GovCampCymru 2016: my day

Man and a woman looking at each and laughing
Photo by Nigel Bishop used under a creative commons licence. https://flic.kr/p/MAjfma

GovCampCymru 2016 took place last Saturday (24 September – ahem – 23 September) at the Pierhead Building on Cardiff Bay. Because of my advanced age I usually can’t spend a moment at the Bay without stopping people and saying “I remember when all this wasn’t here”. Luckily GovCampCymru was so engaging that I didn’t really start lamenting the loss of the Red House until the post event drinks at World of Boats.

This is how it went for me.

Actually before that. Let me just say The Pierhead (I remember when ABP was based there you know) is a great venue. We were so lucky to have the support of  Adam Price AM in making this event happen. Also massive kudos to National Assembly events and security staff. I was involved in a very small way in helping to organise and I really can’t praise the friendliness and helpfulness of all the staff I worked with highly enough.

(Get on with it)

There were 20 sessions and I could only get to four.

This is what I found.

Jargon.

The first session I went to was run by Barod CIC. They were demonstrating their jargon challenge. I had 2 minutes to explain to a (very friendly) panel what I did for a living. If any of the panel heard some jargon they would buzz me. Too many buzzes and I would fail. Luckily I passed (with no buzzes may I (smugly) add) and won a rosette.

Even so I was conscious that I was editing how I would normally describe my work and this sparked, for me, a really interesting conversation around jargon and accessibility which then roamed into questions of how disabled people are represented in the media.

Now I’m a communications specialist so I could discuss jargon, its origins and how to tackle it till the cows come home. What was distinctive about this discussion was we were talking about the consequences of jargon. Excluding people and disempowering them. These are important issues that I think we spend too little time thinking or talking about.

If Barod has a fan club I want to join it.

Crossing the border.

The next session I had pitched. It was not well defined. It was based on my lifelong fascination with borders.
You see I grew up in Hereford, which is about 15 miles from the Welsh border. We had bilingual phone boxes and got our water from Dwr Cymru. In fact our water comes quite literally, from Wales, down the Wye which returns to the principality after its brief sojourn in our county. After living and working in mid Wales (including Hay on Wye which actually is the border) and Shropshire (more borderland) I’m back in the fair land (it’s the gift of God you know).

I wanted to talk about ways in which public services can be responsive to the way people live and work, often on either side of the border. (For a couple of examples Hereford County Hospital serves patients in both England and Wales, the main train connections from Hereford to, well, a lot of places we might want to get to, are run through Wales and the Borders a franchise shortly to be handed to the Assembly).

I wasn’t (and am not) saying there is a problem but I am interested in how well we are managing the governance around these “border effects”.

Some other people felt this was a subject worth talking about. We heard that policy makers have been thinking about some of these issues. There are issues around legislation to try to ensure that border effects can be identified and dealt with. And it was pointed out that petitions to the Assembly are not restricted to Welsh residents so border counties could petition the Assembly if they felt legislation might affect them. And of course Welsh communities have MPs who could represent their interests if the House of Commons passes English legislation that may affect them (though the question of the role that Welsh (and Scottish) MPs should play in English legislation is somewhat vexed of course).

For me the most interesting point in this conversation was the suggestion that this is not an exclusive (or even primarily) England/Wales issue. Maybe this is just what happens when you draw borders around areas. We heard from a charity working with people in need of social care support that moving between local authorities in Wales can cause real problems for individuals (as, for example, councils disagree about which of them is liable for the funding). Apparently Scotland is tackling this issue by, amongst other approaches, creating a pooled budget so local authorities can focus on the need not the budget. That sounds really interesting (though the cynic in me wonders how easy it will be to manage the overall spend on that budget).

This felt to me like the start of a conversation. If devolution progresses in England (which is by no means certain) it would be really helpful to bake in governance for border communities. Though we probably won’t of course.

Considering open data and future generations.

After lunch I went to a session pitched by Angharad Owen. Well it was more of a joint session. We are both core team members of ODI-Cardiff: the Open Data Institute community in Wales and we wanted to explore what people though ODI-Cardiff should focus on. We also wanted to explore what we see as the opportunities Open Data offers to the implementation of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

This was a pleasingly well attended session with a whole bunch of people with different skills and experience. We talked a bit about Open Data and the legislation. I won’t detain you with that here.

The key take aways for me were.

Someone needs to “sell” open data to individuals across organisations in Wales. I think that’s probably a job for ODI-Cardiff. We’d love to hear from people who want to help.
Soon public service boards will be publishing statements showing their approach to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. These will be based on data. The data is unlikely to be opened. So, in the consultation phase, we have an opportunity to talk to people about why opening data (which they’ve already been using) would help them and the communities they serve.

I’m really excited by this. If you are too and you’d like to get involved with the Open Data Community in Wales please join our Slack team.

Am I sustainable?

The final session was a pitch on how we can build sustainable (in terms of sustainable development as well as viable) enterprises in Wales. This was exactly the sort of pitch I really like at govcamps. Essentially we had someone thinking through the next phase for her social enterprise and she invited us to think through some of those issues with her.

We talked about the challenge of balancing the need to focus on your social mission with the need to pay the rent and feed the cat (or the kids). We talked about trading vs grant funding and the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches. We talked about ethical approaches and how to think through ethical issues in advance.

I really got a lot out of this session (even if I did, perhaps, spend too much time talking about the Standby Task Force).

One question that it raised for me is the issue of being a “sustainable” enterprise. One thing I always say to people thinking about going freelance or setting up small businesses is that one of the key factors is you will never be sure you are going to be paid next month (well maybe next month but in six months maybe not).

This is a fact of life for trading organisations. It’s not a bad thing. It concentrates the mind and encourages innovation (or perhaps more accurately destroys businesses that don’t sell what the market will buy). This is fine. But it’s not what most people would call “sustainable”.

There is a role in our society for organisations that are sustainable, that will be here next year and in ten years, that can hold our assets and our heritage. In Wales there is still a reasonable consensus that that is a key role for the state (that consensus has broken down in England).

I think the consensus in Wales has it right on this one.

I’m firmly committed to the principles of participation and self-organisation that lie at the heart of govcamps.

One day all public sector gatherings will be like GovCampCymru.