UkGovCamp 2024; Our standout sessions and takeaways from a fantastic unconference day

Headshot of Rachel Breeze

Senior Software Engineer

A few weeks back we joined the brilliant UKGovCamp XL unconference, which we also supported as accessibility sponsors. Here we reflect on some key sessions and takeaways from a fantastic day

A couple of weeks ago we attended UKGovCamp’s XL unconference in London. It’s an event we’re always pleased to throw our support behind, and this year was no different as we joined as accessibility sponsors. For the uninitiated, GovCamp is a free-to-attend unconference, with a focus on people working in or with the UK public sector. Attendees can pitch topics on the day which then inform the agenda.  
As well as joining the event as sponsors and exhibitors, Burcu and Elizabeth also pitched two amazing talks. Here we’ll share a bit about those sessions and reflect on each of our key takeaways from a fantastic day of insights.

Chris delivers an opening comment to the GovCamp unconference. The Nexer logo can be seen onscreen

My takeaways

The day featured a session dedicated to accessibility, led by Elizabeth, Billy, and Priyanca which tackled some of the essential (and sometimes overlooked) aspects of inclusive design. 

The session kicked off by highlighting the growing importance of accessibility due to our ageing population and regulatory shifts. With the UK's demographics changing, designing for older adults who may experience visual, auditory, or motor impairments becomes crucial. Accessibility isn't just about complying with regulations; it's about recognising the diverse needs of all users. 

The conversation extended beyond the digital realm and covered the need for accessibility in physical spaces and events too. From ramps and braille signage to clear communication and inclusive language, accessibility encompasses the entire user experience. The example of Wales, where services are offered bilingually through collaborative design (trio-writing), showed the benefits of considering accessibility from the outset. 

A recurring theme throughout the session was the importance of building a strong community around accessibility and inclusion. Sharing knowledge, insights, and challenges can foster collaboration and accelerate progress. This theme of the importance of including and valuing diverse perspectives was echoed in other sessions throughout the day.  

The session “How do we genuinely create and promote safe working environments” was also a standout to me. It doesn’t matter which sector or industry you’re in, a psychologically safe environment is one that everyone should be able to work in. 

One of my key takeaway comments from this session was about how psychological safety doesn’t mean action without limits, or a person or team gone wild. It is very possible to have both psychological safety and accountability.  

One of the contributors spoke about a session on psychological safety they attended at Agile Manchester, where the speaker outlined the following four steps which lead to psychological safety: 

  • Feel included  
  • Safe to learn - am I growing? 
  • Safe to contribute - am I making a difference? 
  • Safe to challenge – Is it safe to challenge the status quo? 

This reiterated how being allowed to fail, and allowed to learn from that failure is important. One person recommended asking monthly “What went wrong this month?”, and what the team learned from it. Another contributor defined psychological safety as having their everyday anxiety minimised so that they have enough juice for the unpredictable stuff. 

Also discussed were techniques to help minimise anxiety, such as using a Manual of Me to define everyone's preferred way of working (something we also do here at Nexer) and having an ‘anxiety party’ where everyone shares the anxieties they are experiencing. This allows people to share their work activities and get feedback, validating their experiences.  
Another person recommended the lifeline activity, where people taking part in the activity reflect on their lives and share stories about who they are today. It helps people learn who you are as a person and your motivations. Someone also challenged the frequent tendency of asking someone what they need – junior team members may not know what they need to feel safe.  
This engaging and thought-provoking session underscored the complexity and importance of cultivating psychologically safe workplaces, where every individual has the opportunity to thrive. 

Burcu's takeaways  

The session I hosted was about sustainability in government services. I was especially interested in what sustainability meant for the participants and how they apply it within their current roles.  
From the attendees, many were not in public sector roles (many of them had consultancy backgrounds). But some participants flagged how in their previous roles such as urban design, measuring sustainability was easier, but in a service context it can be harder to track the impact. Some participants saw sustainability as an afterthought, but some had already implemented it into their practices, and for others, it represented a core goal.  
We discussed the three dimensions of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. And the importance of the shift from human centred it to planet centred design. We also, shared learnings from other countries, with a participant sharing some insights on German govt policies for carbon-neutral hosting and transition to an open-source CMS. They also raised the idea of reducing travel requirements by making government services accessible via phones.  

Key points include: 

  • the need for sustainability at the centre - what would be the metrics? 
  • the carbon footprint of digital services and data storage and also hidden emissions of services (e.g. emissions of delivery teams) the need to consider all aspects of an organisation's operations when evaluating sustainability 
  • the potential for cost savings through sustainable practices (financial impact)- a strong correlation between saving carbon and saving money
  • the complexity and challenges of integrating sustainability into services and policies 
  • the absence of implemented measures - carbon accounting is relatively easy but how to measure social sustainability? 
  • The idea of a sustainability service standards is proposed 

My favourite session of the day was the one about User-Centred Design and Policy. (Session title was: How might we change the political system with and through UCD?  + How to embed design and system thinking practices in policy? + How do we help gov people understand UCD principles and values better?) 

It was interesting for me because I’m working with UCD Policy Lab at Department for Education and these topics relate directly to the work I’ve been doing. 

Main takeaways: 

  • UCD happens in pockets: some govt departments or teams in departments might apply UCD methodologies but it’s not consistent throughout the organisations or government 
  • Civil servants’ job > serving government vs serving people 
  • UCD is really hard when ministers take too much control 
  • Policy teams, politicians and delivery have different agendas and timelines - a key question is how to balance them? 
  • What can UCD team learn from policy and legal? 
  • We need more consultation - suggestion of opening it up to public 

As our experiences at UKGovCamp 2024 show, there were many thought-provoking sessions and discussions on a wide variety of topics. From creating psychologically safe workplaces to designing sustainable government services, these sessions highlighted the importance of user-centered design, collaboration, and innovation in the public sector. 
A huge thanks to the brilliant GovCamp organisers. It’s an event we’re always delighted to support, and we’re looking forward to what next year’s session will bring.  

Chris, Burcu, Rachel and Elizabeth smile at the camera in front of a Nexer Digital banner