really? honestly?

That Conference in That London (Part 2)

To the day itself – here’s some of the things others said:

we could rant in stereo about their spivvy sales tactics and crass treatment of SMEs #digieng> hear hear 🙂

Digital engagement conf #digieng ‘please turn off mobile phones’ oh dear

is #digieng being livestreamed @10alps??? @digitalengagement … anyone?

Have followed most of the early tweets covering #digieng. The quality of the stuff they’re coming out with is pretty crap. £850!!!

Is it the “elite” attending #DigiEng Conference, or did the tickets prices reduce to under £100 from £895

ok – at #digieng event that is not being live streamed and apart from practical common sense of @marthalanefox it has been shocking

#digieng Panel leader should have a laptop in front of him with Twitterfall on it, taking Qs from Twitter. Basic.

If you’re going to show us a slide of links & contact details PLEASE leave it up for longer than half a second. @digiengagement #digieng

Losing the will .. Am I at school or a conference …. Drinks beckon .. #digieng

#digieng For a conf on digital engagement there’s very little digital engagement. Great comments on Twitter go un-seen/hear.

#digieng any1 who’s not in plenary but wants to ask a question can tweet through and we’ll put them to the panel

A selection of recent tweets on the #digieng stream (none of them mine, by the way). It’s a pretty negative story, to be sure. But there are few, if any, positives to balance it. These particular tweets have been selected because they all relate to the event itself – and largely offer advice and suggestions that should have helped the organisers and presenters.

The last tweet is from the @digiengagement account. It invites questions via Twitter which weren’t then (as far as the tweeters could discern) actually fed to the panel for a response. [Do put me right here, @digiengagement, if they were – but the audience perception was that they weren’t.]

[UPDATE: I’ve had direct confirmation today from a panel member that they didn’t get any questions passed on.]

But it’s not all about Twitter, as I’ll be the first to acknowledge. The event itself wasn’t that bad – some compelling speakers (Peter Gilroy, Helen Milner, Martha Lane Fox all stood out), what looked to my untutored eye to be a great signing service – you don’t see that at every event, working wifi, and food which to this writer at least (even if not to @technicalfault) was very good indeed. And I see that full content is going to be made available online.

The “lack of live streaming” comments raised a particularly interesting point, though. They, coupled with the comments about external participation not really happening, point to an interesting phenomenon:

This conference was itself being seen as a digital engagement exercise. Now that might not have been a primary aim (or desire) of the organisers. The business model for a closed conference is different to one where participation is widely shared and invited – but as I hinted in my earlier post, conferences are increasingly seen as ‘public’ due to the uncontrollable openness of their participants – particularly on this topic! More people can say things to more people… as the great man once said.

And if your panel includes the likes of Martha Lane Fox who have serious public engagement jobs to do, you can expect the outside world to be showing great interest. That’s a sign of their success, I’d say. Well done Martha – your feedback was very positive, as I’m sure you saw at the time. 😉

Yes, they could have been a bit more savvy about the use of engagement technologies to make the day richer. Yes, there could have been more along the lines of the excellent example set by @helenmilner – who acknowledged to the audience that she’d modified her intended material based on feedback she’d picked up. (Notably, she began by clearing up the distinction between digital inclusion and digital engagement.) Yes, there were a few technical glitches that could have been ironed out – there always are. But the venue was a good one (for That London), as Julia Chandler points out. And I stress again that some of the digital engagement made by Aisha from the conference organising team in particular – such as that on Anke Holst’s blog post – was made in the right spirit.

And I must have got really unlucky in a seminar session on ‘data’ – which avoided all the interesting angles around mash-ups, user contribution, different models of data ownership, VRM etc. and chose to focus on a classic 1990s information management view of the world – seriously: a good digital engagement event would have used some peer review (it’s easy to get if you ask, guys) to spot things like this and weed them out. In contrast, the Redbridge session got some great feedback.

But the real irony lies in the way that the openness of digital engagement has a profound impact on the way that digital engagement itself gets talked about.

