Reflections on events

Over the last year or so I’ve attended a bunch of ‘unconference‘ events. In this post I thought I’d take a look back at some of them.

Reflections on previous events and suggestions for organisers and participants

All events have something worth sharing, and most I’ve attended have had shed-loads; I’ve therefore got in to the habit of blogging about them. Recent examples include:

Event site Blog post
UK GovCamp Camping without the tents
Northern BlueLightCamp Northern BlueLightCamp
LocalGovCamp North West LocalGovCamp North West
BlueLight Camp BlueLight Camp and BlueLight Camp part 2
Island GovCamp Isle Lights

I’ve been physically present at all of these, but as time has gone on I’ve become increasingly aware of people trying to participate remotely. As technology improves and  behaviour changes, remote participation is increasingly practical.

In no particular order, here are some suggestions for future events. I’ve not bothered to list anything that’s already consistently happening


Wireless details prominently displayed at BlueLight Camp


  • Good wifi is vital for attendees to access, create and share content
  • Ideally, provide a couple of options, in case one network fails
  • Make it as easy as possible to get on the wifi at the venue – tactics might include:
    • QR codes (scan code to automatically join network)
    • Set a temporary wireless password and tweet the details (it’ll only work locally anyway)
    • Posters and leaflets with id, password & instructions
  • Check wifi works with a variety of devices (laptops, netbooks, tablets, smartphones etc)
  • If possible, pick a venue with good mobile coverage in case local wifi fails

Venue and facilities

  • Probably bleedin’ obvious, but:
    • Choose a venue that’s really easy to find and get to.
    • Consider all modes of transport (car, rail, bus, foot etc)
    • Remember wheelchairs don’t do stairs
  • Good signage both inside and outside the building is really important
  • Simple room names help people get to the sessions they want
  • Put signs outside each room saying what’s going on inside (and keep updated)
  • If people are going to be staying over, try and negotiate a discount with local hotels to help keep costs down
  • Coffee and cake fuel discussion
Cakes at LocalGovCamp
Cakes at LocalGovCamp


  • Quick introductions help break the ice and identify who’s interested in what
  • Lightning talks – as in this example at LocalGovCamp North West – can be really effective (and give even the less gregarious a chance to speak)
  • Create and maintain an ongoing problems encountered / lessons learnt log (google spreadsheet?) each event can learn from those who were before it

Think Remotee

    • Publish links in advance so it’s clear where to find content
    • Include an option for remote and in-person attendees to register e.g. via Eventbrite
    • Have a single web page from where all other content can be easily found
    • Live-streaming an event opens it up, and helps remote attendees share the experience
    • Leave cameras running between sessions – help remotees feel part of the event
    • Share links to live streams, and keep them updated if they change
    • Consider having a separate audio stream in case there are problems with video – also better for those with slow connections
    • Keep a running commentary going e.g. on Twitter & Google+ Also consider appointing a session communicator
    • Monitor Twitter and other channels and engage with remote attendees during the event – answer their questions to ensure they have a voice
    • Invite remote attendees to run sessions – with webcams, Skype etc we have the technology
    • 360° panoramic video now exists, the quality is improving and it’s inexpensive. One example for iPhone is Dotspot from Kogeto which lets the viewer change the direction they are ‘looking’. Here’s an example.

Twitter & other Social media

It’s not the only social network, but Twitter has become the de facto tool for organising, and sharing information before, during and after events. Here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of Twitter and other social tools:

  • Create a profile specifically for the event that attendees can follow
  • Select and publicise the hashtag in advance
  • Pick a tag that’s unlikely to be used by someone else for a different purpose
  • Consider how hashtags will work when there are multiple sessions running
  • Can venue room names and session hashtags be aligned?
  • Think what might happen to the hashtag once the event has ended – is it a one-off or regular event (could it live-on as a regular chat like #lgovsm?)
  • Set up to automatically store tweets which use a hashtag in a spreadsheet. Here’s an example for the Island GovCamp #islegc hashtag
  • Build and share visualisations tools for the hashtags. This is an example by Martin Hawksey. It’s interesting to note that several of the most prolific tweeters about the Island GovCamp event- Sasha Taylor, Shirley Ayres, Janet Davis, and Tom Phillips – were remote attendees.
  • If you have sponsors willing to stump up for t shirts, mugs etc, consider building in hashtags to the design to remind those present to use the correct tags
  • Set up Flickr group / Pinterest board etc in advance and ask attendees to share pics to the same group
  • Sign up both physical and remote attendees and include in public Twitter lists
  • Consider awarding a prize for most informative live tweeter – to be voted for by remote attendees
  • Consider awarding a prize for most engaged / engaging remote attendee – to be voted for by physical attendees


  • In-person
    • Tweet, take photos, record sound, blog
    • If there’s no official streaming and you’ve got a smartphone or tablet, consider streaming it yourself. Bambuser works well (and is free).
    • Share your stuff and help spread the word about the event with your networks
    • Imagine you are a remote attendee – and sometimes you probably are – help make the experience better and be their representative on the ground
    • Remember the ‘rule of two feet’: if a session isn’t working for you, go and join a different one
  • Remote attendees
    • Don’t be shy – lurking is fine, but you’ll get more out of it if you join in
    • If you can’t find what you’re looking for, say so
    • If you find the experience frustrating, try and think of ways future events can be improved
    • Ask questions, offer solutions

Any more?

I don’t pretend that this is a comprehensive list, but if you’ve made it this far I hope you’ve found it worth reading. I’d really welcome any comments or suggestions on what else would help make events work better for everyone involved.


Whilst I was reading this list I thought of Thunderbirds, the children’s TV programme from the 1960’s. Supposedly set in the 21st century, it was remarkably prescient on the use of social media.

If I don’t change my mind in the meantime – and no one tells me it’s a stupid idea – I might blog about that next.

Picture credits

Cakes by Andy Mabbett

By Mark Braggins

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


  1. Thank you

    I would add:
    – consider people who are not ‘connected’ 24/7
    – consider blending in more of the principles of open space (rather than having to be so different)
    – use hard copies for things (at the Blue Light Camp – I wrote out the agenda on a flip chart)
    – let the participants truly control their own learning and engagement

    More on my blog (specific post after the Blue Light Camp and others posts – just search on open space):

  2. John, thanks very much for commenting.
    The Govcamp or LocalGovcamp variations on unconference that I have described have shared some common themes of digital engagement and use of social media. They are also topics I am interested in personally and my personal work style is to avoid printing wherever possible, so I am biased.

    I totally accept that what works for me doesn’t work for everyone, and your suggestions are really useful, thank you.

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