Last month I travelled to  Cardiff to experience my first unconference. 

I’ve worked on, and have been involved with events for a couple of decades now. So when I joined Notbinary I was a little embarrassed that I knew so little about unconferences and certainly hadn’t attended one.  Shortly after finding out a bit more about them, the next overwhelming feeling was a tight chest and sweaty palms at the thought of an event without a programme and agreed speakers.

I quickly learnt, when I started working at Notbinary in February, one of the things we were definitely committed to was supporting a number of great community events, which over the years we’ve had strong links with.  Recently this has included SwanseaCon, HealthCamp and GovCamp Cymru. This is what encouraged me to embrace my fear and sign up to volunteer at GovCamp Cymru this year.

What is Gov Camp:

Esko Reinikainen summed up the unconference experience perfectly when he welcomed everyone to GovCamp Cymru – people need to get involved, talk-up, be mindful of all the people in the room and listen, and when you do ‘it just works’. 

It really does just work.  I heard a lot of great pitches. People simply put up their hand and get 30 seconds to pitch the session, the title gets stuck on to a session grid and once that’s done people get to browse the grid and then go to sessions that most interest them.  The person who pitched might kick things off, but for it to work, everyone needs to get involved. You don’t have to stay, if you find it’s not for you, you can move on to another session. 







There have been many highlights to volunteering at GovCamp Cymru, both before and during the event. I had a lot of fun getting to meet and work with the team at Satori Labs who organise the event and I was also really inspired by many of the delegates that I met.  I’m just sorry it was so brief. There really were a lot of super smart, interesting and really passionate people who attended and who are involved in delivering and improving services for people in Wales.

Barriers & Enablers to Co-production & Citizen Involvement
I was interested in the work of the Co-Production Network for Wales.  Noreen Blanluet, the Director, spoke eloquently about the barriers and enablers to co-production and citizen involvement. In the session I attended discussion focused around citizen led programmes being the key to delivering better public services. If things are not truly citizen led, it’s not truly co-production.  How do we capture the spirit of what people want to do and make it move along without (services) being central to it? Which led to more discussion on how public services need to be more joined up. How the work shouldn’t be to fix everything but to support in the right places and direct not control, so work it not artificially inflated by external agency, but rather allowed to have organic growth and how we need to be more honest about both success and more importantly failures.

Reaching the Homeless Population For Healthcare
I could see a lot of cross over with the co-production session and one of the last sessions I attended which was pitched by a local doctor who works in A&E, about the difficulty of reaching the homeless population.  Discussion focused on the challenges of when you don’t have an address the NHS find it impossible to deal with you, which creates a challenge to provide on-going and follow up care and overburdens A&E services. Again, discussion led to how you can’t underestimate how important it is to join up services and understand how services (like the NHS) work. How services are supposedly being improved and updated. But without user engagement natural barriers are being added so people can’t use them.  For homeless services, no drink, no drugs, no dogs will exclude people. There are a number of examples both locally and in Europe where understanding what services are really needed and wanted by the users and bringing services to where the problems are, works far more successfully.

My volunteering experience at Gov Camp Cymru reminded me how much I love an events stationary toolkit and working on a registration desk.  It’s the nicest job to be able to greet people who are all looking forward to an event where they are going to be sharing ideas and learning from other people attending, and they really were an incredibly smart, friendly and passionate bunch of people.

Over the years I’ve moved away from the hands-on event organising, this was a real reminder of how much I love being involved in events, and ultimately when it comes to (un)conference programme development your users absolutely know best.


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