I stress again; this isn’t all about Twitter – it just happens to be one tool that’s perfect for very quick, very real, direct engagement. For speakers, the backchannel (conversations going on between delegates – and the wider world – in real time as they are presenting) is an invaluable source of feedback. Used properly, it can build a sense of real participation in an event like nothing else can.

I look forward to the next event along these lines. And wonder if I’ll be banned? Or indeed, invited. One can never quite tell with this stuff. 😉


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21 Responses

  1. Hannah York says:

    Thanks for this second part. As someone who wasn’t at the conference pointed out to me, it wasn’t advertised as an unconference and I did see the agenda. Perhaps I had secretly hoped for a break out option but there just wasn’t time, the media trust did manage something like this where finally the audience made eye contact and swapped details and discussed their projects (thanks belatedly to them).

    I guess that’s where my major dissappointment lay, I’m not high-powered or important on a national level but actually I spend a lot of time volunteering and doing what was being talked about, my suspicion is a lot of the audience were similarly actively interested in the topic and perhaps we had valid stories and ideas to share with one another that could have further enhanced the ideas we gained from the speakers – and yes some of them were good, I acknowledged as much in my feedback sheet, which I didn’t hear mentioned was in the forest of adverts they gave us on arrival.

    I don’t have a massive research budget and I have to defend spend to my management committee and I’m struggling to see what I got for the £180 spent (train and reduced entry fee) that I couldn’t have got from following twitter and just googling the list of speakers. For me attending these things is about sharing ideas and practice and learning from the audience not just the speakers. The stage was taken up predominantly by white males and it’s notable that this isn’t how the audience could be described (I spent a lot of time not looking at the stage) and that the two speakers who seem to have most engaged that audience are Martha Lane Fox and Helen Milner and they used the most case studies which demonstrated the actual reality and power of engaging. I guess it would just be nice (as you say) if Ten Alps and others learnt from this that using terms such as engagement and inclusion mean that you should attempt to do that at your events because there isn’t such a clear cut heirarchy of people who opinions are worth hearing and those who want to hear them. On the subject of which, if @digiengagement want to respond to my tweet query in response to theirs the other day (@digiengagement and how do you define ‘directly involved’ and ‘actually make a difference’? It sounds a bit exclusive, could you clarify?) as I’ve not heard back and would find it helpful.

    Sorry to take up so much space here, there isn’t a forum or comments area on wwww.digitalengagementevent.com

    Hope everyone has a good weekend!

  2. Mark Walker says:

    Hi Paul
    I can’t offer a defence of this event, or Ten Alps, as I think both represent a learning culture which feels alien to me. I would say that the main opportunity they missed is that they got a really interesting bunch of people in a room and then conspired to allow the sum of the parts to add up to considerably less than the whole.
    Having said that I am not wholly convinced by the unconference format so beloved of the NFP Twitterati.
    It is a great way of reflecting TODAY’S issues, without needing to announce an agenda. It is lower cost and it is more interactive and participative.
    It can also be a bit chaotic and I’m sure that many people, like me, can go away feeling full up but not nourished.
    To me the balance is having a clear agenda, with key staging posts to lay out the territory. Key speakers offer the opportunity to set a framework and share ideas in a way which huddles of people cannot. Martha, Helen and Peter Gilroy could have fullfilled that role more than adequately on their own.
    Add to that the use of interactive formats such as workshops and seminars which bring the best of unconference/open spaces. Media Trust managed this very successfully from what I hear.
    Oh and I’m not sure about the role of suppliers could be but I’m fairly confident that we shouldn’t relegate them to old-fashioned stands in the refreshments. If it was me I’d be in those workshops like a shot, listening to what the main players in my marketplace are talking about.

  3. […] That Conference in That London (Part 2) « Honestlyreal honestlyreal.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/that-conference-in-that-london-part-2 – view page – cached we could rant in stereo about their spivvy sales tactics and crass treatment of SMEs #digieng> hear hear — From the page […]

  4. I think the major problem was that Ten Alps don’t really have any experience with the subject, as one of the organisers said towards the end of the day, their experience is mainly in environment and transport-related events.

