Govcamp 2017: Bookcamp and the joy of sharing

This year was the 10th anniversary of UK Govcamp, an unconference that we’ve been attending and sponsoring for a number of years. For me, it was the fourth year of spending a frosty Saturday in London with a group of people to talk about UK public sector, digital, and – more than anything else – making things better.

Govcamp typically has a mix of those working in digital in government (at all levels), those who have at some point worked in digital in gov/public sector, and those who work with the public sector doing digital things.  We fall into the latter group, so I try to spend my time listening to what those in the know have to say and learning about the things being discussed. If I can chip into any session with valid experience or something that may be helpful to people in the room then I will, but largely I like to listen to the fast-thinking from others.

Let me tell you, if you need heartening evidence of how many progressive and intelligent people there are in and around public service, you should get a ticket to GovCamp.

On that note, last year I attended Janet Hughes’s excellent discussion on being bold and what boldness means. I have thought about that 45 minutes a lot since then as, ironically, I felt too shy during it to give my input. I made a resolution to break out of my comfort zone this time around and pitch a session.

Behold the advent of Bookcamp.

Bookcamp, why and what
I like to read, and a few weeks ago through the noise of Twitter I noticed a lovely-looking book pile posted by Kit Collingwood. Kit had in her photo ‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes, which I’d just finished. We hadn’t actually spoken before, but we do follow one another and from this photo I guessed we shared similar book taste.
I chose boldness and offered (somewhat out of the blue, I’m sure!) to lend Kit a great book called ‘A Whole Life’. This started a conversation in which we decided to exchange a couple of books with one another in real life, and ultimately led to us meeting in person a couple of weeks later at UK Govcamp. It was a refreshing and lovely way to make a new friend, plus I now have two excellent books to read.

Book swap. From Kit: Someone Like You by Roald Dahl; On the Other Side by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg. From me: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, and A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
Book swap. From Kit: Someone Like You by Roald Dahl; On the Other Side by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg. From me: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, and A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

Importantly, this little book swap got me thinking about the power of books, sharing (properly sharing) and kindness, and how inspirational reading long-form ideas can be. We wrote a blog before Christmas with a Delib recommended reading list, so I wanted to expand that idea to get recommended reading from a few people at UK GovCamp.
The idea was pretty simple:

  • Come along to the session, share what your favourite book is and why
  • Share one other thing you would recommend everyone to read if you could
  • Hopefully come away with some mind-expanding reading opportunities

Below is the list of recommended reading from our session. You can support your local library and take most of these books out from there (this link takes you to gov.uk to search for your local libraries):

Favourite books from the room: (links lead to Goodreads or the author’s own website)
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
The Magus – John Fowles
Hiroshima – John Hersey
The Bees – Laline Paull
A Fraction of the Whole – Steve Toltz
The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Good Omens – Neil Gaiman / Terry Pratchett
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Before I go to Sleep – S. J. Watson
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
Quiet – Susan Cain
Wanderlust – Rebecca Solnit
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
Sharpe (and all the Bernard Cornwell collection)
Days Without End – Sebastian Barry
and fresh from a suggestion on Twitter: Independent People by Halldór Laxness

Bookcamp must-read choices for work/leadership/growth:
Transform, A rebel’s guide to digital transformation – Gerry McGovern
The E Myth – Michael Gerber
The Art of the State – Christopher Hood
7 habits of highly effective people – Stephen R Covey
Organising & Disorganising – Michael Thompson
From Arrogance to Intimacy – Andy Williamson and Martin Sande
The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
Touching the Void – Joe Simpson
The Toyota Way – Jeffrey K Liker
South. The story of Shackleton’s last expedition 1914 – 1917 – Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton

NB: For those with a Kindle, South is free to download and is one of the best books I have read about leadership and bravery. It also feels strangely relevant for the turbulent times we’re living in.

I wanted to extend my thanks to those who came along to the session and contributed to this excellent list. Also a special thanks to Paul Brannigan who came along and gave me a copy of his own book, The Spiral Mindmap, which was an unexpected and lovely thing to do.

I wanted to round this post off with a little snippet of info from the first session I went to about gender balance in tech. I’m sure others have written more eloquently about this particular subject in the past so I won’t try and tackle it in depth here. However, to carry on with the book theme: Jess Figueras mentioned that there are very few female characters in children’s books aside from your standard princess. Almost all animals in children’s books are male and most characters that get up to anything vaguely progressive or interesting are male, too. Not only that, but children’s books which are culturally diverse or contain LGBTQ characters are even rarer.

Books can shape how children begin to see the world and, the more the characters reflect them, the more they can picture themselves doing those things and being part of their own story. There are some great children’s books out there which allow girls to be astronauts and scientists and which reflect people of varied ethnicities and sexualities, but they’re not that easy to find. Here are a few you might like:
Blast Off – Linda C Cain and Susan Rosenbaum
The Mr Gum books – Andy Stanton
The boy in the dress – David Walliams
The BFG and Matilda – Roald Dahl
Zog – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Max and the tag-along moon – Floyd Cooper

and a few catch-all lists:

Happy reading 🙂