Conference -> Unconference

Localgovcamp London on 4 March was one of the first “unconferences” that entered the mainstream of events, being held mid-week with about 150 attendees.

Unconferences are events where the agenda is not pre-planned, many sessions run side-by-side, and everyone contributes. More about structuring unconferences on the IDeA blog.

Why me?
A few months after the Birmingham localgovcamp, when I had begun my working relationship with my own local authority (London Borough of Haringey), I suggested we support an event for local authorities and social media. I mentioned on the localgovcamp google groups there was no localgovcamp for London planned yet, and from them on I was thought of as the person who would organise it (I think this is called JFDI culture).

We (Ingrid from the IDeA and I) set the date on the 1 December, so had 3 months to prepare. Because #localgovcamp had a good amount of followers from the previous events, and because tickets were free, the initial 150 tickets got booked up quickly. I used eventbrite for the bookings, which is free to use for free events.

No traditional publicity
This event was not publicised in any traditional way. The hashtag #localgovcamp on twitter created enough interest and awareness. Furthermore, the IDeA mentioned it in their monthly newsletter.

Separate website
I posted about the London event at but then decided that there was a lot more information than I had space for on that site, so Dave Briggs helped me get a separate site hosted by the Learning Pool ( where I put all the event details. I would have wanted to have integration from eventbrite so I would have been able to embed small business cards on the Attendee page. As it was, I manually posted a list of local authorities we would have in attendance. I had lots of help with the site from my friend Grant up in Doncaster, and Paul Irvine who was going to attend but had manflu on the day. (thanks to both of them!)

Welcome to the Unconference – photo by Arun Marsh

All the sponsors who ended up supporting Localgovcamp contacted me to offer assistance. I had worked out 3 sponsorship packages:

  • £250 buys drinks at the afterparty at Canal125 – your logo displayed on website and documentation, opportunity to display publicity material near the sign-in area
  • £500 towards catering at the event – vertical pop-up display banner in the exhibition area in the main room, plus your logo displayed on website and documentation
  • £1000 towards documenting this event – your own table/stand in the exhibition area in the main room, plus your logo displayed prominently on website and in the entrance area, as well as in the documentation.

I raised £3,400 in sponsorship, including afterparty drinks and food.

Huddle workspace
We had a workspace on the co-working platform Huddle available to discuss sessions in the run-up to the event. The space had 114 members and 25 discussions on the day of the event. (It would really help if eventbrite talked to huddle, so new attendees get added to the workspace automatically.)

E-mail reminders
I sent out 6 weekly e-mails with a number of reminders about the event.

Setting the agenda – photo by Arun Marsh

On the day
For the opening of the event and the setting of the agenda, there were about 100 attendees present.

After a few opening words by me, everyone was asked to give a short introduction – their name, where they are from (whatever that meant to them) and one word that characterised their presence on the day. This took about 10 minutes, and then we opened the floor for session ideas.

Ideas were shouted out, there was a show of hands to gauge interest as the break-out spaces varied widely in size, then the presenter posted them on the agenda with post-it notes.

After this, everyone made up their own agenda according to their interests.

Half the agenda

There were 3 45-minute sessions before, and 3 45-minute sessions after lunch. Every attendee took full responsibility for their own schedule. The time was enough to get to know people, add their input to any of the subjects.

Social Media community
The most interesting part of this event, and strangely apt as its theme was how local authorities use social media, is how all the attendees keep in touch after the event. The hashtag is a key element in facilitating this, both on twitter, flickr and all other channels. I am working with a start-up called OnePage which aims to offer this service to events – streaming of real-time content, follow-up on contacts made, having all ones details in one place. This is the site they built for us – practically on the day of the event: Localgovcamp Onepage

Blog posts:
“Sometimes, not enough information is just the right amount.” by Mark Corbin (I love the fact that I’m mentioned in the same post as Charlie Brooker)
We’re all Rockstars by Ingrid Koehler
Localgovcamp London by Dave Briggs
Localgovcamp London 2010 by Michelle Ide-Smith
Localgovcamp by Max St John from NixonMcInnes, one of the sponsors

Flickr Pics:

There were a few factors which played in our favour:

1. localgovcamp is an established series of events, starting with Birmingham last June.

2. the IDeA had a budget to run an event about how local governments use new technology to communicate.

3. Following on from that, the IDeA also provided an admin person to deal with financial transactions, making it easy to deal with cash sponsorships (Thanks Charlotte!)

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