    A cynical person could see them doing an event like this as a money-making exercise without really knowing their subject. A less cynical person will hope they learn from these mistakes and do a bit of background research beforehand, because, other than the actual content of the event, it WAS really well organised and put together.

    • paulclarke says:

      Stuart – I think that’s a very fair point. Getting ‘digital engagement’ material right without some understanding (and practice) of digital engagement is clearly going to be difficult in future. Though there was no shortage of advice being offered in advance.

      A lot of things were professionally done, I’d agree. But perhaps one of the most difficult issues to understand was the pricing policy. Imagine the following correspondence:

      “Dear x-shire Council. You’ve just cut my carer hours because you say you’re short of budget. But I see you sent someone to a conference in London that they could have got into for free, just by asking. I know this because I saw it all unfolding in the open on Twitter a few weeks ago. Care to explain? Are you doing anything about it?”

  5. scipmark says:

    Hi Stuart
    +1 for organisation of the event
    can I also mention that Ten Alps CEO turned up on stage as a partner with KentTV, which made me wonder about what they said about their experience in this field and possible conflicts of interest in their objectives for the day. Not saying this is wrong in any way but it was an odd moment for me.

  6. Thanks for another well written, and well-balanced post.

    There is another aspect to conferences that I’ve not heard much mention of yet, and that’s the social networking bit.

    We all know that additional unspoken motivations for attending conferences are:

    a) To see and be seen. Demonstrating your credentials by simply being at the key events and sending out the message that ‘I’m in the know’.

    b) Meeting people you want to meet, be they speakers – or more likely – other delegates. That’s why smart conference organisers publish the list of delegates before the event.

    c) Catching up on the industry gossip. Meeting friends/associates/contacts/colleagues you may not get to see very often, in order to swap stories about the news that people really want to hear, but rarely gets uttered by the platform speakers who know they may be quoted, and therefore tend to be more discrete.

    d) The drink up/shopping/going out afterwards. You touched on this one in your first post, but it remains an additional incentive, particularly for the overnight conferences that just so happen to be in rather nice venues with bars, shops, and nightclubs nearby.

    I don’t know how well the digital engagement conference scored against those criteria because I wasn’t present, but it does underline the importance of social networking in it’s original sense, and getting the conference venue right.

    One of the criticisms that I heard following the Reboot Britain event was that although they got many of the technology enablers right, the physical size and layout of the building meant that delegates would often only pass each other like ships in the night, and ironically didn’t get much of an offline social networking experience.

    Anyway, I hope that rather than banning you, Ten Alps would take a leaf out of Dell’s playbook and hire you as a consultant should they ever plan a similar follow up event.

  7. stuart brown says:

    I really appreciate the effort everybody has gone to offer their opinions and advice and we take on board many of the comments made.

    Our event this week was not a “digital” event. It was a delegate based conference that sought to debate the issues around digital engagement and inclusion.

    We never aimed to incorporate the many digital tools available to us on this event and indeed we were surprised and delighted at the amount of social media interest and activity on the day.

    I hope that for those who wish to carry on the debate, you choose to engage with us via the new content that you will see on the event web site http://www.digitalengagementevent.com and, as you already have, via our Twitter account.

    The event was simply the start of what we feel should be an ongoing and changing debate, and whilst some people may feel our event was not what they wanted or expected, I am pleased that we took the step, and committed to the expense, of doing something. We felt the subject was not out there enough and if we have achieved anything then we have certainly started a healthy debate, with some excellent contributions as many of you have kindly recognised.

    But let’s get back to the real debate here and not what our day did or did not achieve, whether suppliers suits were cheap or not and whether or not people had to stand up for lunch!

    So thank you for your input and Paul you are always welcome to our events.

    Managing Director – Ten Alps Publishing

  8. TimHood says:


    I respect the fact that you have addressed the negative feedback directly and I especially like the fact that are supporting your team.

