Isle Lights

This is the fourth in a series of posts about a recent trip to Orkney. Previous posts:

  1. Covered my visit from a personal perspective
  2. Talked about Northern BlueLightCamp; and
  3. A mini-post with an interactive Puffin-shaped word cloud

This post covers some of the Island GovCamp sessions which took place over the weekend.

Blogs and articles

I’m not the first to blog about IslandGovCamp, and James Coltham makes some really interesting points in his post: IslandGovCamp shows potential of remote attendance. Ann Priestley also covers it briefly in her May events roundup at Danegeld.

Interactive word cloud in the shape of a Puffin

There’s also good coverage in the e-government bulletin: New Island Horizons: IslandGovCamp and Holyrood: European partnership possible.


The first session I attended was an “all together”, which focused on making events work for remote attendees. It was a little ironic, as the afternoon was plagued with technical problems which affected all participants:

  • physical attendees (particularly Apple users) had difficulty connecting to the college wireless network
  • remotees experienced problems with patchy video picture quality and sound

Sean Lewis, of Magnetic North Films made heroic efforts to sort out the broadcasting issues, and Jem Taylor and Bob Brandie acted as expert on-site technical suport for those (particularly Apple users) who were having problems connecting to the guest wifi.

You can find all the mainUniversity of the Highlands and Islands footage here.

2G or not 2G

Normally, when faced with wifi issues at events, attendees revert to their own mobile connections and can access a variety of networks between them. A few carry their own portable wireless routers (products like 3’s MiFi), and many have smartphones which are capable of providing personal hotspots.

In my own case, I subscribe to Vodafone on my ‘phone and 3 on my iPad.  When on the UK mainland I can generally get a signal on one or the other, which enables me  to set-up a personal hotspot, thereby getting use out of both devices through one connection.

However, there’s no 3G coverage in Orkney, and some of the big mobile networks are barely represented. The lack of network connection for many of the physical attendees  had a knock-on effect for remote attendees, as there was less output for them to see and comment on.

Glass two-thirds full

Sweyn Hunter introduces a session at Island GovCamp
Sweyn Hunter introduces a session at Island GovCamp

It was amazing to witness the up-beat way that everyone dealt with the issues. The mood – both on-site and remote – was really positive and understanding, with people making the most of the experience. Conversations continued via whatever means possible, and were relayed via Twitter. John Fox and Kate Deans did an amazing job of keeping everyone informed via the @IslandGovCamp twitter account.

Remotees also talked directly with each other on Twitter using the #isleGC12 hashtag. In some cases, sessions were recorded and content uploaded later via Bambuser and/or the college video stream.

Here are some of the comments and questions that I noted during the session:

  • Travel and expense makes it difficult to attend events, particularly for those living in remote areas (or on islands)
  • Opportunities to make the remote experience more ‘real’ were discussed, including using virtual reality platforms like “Second Life”
  • Twitter helps remote attendees to ‘put their hand up’ to ask questions – but someone onsite needs to monitor the stream and ask questions on their behalf
  • Remote attendees can feel left out if they can’t see others’ body language. They also don’t get to eat cake (unless they provide their own).
  • Is a remote meeting more valuable and useful when it’s done with people you have already met?
  • Webinars and video conferencing facilities might help for future events (multi-user Skype video chats?)
  • Can patients in island communities have virtual meetings with consultants/GPs?
  • When remote participation is easy, more people will do it
  • Good quality sound is more important than video

#isleGC12 Twitter conversation

Pie chart showing top tweeters for #islegc12
Pie chart with most prolific  tweeters for #islegc12

I set-up a Google spreadsheet which is automatically storing all Tweets which include the #isleGC12 hashtag (up to a maximum of 1500). It also contains a couple of charts with twitter stats. Many thanks to Martin Hawksey for making it so easy to set-up. Full instructions on how to automatically store tweets in a spreadsheet can be found here.

I’m intending to do some more work looking at the Twitter content, but haven’t had time to blog about it yet. Here are a couple more example visualisations of what’s currently available in Twitter using free tools:

Pause for breath

There was then a break before the next session. Judging from comments on Twitter, I think it was a bit unclear to remote attendees what was happening at this point, and several asked what sessions were taking place, and how to follow them. The confusion didn’t last long, as Sweyn broadcast an update specifically for remotees, and left the camera recording.

The footage gives a pretty good indication of how chaotic unconferences can seem whilst:

  • sessions are pitched
  • participants try to work out which they are most interested in attending
  • less popular sessions are scrapped, combined or subsumed in to others
  • rooms are selected based on size, facilities and level of interest

Due to the amount of time the camera had been rolling, filming was switched off and I was intrigued to see a tweet from one of the remote attendees Sasha Taylor, complaining as it had helped him feel part of the group. I watched the footage again today, and I know exactly what he means – one to note for future events.

Wildlife session

The Corncrake as depicted on the RSPB web site
The Corncrake as depicted on the RSPB web site

The next session I attended was pitched by Amy May from the RSPB. Amy, who specialises in the Corncrake, is interested in how wildlife and conservation groups might use social media for promotion and education.

Most of the session was filmed in two parts, here and here.

It was a useful discussion, and suggestions came from both those in the room and those attending remotely:

That was pretty much it for this post. In my next (and hopefully last!) instalment I will cover the sessions I attended on Sunday. I will also take a look back at some of the lessons learned from this and other camps, and make some suggestions for future events.

By Mark Braggins

Walking, usually with my two ex-racing greyhounds. Interested in lots of stuff. Work: Business Development and Research at Drawnalism


  1. Thanks for the shoutout! This is a really interesting summary of issues around remote attendance, I’m sure I’ll be referring to it again.

    Looking forward to your next post on Twitter content, that’s an area I struggle with. Once you get past the metrics, what does it all mean?

    1. Hi Ann, thanks very much for leaving a comment. Yes, Twitter is tricky. I’m fascinated about how to extract and keep the valuable nuggets from it without having to manually trawl through all the tweets (I suspect we’ll never completely get away from trawling!)

  2. Another great post Mark. You definitely have the knack of summarising events in a way that makes it both interesting and a useful resource for return visits. So thanks, it obviously takes time to write and illustrate with images and links etc. but perhaps more importantly, your passion for the subject is reflected in your writing. Please keep it up.

    1. Thanks very much for commenting Phil – I didn’t set out to be an event reporter, but there’s definitely a pattern emerging in what I blog about. I find blogging about sessions I attended a useful way of digesting content and to help identify patterns across events that might otherwise have seemed like a series of one-offs.

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