GovCamp is an annual gathering of people who work within digital areas of government. GovCamp 2013 was just one day this year (as opposed to the usual two), but this didn’t hamper the buzzing atmosphere and high enthusiasm of the attendees. I’m taking an outcomes stance, identifying five key trends since 2012 and five challenges for the next year. These are by no means exhaustive but will hopefully capture some of the GovCamp goodness.

UK GovCamp 2013

Five examples of some continuing trends from last year

1) The continued move towards self service models
Self service (people using digital methods to find government and council information) isn’t a new idea, but the transition towards it and the conversations prompted by it present some interesting possibilities. By ensuring that end users can easily access the information needed is a key focus of the GOV.UK site. Age UK was also widely cited at GovCamp as a nice example of an organisation presenting users with varied and useful content.

2) Recognising the importance of digital inclusion and acting on it
Linked to point 1 is recognising the importance of ‘assisted digital’ (as mentioned in The Government Digital Strategy) which is becoming increasingly pertinent within the Digital by Default agenda. Charities and government organisations are working to improve digital literacy across the UK and this will continue to be an important consideration. Related to this will be ensuring that innovation takes place both within and outside of the digital realm in order for government to have the widest reach.

3) Utilising data available and opening this up for public use
The continued open data movement and use of data at the local level has opened the door to some exciting citizen-centric digital initiatives. Ranging from reporting fly-tipping online to gaining real-time police data, the possibilities seem endless. Some councils, like the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, have even launched apps to help people report community health and safety issues.

4) Working with young and up and coming digital talent
Getting digital on the agenda and on the minds of young people is increasingly important. At Delib, we’ve in past hosted young hackers for the day who managed to build a real-time bus app in a day. Organisations like Apps for Good are working to help young people see a future in digital careers. Young talent can bring a breath of fresh air to government digital initiatives, and it will be increasingly important to include them.

5) Continuing to recognise the importance of conversations and not broadcasts
It’s become clear that social media is about conversations with individuals and community groups and not broadcasting to the masses. Social media, used well can be a powerful tool for engagement as well as educating people about how government works.

Five continued challenges for 2013-14

1) The role of digital teams to enable and lead other departments
We need to escape the ‘I’m not technical, go ask X’ mentality and instead create strong digital teams that can assist and influence staff and other teams across government organisations.

2) Being able to show real value in digital under the Digital by Default agenda
Linked to the role of strong digital teams is the opportunity to evaluate digital as a tool for adding value. Measuring the ROI of digital initiatives, online engagement and social media usage is of critical importance. A fellow GovCamper said it best, that it’s about ‘being able to turn tweets into pounds’.

3) Ensuring digital has a social side and is customer focused
The key question we must ask when moving services online is ‘where is the customer?’ or as one attendee put it, we must ‘socialise the operation rather than operationalise the social’. People mustn’t go from a friendly voice on the phone to a cold and impersonal website. One GovCamper spoke about how user-centric the GOV.UK site is, and how refreshing this is. Let’s hope this drive continues.

4) Recognising and utilising existing communication channels
Whilst digital is exciting and by nature produces a wealth of new ways of working, we must remember that existing communication channels do exist, and still work. The old way is not always a bad way, and unnecessarily reinventing the wheel can be costly, both in time and money. This will be increasingly important with regards to my previous point about working with young talent who may not understand that existing practice is based on years of sound experience.

5) The opportunity for a change of thinking around deliverance
Deliverance around digital projects has traditionally focused on ‘what will I get?’ and ‘when will I get it?’. In a discussion around Agile development methods, the question around being able to measure deliverance against user testing was posed. One attendee pointed out that ‘currently you either deliver on time or you deliver all of the functionality – you can’t do both’. Government digital teams must improve on this in order to gain the best of all worlds.

Delib GovCampers (from L to R): Ben Fowkes, Rowena Farr and Karl Orsborn

GovCamp 2013 was awesome – just as I expected it to be! I’m already looking forward to next year, and being able to look back on how far we’ve come from now.