    I’d like to pick up on some of your points though:

    ‘The event was simply the start of what we feel should be an ongoing and changing debate’

    ‘..we were surprised and delighted at the amount of social media interest and activity on the day’.

    Even if you personally have not had the time to research grass roots activity in digital engagement and inclusion- fair enough, you are an MD of a PLC whose main business is not necessarily digital engagement- then I’m pretty sure your sales and production teams did.

    Indeed they approached many of the rising stars of this field and they had several months to get a feel for how advanced the debate is and how many events there have already been on the subject. Therefore, to claim you wanted to start a debate in an area which is already one of the most vibrant around, is a bit unfair.

    And I really don’t think the social media activity should have taken you by surprise.

    ‘We felt the subject was not out there enough and if we have achieved anything then we have certainly started a healthy debate’.

    Wasn’t this Ten Alps event in July 2008 addressing the same kind of issues? http://www.kent.gov.uk/news/greg-dyke.htm

    It says the conference would ‘examine the future of public service broadcasting, the challenges facing local authorities in engaging with local residents and the implications for local democracy’.

    Certainly, this quote from Peter Gilroy, CEO of Kent CC, would suggest that last year’s event and the 2009 event had a lot of cross-over (I see Peter also spoke at #DigiEng on the same subject of Kent TV more than a year later):

    “The debate about public participation and engagement means that local television is now high on the political agenda. We have brought together politicians, media commentators, academics and public participation experts for a stimulating day of discussion and debate around all of the key issues”.

    The event last year was invitation only and I believe was free. It shared some of the same speakers. Although that event focused on digital tv and engagement and this focused on inclusion and engagement, there are marked similarities.

    In 2009, Ten Alps seem to have scaled the event and monetised it, charging up to 895 pounds for private sector innovators and asking for up to 15k for them to speak.

    Ten Alps intrigues many, associated as it is with Bob Geldof, one of the UK’s best known campaigners.

    It is a PLC accountable to shareholders of course, but if it does have genuine ambitions to be a force for good and improve how we run the UK, then can I suggest you talk to people like Paul and Dave Briggs to see how you can help promote digital engagement at the grass roots level?

    All the best,


    • paulclarke says:

      Appreciate the comment Tim – but I’d say one of the best examples isn’t anything that I’ve personally done, but the TalkAboutLocal stuff initiative that Will Perrin set up [http://talkaboutlocal.org]. Dave’s localgovcamp work is excellent too, as you say.

  9. Janet E Davis says:

    Watching this conference from afar via tweeting backchannel, it quite quickly became apparent that people attending were not happy about it. When one of the female speakers comments on the lack of women amongst the speakers, this is a clear indication that there are problems.
    I begin to feel concerned that, when I see photos of these conferences concerned with digital issues, 1) I seem to see the same faces;
    2) it appears that white males dominate amongst speakers and audience.
    I am sure that you are all lovely guys, but there are a lot of non-white men and even quite a few women engaged in such work and concerned with these issues. One of the things that concerns me is that we build a better and more equal society for the future. I am very concerned that the pre-planning strategy discussions appear to preclude such an outcome.
    I would have to write a whole blog on who should be included, why and how that inclusion could or should be achieved. We certainly need a more radical approach.

  10. paul canning says:

    I’m glad to read you pointing out that the ‘twitter feed’ from an event isn’t *all that. I’ve now been at a few where if you just read hashtagged tweets you’d get a seriously unbalanced view.

    I tend to agree with the comment that the best events would mash-up the traditional with the new, bringing in elements gained from unconferences. The thing is you cannot get around the need for a good host/MC (or MCs). Like with any sort of event or meeting you need someone (or someones) with personality to direct the proceedings.

    BTW, I *still don’t know if the question I asked via Twitter (which @digitalengagement asked for!) was put http://twitter.com/pauloCanning/statuses/4651240155

  11. Britt_W says:

    Hi Paul,

    I wasn’t at THAT conference, but for many years now, I have been to numerous OTHER conferences – in London and elsewhere in the country. Therefore, I would like to add my own views to the debate.

