PIcamp: a few initial headline thoughts….

Picamp exceeded all my own personal expectations. Though when asked what they were by BBC Breakfast yesterday morning, I have to say I was clear that I had few. Except that I was determined to get a bunch of conversations started about the need to innovate in our political sphere. But not necessarily in the kind of Top Down order many of us have become accustomed to in Northern Ireland. Conall Devitt, the blogger at O’Conall Street who also heads up the local team of the event’s generous main sponsors Weber Shandwick, absolutely cut to the nub of the problem when he related a mind mapping exercise he conducted recently, when the group he was working with were asked to identify the most powerful people in Northern Ireland. Everyone at that virtual top table was either in government, or senior members of the civil service. No one, be they civic leaders of wealth creating business men and women count. If events in Britain and the Republic are anything to go by, that strange passivity in the face of government has to change. I mentioned in a short slot on Citybeat radio last night that in fact the evidence is that expecting politicians to take account of passive supplication of this desirable public good or that desirable public good does not work. Politician’s are most likely to change when they experience a degree of pain. Even then, there is no guarantee the change will be good for them or for us.

Slightly reverbative of that, I thought that in some of the sessions it took us a while to get past Slugger (though our new designer Andy found it incredibly useful for focussing on his tasks). But the days of a passive hand me down from up above style of government are over, now that the capacity of citizens to bring legitmate pressure to bare by organising and finding their own voice without have to garner directly the attention of the mass media or vested interest to effect change.

Good to see the Assembly commission there too. It seems to me that this cannot be one way. Politicians for their part must seek to take more (albeit intelligent) risks in coming the other way, no matter how comfortable and safe the current settlement appears to make them. That’s exactly what those bods in the House of Commons thought when they instructed the hapless Speaker Martin to resist those FOI requests for the details of their expenses.

Thanks go to Will Chambre who’s shedload of Pizza Pies kept us all going right to the bitter end.The dynamic Sally Wheeler, director of the Institute of Governance who so generously let us have the use of their beautiful building. And to Quintin and the guys at Stratagem for their consistent support.

Thanks too to Joanne, Lucy and Steve at Amplify who took care of much of the background organisation. And particularly Steve who worked like a Trojan from start to finish… you can find his live blog here with lots of interviews and a taster of the tweets of the day…

Concluding thought: we need to do this again. And we need more techies who can help the politicos and those to want to make positive change get that change… We’re already planning the next one…

  • kensei

    Out of interest, how many real people did you get as opposed to those heavily involved in the sphere in one shape or another in the middle of a work day? I didn’t escape work until 630pm and I’m a semi-interested amateur who might attend. It’s hardly useful.

    A second thought maybe that if you want plebs involved, you’d need to work around them. It seems to be discordant with the democratic tone.

  • kensei,

    I fear that you’re wasting you time asking those questions. I have raised them (or similar) before, and been fobbed off. The simple fact seems to be that Mick is more comfortable surrounded by the great and good of the Quangocracy and the related management consultancies.

    It’s ironic that he says (in his inimicably garbled way) that:”Everyone at that virtual top table was either in government, or senior members of the civil service. No one, be they civic leaders of wealth creating business men and women count“. But Mick, if you only ask people in the public sector what other answer would you expect? If you actually ask ‘real people’ or business people then you might get a different answer.

    But real people, and especially business people, do not have the time to go along to these introspective incestuous love-ins.

  • Kathryn Johnston

    I think that’s a bit harsh, Horseman. The time wasn’t ideal for me and indeed, I had to leave early, but there is no time or venue that will suit everyone. And I saw plenty of ‘real’ people and even a few business people too. Far from being an ‘incestuous love-in’, the agenda was determined at the start of the afternoon by participants who voted with their feet to attend sessions of their choice. Observers of Northern Ireland’s electoral system often describe us as one of the most politically sophisticated electorates in the world, yet membership rates in most political parties here are plummeting. It’s time for a new political paradigm here – when’s the next PiCamp?

  • Moochin Photoman

    Whilst i was able to attend for most of the afternoon i would agree that the timing might not to be everyone’s liking.
    That said if you wanted to be there you would have been. As a first time attendee of an unconference i liked how the agenda was arrived at democratically and the courteous discussions that took place.
    For my part i found it interesting and useful and went away with more to think about.
    As for it being an introspective incestuous love-in…..you weren’t there man! You weren’t there.

