The importance of unconferences… or why the best bits shouldn’t happen in the pub!

Last weekend I attended UK Health Camp, one of a number of unconferences dxw sponsors. I was also lucky enough to be part of the organising committee for the event, giving me another perspective on why this event and others like it are so important.

In public sector digital, we speak a great deal about users and my laptop is emblazoned with stickers; GDS’s Users First, dxw’s own People before Pixels. You can’t build services for the public without first speaking to them and finding out what, why and how they need those services. User research is the main way we do this work but unconferences provide another fascinating opportunity to learn more about the challenges users in and outside the system face.

Unconference are spaces where lots of people come together who have experienced issues within a particular area of the public sector, and have a passion for fixing them, and let them set the agenda. The formula is fairly simple; give them a podium to pitch their idea from and some time and space to draw people together, in order to further their ideas and gain support, feedback and clarity. Afterwards ensure there are resources to refer to and ways to keep in touch, then let them go!

A question tweeted by James Turner during the event was Is anyone at #ukhc17 as a patient? – this made me think about the many types of user in the room, surely with this many representatives of the industry, we were facilitating conversations that may actually change something. I sat in a room with anesthesiologists, GPs, policy makers and digital specialists discussing ways to use digital to make the experience of maternity care better for the women going through it. In true unconference style this was not being run by a company that wanted to sell their antenatal software, it was run by a mum who happened to work in the digital sphere and wanted to look at every potential issue we could suggest, and then work on a digital solution to the most pressing one.

I joined an important, if weary, conversation about procurement, a popular topic at unconferences – much of the discussion was focused on why health digital procurement isn’t as good as it can be, and whether there were practices that could be adopted from other sectors. The takeaway was that passionate and well-connected activists are needed to push the agenda through. Where better to connect those activists than at an unconference?

My hope is that next year, UK Health Camp will attract even more of those necessary to push forward the work that so urgently needs to happen.

Laura De Meo
Giuseppe Sollazzo