    Yesterday, the phone rang. Funnily enough, it was just after I had read your blog post. I could detect what was going on from the first few words said in this conversation. Yes – it was yet another conference flogger.
    The typical conference flogger can be recognised from the following conversation pattern: (not necessarily in this order!)

    1 – He (it is usually a male person, according to my experience) starts off by making sure you feel how important and influential you are to senior government type people.

    2 – Name dropping galore. Minister this and senior manager that. They have ALL mentioned my name and recommended he contacts me, as the UK’s ultimate expert in my field. (By which time I feel I’m so important I actually rule this country).

    3 – Now, in order for me to make use of my prominent position, he can help me to achieve WHAT I WANT by making this deal.

    4 – I would obviously get full exclusivity. NO other brand name, company, manufacturer etc will be considered. I’m unique now. It’s only me, me, me… God, this is going to be so good.

    5 – So, this conference is coming up, yeah. And it will be THE event to attend. Everyone’s coming. SO exclusive, so important. No other conference will have as high a profile as this one. At this stage, he throws in a lot of stats about credibility and experience, how many LA’s, senior decision makers I will reach out to….

    6 – By now (30 minutes), he considers me mellow enough to start negotiating prices. He’ll ‘give me’ delegate tickets, free this, that & the other. Editorial, logo, passwords to blogs, ads and exhibition space….
    Cost usually ends up around £7K….

    SEVEN THOUSAND POUNDS!!! And then comes the extras… Extended exhibition space…chairs, table cloth, facia name board, power points, spotlights, daily cleaning, lunch, coffees, leaflets on chairs, inserts in delegate packs… There is simply no end to what you CAN be charged for.

    So, how come then, there are OTHER conferences where the focus is on what matters most – the actual subject we are there to discuss. Good speakers, decent – but not luxuary – lunch nibbles, coffees etc but above all a sense of direction, an aim to get delegates engaged and involved. The conferences I am thinking of cost around £50-100 per delegate. Just as high profile, high value and memorable.

    It seems to me, there is too much profit making for the sake of it in conference management and event organising generally. If the purpose of an event is to share, gather and spread information, to network and work together towards a better future, then why, oh why are people left out just because they cannot motivate THAT cost? Such a shame.

    And…for the record – I turned his offer down.

  12. TimHood says:

    This made me laugh, despite being a bit spooky since it is almost word for ego-massaging word the pitch I received and fell for initially.

    I’d say you missed out only one element-the ‘growing speaker list’ which includes the usual ‘industry leaders’ who spoke at a very similar conference last year, last month or last week. In fact it is often possible to predict who it’ll be before they even tell you.

    You can normally see the speakers’ presentations for free on YouTube anyway- which has the added advantage over seeing it live of allowing you to click the pause button while you Twitter criticism about what they are saying being the same stuff they said at the last event you decided not to attend.

    Oh, and you forgot the AV Screens, which after supreme effort, they have managed to secure from the venue exclusively for YOU at only £3k.

  13. johnpopham says:

    I agree with a lot of the criticisms of the event. As someone who works for an SME, I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the original £895 price tag.

    I wonder whether, the next time an event like this comes up, we don’t just take matters into our own hands. I am thinking of precedents such as what wesharestuff did at the National Digital Inclusion Conference, including Social Media Surgeries in the exhibition area, fringe social in the evening, and vox pops on the streets around the conference.

    Most people seemed to be dashing off straight after the #digieng event, but, maybe some would have stayed if a post-event fringe event had been pre-announced. I also wondered what Ten Alps’ attitude would have been if someone (perhaps me) had started using the wifi to live stream the event using qik or something similar. I didn’t do it, by the way!

  14. Nick Hill says:


    We at PSF would like to commend you and others for the opinions and views expressed post Digital Engagement event.

    We at Public Sector Forums have been delivering news, information and comment to the 14500+ PSF network for the last 7 years and as a by-product of that activity, have also been able to produce a number of offline activities that have been relevant and useful to that network of people.

