Behind the scenes of Open Space South West #OpenSSW

With the Open Space South West website going live earlier this week, I thought I’d share some thoughts about how Open Space South West came about, who is involved, as well as share some personal thoughts about what I’d like to see happen and what I hope will be achieved (managing my own expectations).

The first thing to say is that Open Space South West is a real collaborative effort between Public-i and Devon County Council – helped by the multiple other organisations and people who are contributing time and money.  In fact all CityCamp, GovCamp and similar events are collaborative efforts and that in itself is a great testament to people’s individual passion as well the passion and commitment of private sector organisations to help support the public sector around innovation and service design.

I’d like to acknowledge the work being done by Public-i colleagues (primarily Tanya Harris) in helping to organise the event as I’m not really a detail person and Tanya has had experience of this through helping to organise the first City Camp Brighton Event as well as various other events and activities. As well as my team in Devon who built the website as I don’t have those types of skills 🙂

You can read more about the event and the programme on the website

What are you personal expectations?

At  basic level I simply hope that the event is a success, in that people come, participate, feel inspired, are challenged and go away thinking about new opportunities and a new network of people who can help or share their learning. Not much to ask I know 🙂

I’m actually nervous about the event and I feel anxious about it. I’ve organised a couple of internal social media forums and they went well, so I don’t really know why I feel that way…I guess it might be because this is bigger, has a wider audience, is more public and will be compared in some ways to other similar events…But I need not fear as there is the added bonus of actually working with Public-i who have experience with these kinds of events

What is it like collaborating with Public-i?

To be honest this is the easy part, It does help that I’m actually employed by them for 2 days a week, but even without that advantage it would be the same. I’ve known the folks at Public-i for quite a while and I really like the way they work, how they think and most of all they are all great people. So working with them collaboratively has been easy.

How do you manage working for both private and public sector organisations? 

I’m not sure I do to be perfectly honest, I’m actually pretty hard on myself, so I actually currently believe that I’m not doing very well for either public-i or the council (i know that it isn’t actually true) but i do push myself to do better all the time.

Actually it is managing my time that I find the hardest, as it requires me to be far more organised than I’m used to as well as comfortable with if I’m honest. But that also involves my voluntary work as well as my family, both of which have suffered a little and my outlook is that i work to live, not live to work.

The contract was only for six months and there will be decisions to be made about what happens next (but that is another blog post for another day).

What does Public-i gain from you working with them?

Catherine Howe would be best to answer that, but from my point of view I’d like to think it was the way I look and think about things. I wouldn’t say I was especially different in skill sets, I mean probably worse off – I’m not that creative, I can’t code, I’m not a designer, I’m not especially good at sales, I’m not really an expert in any area – but it is in the “general” and the “overview” where i think my value comes from…connecting ideas, having ideas, pushing ideas forward, working with people to make things happen…I’m sure other people have various views on my skills and you are welcome to share them openly here if you wish…nothing like 360 feedback 🙂 or as Carrie Bishop called it 3D feedback

Personally my view on myself is that I’m not a cog in a wheel, or a critical member of the team, but when I’m around different ideas are considered, perhaps new ideas, people feel challenged, maybe even inspired…I do believe however I can sell an idea.

What does Devon gain from you working with Public-i?

In a number of ways and this also makes me think that actually this whole opportunity should be more widely available to other public sector folk…what i mean from this is that I think people and organisations on both sides would benefit if those people who wished to seek new challenges and experiences were allowed to temporarily take development opportunities with a private sector organisations. You see and read all too often now that there is a massive brain drain happening within the sector and all the best people are leaving…yes some great people are leaving, but lets not forget and lets not underestimate the huge amount of latent talent that remains, waiting to be unlocked and let free…this is where events like open space south west come in for me, opening up new connections and opportunities for new people to be the leaders.

In my situation, I believe the council gains from my personal learning and development as well as from the new experiences and different ways of working. It financial gains of course for a short period of time from my reduction in hours and lets not kid ourselves that these are really good motivations for allowing this in the current climate.

It also benefits because it allows me personally to experience new opportunities, new challenges that I’d perhaps not get access to in my organisation. It can also benefit from my experience of new projects in advance of when the council may choose to move forward, so the organisational learning is reduced.  This was and still is the motivation behind my voluntary work and involvement, however voluntary work can be limited in terms of quite in-depth experience in some places.

There are a wide range of benefits all round and if more people in the sector were given these short-term opportunities and then welcomed back into their councils, then local government would be better off for it.  After all the sector as a whole needs to think differently about how we manage people, how we retain quality people and inspire a new generation of local government and public sector workers.

What are you looking forward to most?

Listening to the speakers and being inspired, meeting new people and making new connections – after all It is people who really make the difference.


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