This morning I read the latest from WeLoveLocalGov, a post on Conferencing.

It’s a mighty peculiar way of developing your staff but local authorities are reluctant to not attend the conferences.

After all what if something is missed?

And more importantly how else will this good practice get spread and learning take place?

I think I was musing about what I’d do for my dissertation when I first hunted for conversations about the internet, public services and democracy. I’m pretty sure that’s how I stumbled upon Liz Azyan’s Twitterati.

A little knowledge is definitely a dangerous thing.

Without that little bit of knowledge the last 18 months would have looked quite different. I’m once again reminded of my good fortune in coming across the digital community of people who are passionate about the nature of public services and the shape of democracy. They’re a diverse bunch who think and scheme but, crucially, they’re also doing and teaching; collaborating and sharing.

And my experience from that suggests that a lot of what you’d achieve by paying to attend a conference can take place at your desk (although, as I have never been to a paid conference I can’t present a balanced judgement, you’ll have to account for my bias).

So, 4 things about which I could wax lyrical but for now I’ll try to be brief.

Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice probably exist across different professions but for the public sector LGID’s platform is very effective at supporting different groups of people with blogs, forums and wikis. It has lots of useful information held within it and in evolving into the Knowledge Hub it sounds like it will become an even more powerful tool for the public sector.


Twitter is powerful, really powerful, when it comes to sharing information and building knowledge. It’s a melting pot of ideas and discussions. You can throw out a question and get a response, make a request and someone can meet it, ask for advice and have plenty offered.

It’s also a wonderful means for connecting with people in a very gradual way. You can find out who they really are and that makes for far less fear when it comes to the dreaded networking (if you don’t like that sort of thing).

I’ve had regular interaction with a lot of people who I’ve met in real life less than 3 times. And many of those have contributed massively to my learning and development.

There’s clearly something about these digital relationships because they have a nasty habit of breaking into the real world. It can happen quite informally but sometimes they also take place with more purpose. Outwardly they might look like conferences – lots of people together in one place around a common theme. On the inside, an unconference is a very different beast.

LocalGovCamp Yorkshire & Humber Programme
'The Programme' by London Looks (@ingridk)

They’re free, paid for by sponsors who are given profile but don’t get wall to wall dominance of subject matter, sessions or planning. And that’s because the breadth and variety of content is dictated and contributed by those who attend. Sponsors get the chance to show their wares, there may be polished presentations from people who feature at expensive conferences but they’re just as likely to be juxtaposed next to discussions kicked off by ‘nobodies’ who have a question and want to get to the bottom of it.

But it’s impossible to listen to everything and capture everything. And we return to WeLoveLocalGov’s question – we have to attend because what happens if we miss something? And how do we disseminate what’s learnt afterwards?

It’s all very well for discussions and presentations to happen in person and face to face. It’s great that we can share tweets about ideas and questions. It’s great to see conversations taking place on the Communities of Practice that are kicked off by someone blogging about it. But there’s a danger it gets stuck in conversations or kept in a walled garden. Often it does break out into the real world, and when it does, that’s how we can help to make sure it doesn’t get missed and that good practice is shared.


That’s the fourth thing.

I am so impressed by the government focused blogosphere.  They put their thoughts online so it’s all findable. They’re enabling us to join the dots, to see both trees and wood and to take their work as inspiration for our own activity. They share their slides, their notes, their pictures, their videos, their ideas and as they distill issues and suggest solutions they kick off great discussions and debates.

And eating up the good stuff people write is important.

The thing is that I know I’m just consuming the efforts of others. In fact, making sure knowledge is captured, brilliance shared and questions asked is a responsibility for us all. It falls to those who go to events, it falls to those with ideas, it falls to those with stories to tell and it also falls to those who lurk and jealously watch the bright lights of activity waiting to half-inch them and put them into play.

I can say that I’m good with 75% of this post. But I want to write more. Because it can pull these individual parts together. When I read WeLoveLocalGov’s post it might have been guilt that drove me to write because I knew I’d failed to do so since UKGovCamp, and the sessions I went to are worth writing about.

Time to start contributing.

About Benjamin Welby

Hi, I'm Benjamin Welby. I'm a displaced northerner currently living in Croydon, I church with a group of Christians who meet in a Soho nightclub on Wednesdays and I support Bradford City. I've an academic background in History, Politics and International Development. I work for the Government Digital Service but I left my heart in local government. This blog is infrequently updated and may feature any, all or none of these things...