This first post-#IsleGC12 post has a simple aim: to think back to what I hoped #IsleGC12 might be, and reflect on the extent to which I now think it fulfilled that hope.
Apart from my thoughts and impressions, there is a mass of actual data following #IsleGC12 - tweets, blog posts, email, feedback questionnaire material, and other things - most of it produced and drawn together by other participants in #IsleGC12. This deserves detailed and careful analysis and consideration; another post with links to the work on this that others have already started will appear soon. Over the coming weeks to play my part in this effort, I promise (against my nature!) to force myself to step back from the many other exciting things happening at the moment - some of them directly made possible or inspired by my participation in #IsleGC12 - and to make sure I reflect and contribute to this effort, so that the #IsleGC12 experience is shared in a form that might be useful to others in the future.
During the 4 weeks or so since participants started arriving in Kirkwall for #IsleGC12, and we all started detailed preparations for how the event was going to organise itself, the thoughts and impressions about what it all means have been coming thick and fast. I think this is due to my relative inexperience with the unconference format, so my wonder and delight at the positive, self-organised, collaborative approach is strong - and perhaps even more keenly felt because I was learning about it at home in Orkney in (for once) glorious weather! In short, there is so much blog posts material available on so many aspects of #IsleGC12 that I may never need to think of another topic for years!
So what did I hope #IsleGC12 might be? I thought At one level, I took completely at face value that a govcamp will be what it will be, that the right people to be there are the people who are there, and that willing participants will organise themselves to make sure that the discussions and activities at the event are valuable and engaging. I'd previously attended only 2 events calling themselves govcamps (both in Scotland).The first - scotgovcamp2 (held in Aberdeen in September 2011, and arranged by individuals working in the public sector in, and sponsored by Learning Pool and others) - seemed to me to be a brilliant example of interactive collaboration, positively engaging people from a wide range of perspectives, and focussing on pragmatically helping to make progress on issues of importance chosen by those present. The discussion and debate around the merits and flaws of the second - GovCamp Scotland (held in Edinburgh in November 2011, arranged and sponsored by a consortium including Microsoft, the Scottish Government, Cisco, Sopra Group and others) - helped me understand that there is probably a rich variety of govcamp events, forming a spectrum with something very close to a purely social occasion at one end, and something even closer to a traditional conference at the other.
The original idea for #IslandGovCamp was literally an ironic joke (this is a weakness of mine!): it struck me in Aberdeen last September that if there can be UKGovCamp and a scotgovcamp, why couldn't there be an OrkneyGovCamp? After all, every year in Orkney a huge number of community-organised events are staged - from the serious and world-class such as the St Magnus International Festival (the 35th of which is just getting underway as I write) and the Orkney Folk Festival, to the locally focussed such as Stromness Shopping Week, the Westray Regatta and the Orkney District SCDA Festival of One-Act Plays. I will blog in the future about the fantastic social and (non-digital) technical infrastructure that has evolved in Orkney over the last 30 years, which has led (I believe) to Orkney being one of the most agile and flexible communities in the UK when it comes to facilitating events large or small - as long as everyone can afford the time and the plane fare to get here! A govcamp struck me as being - in essence - an Orkney festival, without the necessity of booking any artistes, with only 1 venue, and the running order for which would be organised by those attending. That did not seem a daunting prospect for someone like me to arrange!
As I waited on the ferry in Aberdeen, the day after scotgovcamp2, I started to think about which weekend, in the crowded Orkney events calendar, could possibly accommodate something new. Orkney has a population of around 20,000, only a certain (quite small) number of people, venues, bed & breakfast providers, ferry & plane tickets and so on are available on any given day! At the very least, any #IslandGovCamp would need to avoid the dozen or so biggest events each year. But hang on - who on earth would even be interested in attending a govcamp about Orkney? Maybe it would be better to expand the scope a bit. Which existing model should I pick, to suggest the expanded scope for my theoretical event? Several options (some of which I've been personally involved in establishing) sprang to mind: the Scottish Islands ICT Forum, established in 2006 to facilitate collaboration between ICT professionals within Scotland's 3 island authorities (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Orkney and Shetland); the Pathfinder North partnership of councils in the Highlands and Islands area, which came together under the leadership of The Highland Council to specify and procure symmetric uncontended broadband links to all local authority sites in the Highlands and Islands area; the Scottish Region of Socitm, which provides a "safe space" for all public sector and third sector web and ICT people to share experience and provide mutual support; the (now defunct) Glow Mentors network, providing support to teachers in all schools in Scotland in the take up and use of the Glow intranet - the list is endless. In the end, the name #IslandGovCamp came into my head, and I realised that what might distinguish this (still theoretical) event should be that it would look at all the same stuff as other govcamps, but from an island perspective, and in an island setting.
