‘Love will tear us apart’ is the title of a classic song by Joy Division. Apparently, the last song ever performed by Joy Division was called ‘Digital’. It was the final song of the last gig recorded on 2 May 1980 in Birmingham.

Sort of ironic that I spent Saturday 21 June 2014 in the same city debating most things local government and seemingly sharing the love of digital.

I attended #localgovcamp; an unconference. These are different to traditional conferences in that whilst there’s an overall theme, you don’t have a pre-set programme of speakers or sessions and you certainly don’t get preached at for the whole time.

The day is split into sessions and attendees pitch for what sessions they want to run or topics they might want to find out more about, if they are prepared to lead a session. That’s an important distinction. If it was all the former then it might be more a conference, without attendee input. The important point being if it isn’t the session you thought it was going to be, and your input can’t make a difference; then you can freely up sticks and go find another session that might be more up your street.

This year’s event was well organised by LocalGov Digital. It was billed as the ‘free unconference for local government, by local government’ – that is the part I assumed to be the theme. And this is where I’m probably on dodgy ground but it is the point of this post; it was promoted to ‘anyone and everyone who is involved in DIGITAL local government’. And I didn’t see the digital bit til I got to Birmingham.

Why is this relevant? Perhaps this is where me and a few others who attended were/are confused. This isn’t criticism of the event organisation, far from it – they did a top job; this is about me working out stuff and sharing as it might ring true for others too.

I therefore used my day in Birmingham and this post to unpick it.

Following a great session by Catherine Howe (@curiousc) entitled ‘Everything more democratic’, which wasn’t specifically about digital, I attended a session run by Sarah Lay and Catherine, again. This session was roughly titled ‘social media isn’t the whole of digital’. It was aimed at discussing moving from using social media because we can to what benefit it can bring, so not just tokenistic use. Perhaps there was a suggestion it is for comms teams to chill a bit and coordinate rather than control, another debate on its own.

Either way, it became a debate about the possible definition of ‘digital’, and also one where Catherine wanted the group to unpick an idea and try and determine some tribes of digital. Someone pointed out that different folk will always have a different perception of what digital is. That was my first  ‘#localgovcamp 2014’ moment. Whilst this debate interested me, I got frustrated that perhaps debating and even using the term ‘digital’ might not be helping things.

I’m not a fan of the ‘digital by default’ term and perhaps in some instances maybe the word digital is used in a PR way to suggest ‘new’ or ‘different’. I’d be interested in other’s thoughts.

Purposely, the next session I went to was called ‘Luddite govcamp’ as it was sort of promoted as a session to discuss could we still do local government without new technology? That was where the discussion was had about a danger of there being a split in what #localgovcamp was and who it was for. I know it is for anyone to have a go and set up other events – frontline camps or Care Act camp or whatever – like I said this is not criticism, just comment. But this was the part when I realised that I’d not realised the day had been billed as for ‘digital’ folk. We sort of came round to the fact that it didn’t really matter – services still need to be provided whether they are online or analogue and it was right that self perceived non digital folk were present to champion the digital divide v digital by default debate, reducing as we all hope the divide is.

A final thought, when I packed my stuff to come to Birmingham, I brought my notebook and pen, 2 phones and a charger. I used my phones to see what others at the event were talking about, rarely tweeted myself as I was engrossed and contributing to the here and now of the sessions. Interestingly, I made no notes in my notepad but I did on my phone as they are easier to then send and develop into things like this post. Similarly in the Luddite session, and ironically, Lucy Knight (@jargonautical) produced this great drawing on her tablet during the session ans shared it soon after.

That is digital and channelshift (another of my pet hate words). Thing is; folk don’t always need to know.

Thanks to the organisers and sponsors, you did a great job and made people think…and then do. This is my thinking and doing.

#localgovcamp needs people who care whether they are digital or analogue. Let’s not tear the love apart.