect this post will alienate a big chunk of my regular readers. I’m not going to apologise for that. So, if you’re sitting comfortably, pre-packaged outrage in hand, I shall begin…
I’d like to formally introduce you all to ‘Camp Camp’. It’s the latest in a long-line of public sector events and aimed at people who want to best use social media to set-up and attend huge numbers of events in their spare time, where roughly the same topics will be covered by largely the same people…Meta, right?
For my non-public sector followers, ‘Camp’ is the commonly applied term used to describe an Unconference-style event. People, mainly in the spheres of IT and Communications, gather together to discuss how new technology and social media can be used to best benefit a particular service area. Unconferences are largely unstructured events, sans agendas and totally driven by the topics that participants want to cover.
I’m joking about Camp Camp, of course, I have no intention of creating a Camp about the organising of Camps. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else was though.
I did help organise BlueLightCamp in April of this year and had great fun (on the whole) doing it, but it’s left me with a weird feeling ever since. You see, despite it’s lofty aims, you know what the camp I spent a massive amount of time organising actually achieved? Nothing at all! There is nothing that exists now that I can say came into being because I helped organise that camp. The level and standard of engagement by Blue Light Organisations is no better or worse than it was before we started. This makes me decidedly uncomfortable. Why? Because a lot of people gave up their time on a Sunday, a lot of Sponsors paid a lot of money and no one has anything really to show for it. Sure, we all made some new friends, but is that something that should be measured as a Return on Investment?
Return on Investment, ROI, now there’s a concept not regularly applied to Public Sector Unconferences, but it damn well should be! It should be, because I strongly suspect BlueLightCamp isn’t the only Camp that would struggle to demonstrate any form of Return on attendees Investment in terms of time and money.
The ‘Camp Scene’ is fast approaching critical mass, the bubble WILL eventually burst and, unless serious thought is given to things like Outcomes, a lot of great people will become disillusioned with the principles of Unconferences.
So…what am I asking?
It’s simple really, if you are organising a Camp I need to know you’re confident there is a need for that event. A real NEED, not just a spurious one that you can justify in your own mind. If you want me to attend your Camp, I don’t need an agenda, I do need to see something come about as a return on such a huge collective Investment. My time is very precious to me.
Don’t let my words put you off. If you are planning to attend your first Camp, I hope you enjoy it and find it useful. Broadly-speaking, I believe Unconferences are a valuable tool, I just don’t see them as an end in themselves. Always ask yourself this though: what has the event changed for me?
My top tip is: If you are are at a Camp with people like Dan Slee, Andy Mabbett, Mike Rawlins et al, spend time with them, they are truly lovely and brilliant people you can learn from. I have learnt a lot from them…but I could have done that without attending Umconferences as they are so generous with their time.
If you’re approached to sponsor an event like this, it’s reasonable and right to expect stated desired Outcomes that are a bit more robust than ‘sharing good practice’ and ‘meeting new people’. You would demand a damn-sight more if you were asked to invest in anything else.
**Update 21 October 2012**
Well this has certainly provoked some interesting responses from people, as the comments below give a flavour of. In the last few days I have been told that I am right, wrong, brave, a coward, short-sighted, insightful and, my personal favourite: that I have betrayed and annoyed a lot of people. I am not sure that there is greater compliment as a writer than provoking such varied and intense responses from readers.
The thing that has surprised me most is this is nothing new, the issues that I raise, have been raised before. Here’s a post by Simon Gray that yoiu might find interesting: Challenge and groupthink amongst the #localgovweb community…
Interesting isn’t it? That was written over a year ago now and what’s changed? Really…What has changed? I’m sure when Simon wrote that it prompted the same sort of responses that this post did. A lot of people probably wrote some rather self-congratulatory posts about Camps and Uncons and nothing changed. The problem with cliques is that they will work hard, when needed, to maintain the status quo when it is threatened. Ask yourself this, who does the status quo is actually benefit?
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and…
You know the drill, if you don’t like these thoughts, stick around, I have plenty of others.