  • Mark McGregor

    It went better than I expected but not as well as it could, I think a fair bit of that was probably people geting their heads wrapped round what was a new format to most – that won’t be the case in future.

    I was a little disappointed at the mix of participants. It was certainly heavy on lobbyist type people and academia and lacked a wider spread of ordinary citizens, slugger’s general commentators and political activists. While i agree the timing wasn’t ideal for a lot of people, it was a half day event and it takes some commitment if you are really interested in participation be that giving up an afternoon with family or taking time off work.

    Anyhow any day that sees Slugger’s resident ‘disso’ get the tiniest compliment from Deirdre Nelson is a day well spent by eveyone :0)

    Keep it up Mick and feck the begrudgers

  • … you weren’t there man! You weren’t there


    … the timing might not to be everyone’s liking ..

    Time, place … Belfast isn’t the whole world, you know (unless you work in a quango).

    Just as a matter of interest, how many tatoos did you see at this non-introspective incestuous love-in? How many farmers were there? WHO was there – publish the attendence list and then we can judge better what type of event it was.

    I won’t be at any of these types of things because they are designed to cater for only one type of person, and I’m not that type! I wouldn’t like to stop you all having fun, but please don’t beat your breasts about why the attendees don’t have much connection with business – its laughable.

  • Moochin Photoman

    “I won’t be at any of these types of things because they are designed to cater for only one type of person, and I’m not that type”

    So you’re not an inquisative open minded sort then horseman?
    Perhaps if you took the blinkers off (geddit) you might learn something

  • DC

    Or, if he got down from his high horse he might do as well.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Most recently I have been involved with a group called Common Purpose and one of their aims is to encourage young people to develop leadership skills…
    I will be attending the next Common Purpose conference in Ballymena Showgrounds on June 9th, so hope to see some of you there.”

    Deirdre Nelson and bolloxology above.

  • … Perhaps if you took the blinkers off …

    Or, if he got down from his high horse ..


    Or maybe if these things were organised on, say, a Sunday morning in Castlederg? (At least it would exclude the Free Ps)

  • Pigeon Toes

    The other Pi Camp
    PI Camp
    PI Camp is a new mathematics camp for those who dare to question and think outside the box. God helps us in our search for answers, for goodness, truth, beauty, etc. We need formulas to shape our lives. PI Camp will be filled with adventures in exploring through games, “PI-rotechnics”, building rockets, dioramas, looking at the wonders of creation and scripture and other fun activities. PI Camp is adventure camp and more! What do you get when you measure the circumference of a pumpkin and divide by the diameter of the pumpkin? …Pumpkin PI! (For Grades 5-7)

  • kensei

    That said if you wanted to be there you would have been.

    Computer quite literally says no.

  • Mick Fealty


    All the people who were there were real. Where they representative of the population at large? No.

    I know what your point is. And, had the real world not tied you down you would have heard people raise the question of how do people outside this often tightly closed anorak world become engaged yourself.

    But this was a conference for the committed. Non committed people did not show. Wider engagement requires vision, capacity, social entrepreneurship, and people who are prepared to become animatuers rather than passive/aggressive hurlers on the ditch.

    One of the things PIcamp demonstrated to me was that this is a event that needs iteration. Preferably punctuated by real action.

    This was not about representation, or fairness. It was about people who are committed to be active in one way or another.

    I know there are people who wanted to be there who couldn’t be. But this was only the first step, not the last.

    We’re planning a series of these first steps (the next is likely to be in London in July, with others in Dublin and Edinburgh to follow. And then I want to begin a second iteration at base again.

    Given we can never satisfy every need, I would welcome suggestions from people as to how we might arrange satellite events, or find some distributed model that draws more people in.

    But, at the heel of the hunt, the people who show are the people who show… It’s about activism, rather than ‘passivism’. Something that, for me, gives Conall’s remarks on the centrality of government and the civil service as power centres in peoples’ minds an added potency.

  • It was quite good that a significant number of people turned up that wouldn’t comment on Slugger normally – people who said that they were worried that – if they say anything here – they’d get rained on by a fairly small tight group of regular commenters.

    Alan in Belfast covered it here:

    I do think that Horseman is right though. It should have been organised on a Sunday Morning in Castlederg specifically for an audience of people that have never visited Slugger, so that he wouldn’t go anyway just in case there’s anyone there he doesn’t approve of.