Okay, I’ll come clean. At 5.30 on Saturday morning, while sat on a train between Lincoln and Newark I had a little moment of doubt. Why. Why was I on a train, heading to London, on a Saturday, to talk about work stuff. Sure, I was going to see some of the brilliant people I’ve been keeping up with on Twitter at UK GovCamp ’10, but really, what was I going to get out of it. Halfway through the first session of the day that doubt lifted and I realised that this was probably one of the best work related events I’d been to. The agenda was fresh (narry a “What can Social Media do for me?” in sight) and the content was all relevant to the current climate of gov related web.

Here’s a run down of the sessions I attended. It’s not as detailed as some of the write ups out there but it should give you a flavour of the days discussions.

SOCITM Web Professionals

Coming from a private sector background as a web-dev, I am particularly interested in the concept of this initiative. I feel that there is a serious place in local gov for web professionals. We are all expected to implement big, big changes into both the web and general IT infrastructure, from ePetitions to GovConnect security to making our data accessible, all while trying to do our day jobs of maintaining our respective systems.

In a lot of cases (as far as I can see) there is not sufficient knowledge, particularly from the point of view of website development, in local gov to help push these systems through. This can lead to massive expenditure and delays as officers have to learn or consultants have to be brought in to develop and deploy systems.

Vicky Sargeant from SOCITM led this session to give some background on the Web Professionals initiative and take any suggestions on how to drive it forward. It is my view that this initiative needs to focus on both education from a skills and standard setting viewpoint and on promotion of existing professionals working in local gov. I would be more than happy to help out other councils in looking at their systems, suggesting changes and helping implement those changes; in a climate where we are having our budgets cut more and more, we need to be aware of the steps we can take to add value to our websites and improve the customer experience on the thrift.

I’m hoping to write more about SOCITM Web Professionals going forwards.

Data sets – creation and delivery and How can we make data more available

Two sessions here both of which have connecting concepts.

Following the launch of data.gov.uk last Thursday, there is now a subtle push from London to get local data online in a reusable, easily digestable format. These two sessions kind of bolstered that by, in the first session, discussing how that data can be created and delivered, from something as simple as hosting a XLS or CSV file on your web server, to using my preferred choice of Google Docs to convert the data into a number of useful formats (I’ve actually got a third option as of today but more on that later).

The second session was an open discussion to try and kick off a project to pull some local gov data into a standardised format by using global ID’s to allow, for example, ward data to be easily compared. As a strong supporter of open data, I am very eager to get as much of Lincoln’s data sets into an easily digestible format as possible so I’m hoping to keep up with this project. More info as it becomes available.

Council websites – making them cooler

A nifty session hosted by Liz Azyan and Martin Black from Camden council. They are currently undergoing a project to redesign the Camden website and this session pretty much took the form of a focus group looking at current council sites, how they are good, how they are bad and how they can be improved. Great discussions and some interesting ideas taken away which I won’t dwell on too much for fear of backlash! đŸ˜‰

By this point I was pretty drained after my 4am start (I’m THAT dedicated) so sat out the last session to catch up on the days tweets on my laptop. The camp ended at 5pm when we took the party to the Plumbers Arms, a pub round the corner. The beer and snacks flowed freely thanks to the sponsors and a good time was had by all.

I’ve taken a lot away from this GovCamp, probably moreso than previous ones, and I am looking forward to some of the potential projects I’m hoping to get involved in.