    They have been useful and relevant because by establishing a community ethos, we have been able to engage with them electronically, telephonically and also face-to-face to establish their issues, visions for the future and identified exactly what information they require to deliver on their objectives.

    Establishing this community and the relationship that we have with them has taken alot of time and effort and so when events take place like the Digitial Engagement one, it does make us and probably a number of similar organisations such as Kable and Headstar get a bit hot under the collar.

    I dont know how many delegates attended, whether there was transparency on the part of Ten Alps when engaging with sponsors in providing an overview of registered delegates to date (standard practice at PSF) but initial sponsorship rates of £15k in this current economic climate are ludicrous.

    Restriction of the use of 2.0 tools to promote event content also seems like madness. At the 1st Web 2.0 event that PSF ran in Manchester in April which Dave Briggs chaired and spoke at, we had 120 delegates attend of which at least 60 were twittering with others such as Liz Azyan using flip cameras to interview speakers and delegates and then immediately post the content up to our http://www.psfbuzz.com site

    This not only increased the “virtual” delegation many times over, but also promoted the good content that our event that delivered.

    We are trying to use Twitter, YouTube and other social media channels at all our offline activities to encourage engagement, inclusion but also as a marketing platform.

    Keep up the good work.


    • Sarah Johnson says:

      Not a blatant plug for your own events or even a great opportunity to capitalise on a situation which is uneasy for your competitor?

      What really angers me is the fact PSF may have posted content up about your events but you are now usuing this blog to shout out about how great your events are! We can only judge this by the feedback of your attendees and not you!

      At least Ten Alps haven’t closed the digital engagement page down and they are still responding to any queires and questions any of us have.

      In fact I got a call this afternoon regarding the delegate list, explaining that my details were not sold to anyone and that a generic list was given to those who asked for it on the day – there were no contact details on this list, as I have a copy – it simply states, name, job title and company – all important details for networking at the event.

      I know some people weren’t happy but overall, I had a really good day and made some good contacts…I would have had the debate in the morning and I would have had more women on the stage and not had the tickets priced at £895 but otherwise, it was good and a lesson for both Ten Alps and all other event organisers…


      • paul canning says:

        Sarah, your response fails to understand Nick’s point I think.

        Companies engaged with egov always straddle a line between needing to make some money to pay the bills and trying to operate ethically and as part of a community.

        When one of them behaves in a way that creates the sort of issues this one has then it effects them. Any commercial sector has these sorts of issues from time-to-time.

        Surely it’s being open of PSF to bring how they see the impact of this event and how they approach the same issues into a forum such as this one? I don’t see other commercial event organisers here, except Ten Alps of course, but wouldn’t it be a good thing if they were?

        [Disclosure: I am helping them organise the first egov usability event in December]

  15. […] were being offered free tickets. Paul Clarke documents the whole thing here and follows up with an assessment of the day itself. They are excellent posts, prompting well-balanced discussion about the style and content of the […]

  16. Paul Webster says:

    Two points.

    1, Does it come down to who the conference was actually there to benefit?

    Was it just part of the 10Alps conference plan, to generate revenue so they can continue to offer Transport and other sector events? Or, was it so that genuine collaborations could take as those of us with real interest grapple with how we can address Digital Inclusion?

    Can’t we move closer to addressing this by working in unconference groups talking to each other rather than sitting in rows listening to one person presenting?

    2, I couldn’t attend Will, Clare and Nicky’s #TAL09 unconference in Stoke (sorry – weekends not good for me) but i’d rather have subsidised them that pay the £75/£95/£195/£445/£895 #digieng cost.

    #TAL09 was open to the world welcoming feedback from those not on site, listening to the comments those of us tweeting in were making. (I’ve also participated in a similar way to an #nfptweetup).
    Surely this has to be the way to go to reduce the cost and environmental impact of travel to events?
    Right now i’m watching #SOCITM09 on Cover It Live … so, got to go!

  17. […] at e-comms events, hearing the same speakers say similar things to the same people. They’re two a penny, and it’s hard to know which will be the good […]

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