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What might happen if you got 700 delegates from 43 countries into one room, organised a whole day of sessions, including yoga and Lego, and then let them all decide who they want to talk to and when?
Keep in mind that there’s no keynote speaker address and no specific agenda to adhere to. Well, you might think that the outcome would be chaos, but think again.
When the OneTeamGov organisers first set up the “Unconference” a year ago, they didn’t know quite how successful the movement would become. Now OneTeamGov is helping public sector enthusiasts and employees at all levels of government to connect with one another and reconnect citizens to the public services they receive. Some even choose to attend Unconferences in their own time and at their own expense. A kind of unholiday holiday.
In this special two-part CPI documentary podcast, with the help of our reporter Boni Sones, we unravel the Unconference Conference movement and speak to those people who are reshaping our understanding of what it means to be a public servant.
We hear stories of how new IT systems in Sweden are revolutionising the way the police connect with people in their communities, while in the Netherlands the justice system is being redesigned and in Canada, there are attempts to improve pure water systems globally.
Podcast Part One
Throughout Part One, #OneTeamGovGlobal volunteer organiser, Jenny, took us on her tour of those breakout sessions. Her day job is in the Department for Education Digital, but she volunteered to organise the volunteers and also told us how she helps run one of the centres for Crisis at Christmas. Jenny believes that by connecting with people at a grassroots level, she can improve her understanding of how to deliver government and innovate in public services.
Jenny said: “It’s not death by PowerPoint, but a very immersive and different kind of experience, really. I take part in OneTeamGov breakfasts every week, and it is where I get my inspiration and energy from.”
Kit said: “It’s grown organically without any mandate or force. We have 43 countries signed up today. It is amazing to have people here literally from all over the world. We believe people are the force for change, not technology. Technology enables us to be different, but it is up to us (humans) to harness it. If we crowdsource from within, we will be able to make government better ourselves.”
James said: “Everybody here is of the government, whether they are civil servants or contractors – they care about making public services better for the people that they serve. So by helping each person to think a little bit differently or to learn something or to feel more positive, they can feed that back into their everyday job.”
Later in Part One we meet with Hadley, Dan, Alec and Paul, who are pondering the merits of improving their own public services by sharing approaches to their work, including tree preservation. They were, of course, chilling over a coffee-table discussion.
Hadley said: “We’ve been discussing the nature of the policy profession.”
Dan said: “We’ve been looking at policy, data, problems and how to fix them.”
Alec said: “We’ve been looking at how you can deal with data in different silos, and how you can find something useful outside of websites.”
Paul said: “Blimey, I’ve been boring my friends about tree preservation orders.”
After finding the room where the AI and Econometrics sessions were taking place, we managed to ask Geoff from Canada, Lizzy from Bracknell, and Andreas from Zurich to share their discussion with us.
Geoff said: “I had a discussion of how we brand and market something as simple as Twitter handles. I am trying to penetrate countries with different languages – so in Canada, we have French and English.”
Lizzy said: “We had a discussion about working in the open using Week Notes as a blogging mechanism, so this is where civil servants publish once a week on how their working week has gone and make connections, even when you don’t work together on a daily basis.”
Andreas said: “We were discussing the four languages in Switzerland and how to bridge these languages and cultures, and Canada has some of these challenges as well.”
We end Part One with James, from DEFRA, who had been given a new pair of socks by his friends in OneTeamGov Canada, and he told us of his plans to organise more unconferences elsewhere.
James said: “I am very much for gifts that have a practical purpose, and these socks do. There was a nice session about failure that I liked. I run the UK government camp, which is similar to this but on a smaller scale. Library Camp is running a FailCamp up in Manchester next month, so this is almost like a dry run for that.”
Podcast Part Two
Part Two of Government without Borders #OneTeamGovGlobal begins with Alejandra, from the design team in the UK’s Ministry of Justice, and Janice, from the policy community initiative for Canadian public services, discussing the challenges they both face in delivering public services in the internet age while keeping in mind that services still need to be designed for the analogue age.
Alejandra said: “The big question is how we get government departments to share budgets in order to achieve a goal or collaborate on a solution in a policy space.”
Janice said: “We are working across over 24 departments to fund our initiative that will do work for all the public service, and also we’re talking about focusing on results as opposed to accountability. Where is the point of diminishing returns? How can we get the impact? How can we get things right? A prime example for us is drinking water for first nations and indigenous people in their communities that is clean and healthy. How come we can’t fix that? Why does it take so long? We are passionate about solving public service problems.”
Charlotte, a UX Designer working for the Ministry of Justice and Security in the Netherlands, told us how she is trying to make IT applications for the Dutch justice system more people-friendly. Much of the documentation is now done digitally in that department.
Charlotte said: “There are lots of people from all over the world who are trying to make things user-friendly and who are trying to share knowledge, which is very important and which is what we are trying to do.”
We then meet up with Jonas and Olaf from Sweden, both consultants, who are big fans of Unconferencing and the creativity it can unlock.
Jonas said: “I think of the Swedish police. That new approach came out of huge failures, failures with huge projects, and – as a reaction to that – creating small and agile teams and doing a lot of research, and there have been tremendous results from that.”
Olaf said: “The Swedish police. The IT side is definitely one where they got rid of a lot of projects and structures and started to fund small teams creating tools for the police, which meant they could be very alert and agile when there was a terror attack a year ago, and that was a new approach.”
We end Part Two talking to Adrian Brown and Nadine Smith from CPI, who discuss the insights and takeaways from a very unusual day, not least because while we chatted the delegates around us were sitting cross-legged or sprawled across the floor.
Nadine said: “What is incredible here today is that there is no hierarchy. All the things that we say governments are quite guilty of – lack of diversity, not working across departmental silos, being obsessed with hierarchy – none of that is happening here at #OneTeamGov. The rules are out of the window and everyone’s voice counts, and that is incredible and it shows the appetite for going into government and being like this. There is a growing movement that respects where people are coming from, and the challenge is how we take this passion, energy and drive back into government.”
Adrian said: “#OneTeamGov is all very much of a theme of government listening to people, responding to their interests and concerns and being about government for people, not governing people. Today is a representation of the genuine willingness and desire of people from all around the world to want to use their positions in government and other organisations to make things better, and that is an energy that should be unleashed and unlocked rather than hindered and boxed in, which is what I think happens today.”
At the Centre for Public Impact, we’re exploring how government can be better equipped for the future.
We’re speaking to government leaders and civil servants around the world to understand how they’re thinking about the future and shaping their organisations for the challenges ahead. And we want to hear from you too. Find out more about our Future of Government Project here.
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