Last week I attended two conferences. This in itself is unusual for me as my office workload (and meeting schedule) don’t often allow me to get out, and the cost of many good conferences is prohibitive. So going to conferences is rare unless there are bonus items involved, or if the conference is local.

On Thursday I attended “Efficient ICT” which was organised and run by Gov.NET and was staged at the Queen Elizabeth II centre in the middle of London. We heard from the CIO and Deputy CIO of HMRC, the folks running the Kent PSN, the main sponsors and a raft of seminars from people such as Ubuntu, Suse, HP/Autonomy, and lots more.

This event followed a now quite standard design pattern: the main lobby is full of sponsors’ stands and you have to go through it to get anywhere or to get coffee. You are herded back and forth between pre-planned sessions designed to maximise the time you spend with suppliers.

And the main presentations? Well, the guy behind me fell asleep and started snoring. He had the right idea. I have no clue how people get to the top of public sector ICT (both on the supply and the demand side) without being able to deliver a passionate, lively presentation. Dull, monochrome stuff and mostly missing the point from where I am sitting (more on that in another post, hopefully).

This event was free, thankfully, and I am fortunate in that I have some good friends in central London who kindly put me up for the night so the impact on the public purse was limited to an advance train ticket and my time. I also took the opportunity to meet up with some interesting people who are London-based: I would have had more value from just spending the day in and around central London just going to see different people and buying them coffee. Next time that is what I will do instead!

On Friday I was back in Devon for Open Space South West which was hosted by my employer and organised by my friend and colleague Carl Haggerty.

There were sponsors and one or two of them spoke, but there was no selling opportunity for them. The event had low overheads. All the breakout sessions were devised on the day by attendees. And all the programme speakers were up for it – passionate, lively, prepared. They had all done their homework specifically for the event, from Redfront’s ad-hoc research about what people wanted from public services all the way through to RIPFA’s analysis of the audience.

Technical problems meant one presenter couldn’t use the presentation she had prepared so she did it – without missing a beat – from memory. The whole thing just had a level of energy about it that had been completely missing the previous day.

So what am I saying? There seems to be an inverse relationship between quality and money, which is not directly causal. Events put on by the sector, for the sector, work better than events put on by, and for, people selling to the sector.

And hierarchy has a tendency to converge on mediocrity. That is all.