Budgets in the public sector have been hit hard so you have to be really creative (and be supported!) to both keep your professional development on track and also be increasingly innovative in doing things that make people think and behave differently. So on Tuesday I went to Birmingham to #commscamp13  Background here.

Some good folk (Ann Kempster, Dan Slee and Darren Caveney) arranged sponsorship and organised this event for, mainly, comms folk from around the country to get together and talk shop, challenge and share thinking. I must give credit to the aforementioned for the sleepless nights they must have gone through in worrying; “would this work? and would people come?” They so did – I hope you all sleep easy now.

Part of the deal in attending events like this is to provide feedback, share your learning and create further discussion. This ‘between personal and professional’ blog is me generally sharing my experiences and thoughts about what I consider to be my default position as somewhere between home and work and how it can be made to work, or not. It is my lifeleak.

So for me, what went well at #commscamp13 was;

  • I was lucky enough and grateful to get an invite
  • there was a good mix of folk from different organisations and with a good spread of roles
  • the people who offered to pitch sessions provided enough choice of topics to excite me and some curved balls too
  • I liked the venue
  • there were good people helping out and sharing the learning with others who couldn’t be there (I don’t get the dragon thing though and must ask about it one day!)
  • it was good to see that there are some passionate people who care about public service and won’t let tough times stop them being creative
  • the sessions I attended totally challenged my thinking

But what really made my week was when Lorna Prescott joined the pitching line and asked the question why women weren’t pitching as much as men and suggested a session was run to talk it through. Lorna has provided a helpful Storify here.

On the face of it, I just didn’t see the gender imbalance in those pitching. I only saw a line of gutsy people who’d had the courage to get up and offer to run a session. And I knew what that felt like as I’d pitched a session at the recent LGcomms digital event in Manchester last month; it takes bottle and I very nearly didn’t do it. I’m since glad I did and would encourage others to stick their head up above the parapet, it’s not that bad.

On recollection, the general Birmingham audience appeared to be a 50/50 gender split. It never once dawned on me that there was a gender imbalance in the pitching line up. When it was pointed out, my gut feeling was “yes, I now see there are less women in the line but I don’t see gender as the reason why more haven’t pitched”…and reading that back it sort of doesn’t add up – as obviously there were less women. So I asked the person next to me if they saw it – they didn’t. Helpfully, for me, they were female…and they’d pitched…did that make a difference to their view? Not sure.

But I still sensed unease. Had I totally missed something obvious? I have that Y chromosome thing which on occasion apparently lets us chaps down. So I went to the session to find out more and I was the only bloke there. Did I expect that? Never bothered me. Two other chaps came in part way through.

I’ve since watched the video of Lorna explaining the session and it’s in line with my recollection. Link (credit to Andrew Brightwell) here – it’s the second video; http://blog.public-i.info/2013/02/five-things-and-four-videos-from-commscamp13/

Back to the session, which was lively and actually morphed into a discussion about introverts and extroverts rather than gender. My summary of the session was that it was more about confidence in general and not solely about gender.

When I got back to Leeds and talked the pitching thing through with a fair gender mix, a few people said “well it wouldn’t be obvious to you, you are a bloke/were the majority and majorities don’t see things like that do they?” And that rattled me. The session at #commscamp13 didn’t rattle me. It was a valid discussion; one that was required. It resulted in some good outcomes. I’m glad I attended, heard the concerns and contributed.

But something coming out of this session made me uneasy for the rest of the day; something that I couldn’t put my finger on but I now realise has been niggling at me from well before Birmingham. That’s not a bad thing, cos unease makes me look to learn and understand.  Fortunately, I’ve since twigged what the general unease has been. I think it has been teased out by the pitching session and in subsequent, not all specifically linked, comments as follows:

Firstly by Dan Slee (from the first video at the above link);

“if you think an idea is a good one then you might as well give it a go” and

“I’ve always thought that a lot of really good ideas just get left in the pub”

Secondly, a comment from John Popham in reply to the From Yemen to Yorkshire post on the Sociable Organisation blog;

“I think people’s behaviours can change when they see others doing something different which then gives them the confidence to try it for themselves.”

Dan, John and especially Lorna (and Pauline) have helped me see, by voicing what they have this week, that my recent sleepless nights and unease are due to the fact that I have been flying by the seat of my pants on an idea that started as a gut feeling and I feel still might be – the Sociable Organisation concept. One of those ideas that Dan says might have been left in the pub, but wasn’t. So I suppose I’m thinking if it is one of those good ideas why hasn’t it been picked up before? I suppose it is the same realisation of that moment that Pauline and Lorna had in Birmingham.

But thankfully people have generally been supportive and responded to the blog posts and I get the odd “I’ve seen your blog and like what you are doing.”

So I really take my hat off to Lorna (and also Pauline Roche, who I since found out made the initial observation which Lorna acted upon) for plucking up the courage to kick start the ‘hang on a minute, something might be amiss here’ session, and putting herself out there to unpick it and to the others who attended that session and found courage to share their thoughts.  And I really liked that Lorna came to me at the end of the session to talk it through further. I would have liked to spend more time on it. Thanks Lorna. I specifically hope John’s words (albeit not linked to Birmingham) will be inspiration for all folk to give stuff a go.

I also associate with Dan and Darren for their work on Comms2point0. I imagine there must be days when they think “what the hell did we do?” So thanks guys – it means a lot to a load of people, you are doing a good thing – and sometimes doing good things is reason enough. You guys must go to the pub an awful lot 😉

Whilst I don’t disagree there are valid arguments about fewer women in tech related jobs and other areas, I still think the #commscamp13 pitching issue wasn’t just a gender thing. But this is the place where I put myself out there to learn and be corrected.

I’ve since read a couple of other blogs that have looked at this in more depth. This one by Sharon O’Dea is excellent, and Sarah Hartley covered it too here.