Then (still waiting for the ferry to depart from Aberdeen to Kirkwall) I had an idea about how to have a bit more (still theoretical) fun with the concept: I created a twitter account and started spamming everyone I thought might be amused with an ironic consultation exercise: *If* there were to be an IslandGovCamp event in Orkney in 2012, which month would you like it to be held in? My vote was for September, to coincide with the Orkney International Science Festival (it would have been a wonderful synergistic fit!), but within hours there was an overwhelming consensus (led by Mary McKenna, of Learning Pool) that the event (which would never happen, I was fairly sure of it) should happen when there was a chance of seeing puffins in Orkney. I'd be lying if (at that stage) I really knew when that is, in any detail, but what was clear was that there was an appetite for the event to an extent I never imagined possible, so I started to downplay any notion of it ever coming to be. How, after all, could it?
I will blog (another promised future post) another time about the detail of how this ridiculous idea turned gradually into #IsleGC12, 25-27 May in Orkney (and on the internet). Suffice to say, that a number of different factors all combined in the right way to make it possible. Also, 3 or 4 individuals encouraged and supported the idea (and me) in practical (and psychological) ways that I will always be grateful for. Many others were enthusiastic about taking part, and that is the real reason why it happened, of course - like any other govcamp or unconference (or, in the end, like any other event, perhaps - discuss!).
It has long been said that THE. MOST. IMPORTANT. issue for islands is transport. Moving people and things into and out of a community surrounded by water is much more expensive, time-consuming and complicated than moving people and things in and out of (most) communities which are not so surrounded. Since the earliest days of hype around pervasive digital communications, Orkney has attempted to use digital technology to provide options (in certain circumstances) other than physically travelling from one place to another: this started (I claim) around 1990, with BT's vision for how ISDN would transform our lives. Of course there is a long history of analogue and radio communications predating this; technologies such as broadcast radio and the telephone were developed in different ways (and in a different age) in arguably successful attempts to do the same thing (let's leave aside entirely the development of steam and the internal combustion engine, and arguments about how roads, railways, and lifeline ferry and air services should be provided to the various communities in Scotland and beyond; but, in this context, they are chapters of the same story!).
For 15 years, I (and others in the islands) have been attempting to interest organisers of events to facilitate (where appropriate) remote attendance (one shorthand for this, nowadays, is "by webex or similar") at events we cannot otherwise ever hope to attend with our peers based on the big island with Cardiff, Edinburgh and London on it. I can get "very assertive" (and not in a particularly admirable way!) on this topic, as many readers of this blog will know. Over the past year or 2, with the advent of webcasting and mainstream usage of webinars for sales and other commercial purposes, I have sent an average of 3 emails a week (to organisations such as Socitm, Holyrood Events, Headstar, NextGen Events and many, many others) in response to "invitations" to "exciting" events, politely enquiring if I can follow or participate in the event remotely. Very recently (within the last 3 or 4 months) some of these emails have received more encouraging responses than a flat rejection. (Some of these events really do look exciting, by the way - essential even - but that still doesn't mean that it is affordable to attend them from the islands!). One or 2 events (Digi 2012 and BlueLightCamp) stand out as being both brilliant, and accessible by webcast and twitter-or-similar!
When I started to think seriously about IslandGovCamp, I realised that THE. MOST. IMPORTANT. issue for islands nowadays (OK, one of the most important issues) is trying to ensure that the provision of appropriate remote attendance options for events becomes the norm, everywhere. So the main things I hoped for #IsleGC12 were that it would
- raise the profile of remote attendance as a concept,
- provide experience which might be of practical use for those (wherever they are) who are willing to offer it, and
- provide an opportunity to encourage as many people as possible, who could not travel to the venue in Orkney (for whatever reason - money, time, health & mobility issues, family commitments, etc, etc, etc - it's not all about islanders!!), to try remote attendance for themselves.
- a hope that a dozen or more people might attend in person, and that we might be able to connect 4 or 5 over the internet (in fact about 45 people attended in person at some point, and a similar number registered to attend remotely, with some other "lurking and learning" in a pleasing way)
- a vague notion that the festivals and arts organisations of Orkney could benefit from "digital"
- a desperate desire that more of the small businesses of Orkney embrace the opportunities for survival (and more) offered by digital technology, to attract local customers to the services they offer, and to increase exports from Orkney (like Ortak, Judith Glue and others already have)
- a hope that Sue Wells from New Zealand would be able to interact with those who might be interested in using social media in civil contingencies work
- that some of the discussions at BlueLightCamp might come to the attention of those in islands with an interest in resilience
We had technical problems, misunderstandings, over-ambition, fun, good discussions, a guided tour of the Orkney mainland by public transport, an undinner - even an alleged sighting of a puffin (apart from Martin Howitt's confirmed interaction with puffins, in Westray a few days later) - and many other positive things. If I had known in September that so much good stuff (and so many opporunities for getting things done, and learning) would spring from #IslandGovCamp, I would not have hesitated so long in trying to make it happen. There will be lots of further, more measured analysis to follow (to add to the great intitial blogs, feeback, analysis and action already produced by Mark Braggins, James Coltham, John Fox, Duncan McKenzie, Jan Walburg, John Popham, Chris from Wray, and others)
Some people have urged me to stop saying thank you all the time, but I seriously doubt I will ever be able to! Thank you, everyone!