In the wake of Friday’s successful HyperWM event for local government in the West Midlands, I was involved in yet another exchange on Twitter about the people who are not allowed to attend such events because their managers don’t see them as legitimate. I’ve written about this before, here, because I think that free, self-organised, events must have an increasingly important role to play in staff development, as finances get ever tighter. But, as some of the stories from HyperWM 2011 show, there are still people who are prevented from attending such opportunities. Part of the discussion about this suggested that one officer had been specifically stopped from attending because he was unable to prove any “identifiable outcomes” from the event. Leaving aside the almost impossible nature of this task, it shows what those of us who believe in such events are up against.
Personally, I think that anyone who has actually attended a localgovcamp-type event cannot fail to be persuaded of its benefits. But, the problem is, there are still many more people who have not attended one than have. So, I have an idea, which might help more people get experience of such activities and, hopefully, then become evangelists for the approach,
I’d like to find a public sector organisation, probably a local authority, prepared to organise its own internal unconference, just for its own staff. It could even be done within the one department. My idea is that the event would be open only to the staff of that organisation, and that what happens there would be shared only to others in the organisation, via Yammer and the staff intranet. Hopefully, this would provide an environment where people could safely experiment with the format, and put out ideas they might be tentative about sharing in a more widely open forum.
I have a slight twist to the format which might help in embedding the approach. If organisers are feeling brave enough, there could be a mid-afternoon session of, say, half an hour, when participants decide what elements of discussions they want to share with the wider world. There could then be a closing plenary during which views are solicited from outsiders, via twitter and other forms of social media. This could serve to build confidence in the good ideas raised, and ensure the non-valid ideas are able to “fail fast”.
Is there an organisation out there prepared to experiment with this approach? I am confident it would create a sizeable cohort of unconference evangelists within the institution, and offer a model for wider adoption.