What do public sector cuts mean for staff development and good practice sharing?

I had a conversation this morning with someone who runs conferences and events aimed at the public sector. This person is very worried about his business because it appears likely that the spending cuts looming will have a dramatic effect on the ability of public organisations to afford to send delegates to conferences and training events.

This led me to wonder if the “unconference” will now come into its own as a mechanism for staff development and best practice sharing among public organisations.
Social Media Unconference, Sheffield 10th February 2010

During the past couple of years, I have been part of a number of really good “unconference”-type events, the most recent being the Social Media in Education Podcamp, held at Doncaster College on June 30th, Self-organised, semi-unstructured events are becoming increasingly popular as vehicles for getting people together, and, in the public sector, there is a growing movement of “GovCamps” and “localgovcamps”.

Basically, unconferences, are self-curated events at which the participants set the agenda at the beginning of the day, and people volunteer to run sessions on their specialist subjects. They might be called unconferences, but could also be called:

  • barcamps; or
  • open spaces
  • To date, they have mainly been organised by enthusiastic individuals, particularly around technology or social media-focused agendas.

    Perhaps it is time for the unconference to move out of the shadows and into the mainstream as a major force in public sector staff development and the sharing of good practice.

    7 thoughts on “What do public sector cuts mean for staff development and good practice sharing?

    1. I agree, I’ve tried the OST model as a way of engaging our students’ union council in broad strategic issues about the Union – it was a great success, especially as the participants felt so involved in the debate and process. My thoughts on my involvement in some “unconference” style events in the past (#wxwm and #mdot) have led me to seek ways of developing them into new arenas. Huge cuts make staff development more important not less, finding cost effective means of delivery is critical.

    2. You have no idea how much I love this idea. I really do loathe going to traditional conferences usually around Finance, Shared Services or Gov IT – rather dry subjects at the best of times!

      I crave for the unconference.

      But then again, I’m not your ‘normal civil servant’ (if there really is one?). The norm seems to be cautious. Need an agenda, need to know what my staff are doing, how do I know it’s value for money? (as staff will be out the office). What sort of people will be there? Do we need press office clearance? Etc etc.

      I’m not wanting to sound over the top here, but those were just some of the questions I faced when I went to Govcamp and the monthly Teacamps.

      There needs to be a whole mindset change here, and with looming budget cuts, job losses and staff moral in jeopardy these are very uncertain times for staff and managers. Will they be open to such an idea?

      I know I am, but I don’t speak for everyone!

    3. As Heather Brooke says in The Silent State “Other people’s money is remarkably easy to spend.” And, judging by the frequency of the invitations I get as a councillor, some council staff and councillors have been happy to spend it on conferences!

      I stopped going to them years ago when I discovered that hardly anyone ‘confers’; that the expensive ‘key-note’ speakers rarely had anything to say.

      The prices are often outrageous and the venues absurdly plush. Especially, it seems, when discussing topics like homelessness and poverty.

      Of course people do need to come together to exchange ideas and knowledge. And I’m not saying they must meet in a bus shelter and bring sandwiches.

      Nor do I dismiss the skills and hard work of people who organise successful conferences where genuine sharing and learning takes place.

      But there’s a lot of scope to save money. For example, I’ve suggested co-operation between nearby London boroughs – swapping skills and using each other’s often excellent local facilities.

      The conference ‘industry’ is feeling a chill wind? It will quickly rethink its ‘products’. Expect PDFs in your inbox advertising “How To Make Cuts” – a £500 bash in a fancy hotel. The cleverer operators will be reading this blog and offering new-style cut-price events with the words ‘boot’ and ‘camp’ in the title.

    4. NLC have ceased all travel unless it can be sourced from an external funding pot (like there are lots of those around).
      I agree with Alan Stanton – 90% of the conferences/seminars are a waste of time and just a revenue source for the organisers. Then again, that 10% are VERY productive – networking, stealing ideas….you know what I mean.
      My biggest gripe is that nearly all the events are in London. Just had an invite to Britain’s Digital Future, starring Stephen Carter. Great speakers – O2, Google, Lord himself….. The cost is £190, but it’s in London, so double that to include the travel costs.
      Why not Sheffield? Leeds? Manchester? Do they think we don’t have electricity?

      Off for a weekend in Rothbury now…seriously!

    5. Pingback: Affordable Training in an Era of Public Austerity | John Popham's Random Musings

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