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Ben Cooper
Jan. 20, 2019

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Ok… I admit… when my alarm went off at stupid o’clock this morning, a large part of me did think “F*** OFF!”. After resisting the urge to launch my phone across my bedroom and go back to sleep, before I knew it, I was up and on the way to London for my first ever UKGovCamp.

Jo, Difrent’s awesome Marketing Analyst, wrote a blog following last year’s camp which I had read, and I’d looked at UKGovCamp’s twitter and website, but I really didn’t know what to expect!

After meeting the rest of team Difrent, a hefty Starbucks order and some stand set up, the day kicked off in an amazing fashion with Amanda and the other organisers (who are all legends by the way). It quickly became apparent that today wasn’t going to be anything like I’d expected.

Fun isn’t necessarily the first word that springs to mind when you talk about your usual tech meetups/events, certainly not some that I’ve attended in the past anyway. UKGovCamp however, cannot be put into the same category. Perhaps most shocking to me from the outset was the energy and enthusiasm from all attendees: everyone seemed genuinely excited to be there (bearing in mind everyone there had given up their Saturday when it’s still totally acceptable to be in your post-Christmas sulk, spending your weekends eating the mountains of leftover cheese and chocolate).

After some pretty spectacular dancing, introductions, an overview of the day and of course health and safety (can’t be forgetting that hey Amanda!), UKGovCamp had officially begun.

Following this, there was a very moving tribute celebrating the life of David Pearson. I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting David, but his impact on all who knew him was clear to see. It was an incredibly moving moment and a fantastic mark of respect for someone that gave so much to UkGovCamp and the UK Public Sector as a whole.

After the introductions to #ukgc19 were over, it was time for pitching!

I’d been told about the infamous pitching beforehand, and on reflection, this is probably my one regret for the day. I WISH I’D HAVE PITCHED!

It’s worth saying, though, that for someone from a non-tech background like myself it can be a daunting prospect getting up in front of some of the UK’s top technology talent and suggesting a topic of conversation! I realised as the day went on however, that there is absolutely no prejudice or judgement from anyone within this community, and there was support in abundance for all pitchers. Safe to say, I will be pitching next year. I promise!

There were some really interesting topics raised in the pitching, too many good ones in fact! A big shout-out to the guys at Convivio for their awesome online schedule, which allowed us all to navigate our way through the various sessions successfully. Great work! As many campers agreed, deciding which of the sessions to attend proved the biggest challenge! Amongst all of the day’s other goings on, I managed to get along to two sessions.

The first session was titled “Hiring the unusual to do the uncertain”, held by Glyn Jones of the Cabinet Office. During this session we discussed the various challenges faced when building up a currently small digital team, to tackle a large, complex problem. Navigating the various public sector frameworks, dealing with varying/changing budgets and defining the scope of often fairly ambiguous projects poses some serious challenges. However, at the end of the session, I think we all felt better prepared than ever to tackle these challenges head-on.

The second session was “diversity and inclusion, issues and blockers” held by Vanessa Montgomery Williams of DXW. This talk was extremely thought-provoking and began with a collective brainstorm on some of the current issues and blockers to diversity and inclusion that campers had experienced.We highlighted some of the most common issues and began dissecting these issues in greater detail. This session left me feeling not only more aware of certain issues I perhaps had not considered before but also committed to changing habits and behaviours in this area within my environment. We all have a collective responsibility to look after our colleagues and ensure our working environments cater to everyone’s needs, and all campers involved in Vanessa’s session will make sure this happens.

Despite facing some of the biggest challenges in the tech world, everyone’s genuine commitment and drive to make public services better was truly inspiring. It was also refreshing to hear that irrespective of our experiences, current organisation, sector, projects, environment etc., everyone could relate to the topics discussed and almost all of us face similar challenges. It’s not often you get to hear about problems faced by others outside of your own ‘four walls’, and it can be easy to feel a bit like “SHIT, maybe it’s just me?”. It really isn’t, and there’s no better forum to discuss and knowledge share than UKGC. It reaffirms why communities like this are so important, particularly in the public sector and I took an awful lot away from both sessions.

Five newly displayed MacBook stickers (look at me being all techy and that), three flat whites, four sandwiches, two great sessions, lots of new connections and thirteen hours later, I seriously could not be more delighted to have been a part of today. UKGovCamp really is a unique community and to be able to call myself part of it fills me with pride. One of the main reasons that I joined Difrent was down to Rach and the team’s commitment to affecting real change in the public sector, being able to work with clients and on projects that focus on ‘public good’. These values are shared by everyone that I met today. I’ve come away feeling genuinely excited for the future and knowing that this bunch are around, the future of UK public services is in safe hands. You could not find a more passionate, committed and talented group of people to inspire change and guide our sector forwards.

I want to say on behalf of team Difrent, a huge thank you to all of the organisers, volunteers and sponsors who are responsible for making today such a great occasion. I am already excited for the next camp, and I’m really looking forward to catching up with my new UKGC friends in the not too distant future.

Have a great weekend all!

Ben

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Written by Ben Cooper- Difrent Sales Development Manager
@bcooper_tech

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