Banish the January blues – be brave and get talking

Last week was book-ended for me by two outstanding events that break the mould and provide fresh perspectives on the job I do. Both were broadly about “digital”, but neither event focused on tools or platforms.

Dare Conference mini

First, on what some would have us believe was the most depressing day of the year 1 I headed to Sadler’s Wells Theatre in North London for the Dare Conference mini, described as “people skills for digital workers”. I’d heard nothing but praise about the event held last September and I wanted to find out what was so great about it.

Closing panel at Dare Conference mini January 2014

Closing panel at Dare Conference mini January 2014

Excellent speakers offered a mix of deep personal insight and practical examples that help any of us working in digital to learn, get better at what we do, and set up collaborative working cultures. I chatted to people from different backgrounds, professional roles and countries, but we all shared a desire to learn and be open. Themes we explored included:

  • The value of learning from others’ experiences, through mentoring, coaching and giving our own time and experience too
  • Being brave – doing things that sometimes make us feel uncomfortable, but which stretch and test us
  • Being less controlling and more collaborative
  • Organisational structures that make the most of “startup” culture
  • The value of listening and tips on creating empathy

If my main learning from REMIX back in December was to embrace disruption, my main learning from Dare was to be brave. Videos and speakers’ slides are available via the Dare Conference website or follow @DareConf – go on, be brave.


Being brave was something I tried to put into practice on Saturday, when I went to UKGovCamp for the first time. For the uninitiated, this is a free, “unconference” broadly about digital and the public sector. But not everyone is from public sector: there’s a real mix of backgrounds and perspectives, and that mix of motivations is what makes the day interesting. There’s no set agenda. Attendees decide what we want to talk about on the day, and you can wander around between (and during) sessions chatting to people. Our location was the inspiring surroundings of City Hall, on the south bank in London. Oh, and this is all organised by an outstanding team of volunteers who put a phenomenal amount of effort in.

View from City Hall at UKGovCamp. Photographer: David J Pearson, some rights reserved

View from City Hall at UKGovCamp. Photographer: David J Pearson, some rights reserved

My aim was to make a contribution – be active, rather than passive – so although this was my first time, I pitched a session on creativity, and spoke up in the sessions I attended. My colleague John Sheridan also pitched a session on Good Law (and gave out free copies of the Interpretation Act 1978 – a masterstroke!) 2. It was daunting running a session (especially when I was new, especially when I was first up…) but I’m glad I did it.

There must have been 40 sessions in all – four slots of 10 running concurrently – so you only ever scratch the surface of what happens. But the great thing is that many of the sessions were accompanied by live blogging, video and photos (and, of course, tweeting – search on #ukgc14) so even if you weren’t there, you can follow or catch up.

Discussions I contributed to were: the value of and techniques for user research; women in technology; and the massive and thorny issue of the future of digital in the public sector.

There was no overall narrative for the day, which in a sense makes it difficult to draw a conclusion. But what I valued most of all was simply the chance to meet and learn from other people who I otherwise would not have met. There are a lot of hidden gems in terms of digital talent in the public sector, not just those with the loudest voices in the most obvious places, but many people quietly making a difference in amazing ways. If we can learn from each others’ successes and mistakes, then that will go a long way to improving the services we all offer. If you’re interested in public policy, digital, data, service design, good law, people or tech, I really urge you to be brave, get behind this event next year and help to drive it forward.


UKGovCamp attendee introducing herself with other attendees in background. Photographer: David J Pearson, some rights reserved

UKGovCamp attendee introducing herself with other attendees in background. Photographer: David J Pearson, some rights reserved



  1. 1. Highly debatable. But if in doubt, here are some tips to beat the blues
  2. 2. We’ll both be posting summaries of our talks soon – you’ll be able to access them through the sessions page:

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