This was my second time camping, the first was at CityCampBrighton earlier this year.
I enjoyed the event and found it very useful. It was also a wonderful surprise to see my friends from the Home Office and National Police Improvement Agency coming along and entering into the world of the unconference.
I thought I'd use Catherine's blog to give a bit of feedback of my own which I hope will compliment Catherine's comments and will come across as supportive and perhaps constructively critical. This text was originally submitted as a comment but I thought I'd put it here too as a reference for me and anyone who cares to follow my blog.
I found it difficult to locate basic details about the camp both before and afterwards. I'm still trying to find blogs, audio, video etc. but this is the first site I found after quite a lot of searching. There is www.localgovcamp.com which seems to be the right place but doesn't mention Birmingham 2011 and was last updated in 2010.
On arrival, we were asked to make labels with our names and twitter names. I was with a few people who are not on twitter and although I offered to help signed them up on the day, I got the impression they felt a little bit sidelined and not part of the 'in-crowd'. Perhaps there could have been some 'pre-read' information about the use of Twitter at the unconference and the suggestion to consider signing up ahead of the day to get familiar with Twitter. Alternatively, a volunteer could have been on hand to help anyone to sign-up on the day and to help add apps to smaprtphones or tablets. Even if this wasn't possible, a large screen to display the hashtag could have helped everyone but especially those without Twitter.
Name labels were great but I found it quite tricky to read off the twitter names and fiddle around setting up the all important follow on my phone. All the people I followed were either on the way up on the train, on the way home on the train and during the conference by following the hashtag. I didn't get the chance to follow anyone by using their name badge. My suggestion to fix this is to get people to submit their twitter names on registration so that name labels can be created with a QR Code. Not only would this make it much easier to follow people, it gives everyone their own QR code to take away and the effectiveness of the use of the codes can be measured. Goo.gl quick links automatically include a QR Code and the metrics which Google provides could easily show if the practice is useful of not.
Power and connectivity always seems to be important at these events. I noticed a few 'seasoned' campers came equipped with their own 4-way extension leads but it would have been easy to acquire several of these, set them up in a suitable location with tables so that everyone could 'plug-in' easily.
Connectivity was available via WiFi but again, a bit of information ahead of the day and at reception could have had everyone hooked up immediately.
Introductions were great but could have been enhanced by providing that stuff ahead of the conference (especially photographs). Live introductions are really important but people could have been introduced by projecting their photo, name and Twitter name on the big screen. This would also ensure nobody is missed out. Afterwards, throughout the day, this information could rotate on another large screen and afterwards on a website. I'm great with faces but I can never remember names - I would find this resource especially useful.
The whiteboard grid showing the various topics proposed was good but could have been made even better if an electronic version was being projected with the topics typed in by volunteers as they were proposed. I prefer to take a photo of the board so I can refer back to it between sessions. If this photo was done once and then distributed, it would save the large crowd trying to look at the board at the same time.
Post-it notes are great but get someone who can write clearly to do the writing. I found it quite hard to interpret the sessions simply because I couldn't read the handwriting on the Post-it notes. Translation to a projected version would solve this one.
The idea of assigning numbers to the rooms for the benefit of tagging in Twitter was great but should have been agreed ahead of the day. The hashtag #localgovcamp was quite long and perhaps could have been #LGC or #LGCB (for Birmingham). The room numbers could have gone after these tags easily. To extend this excellent idea, these hashtags could have been printed up big and displayed on the walls of each room to remind everyone.
Lunchtime was a great opportunity to catch up, talk, debate and discuss. I found that the music didn't help this process and I had to move away to be able to continue my conversation. I seem to suffer these days from difficulty hearing conversation in crowded places and introducing more noise into the mix makes it worse. Perhaps if music is to be provided, it could be more as background rather than entertainment in its own right?
I recall that there was a request at the beginning of the day to leave answers to 2 questions throughout the day. I quickly forgot about this and a reminder at lunchtime and after the event would have been useful. Even better would have been a form on a website where these answers could have been entered at any time, even on the way home for those travelling by train.