Housing Hackathon

On Friday I was at Community Housing Cymru’s #AnnualConf17. There was a session run by Perago (of DVLA digital transformation fame) entitled ‘Digital Transformation… it’s more than IT’. Thread of tweets from the day here if you’re interested.

During the talk, Hackathons got a mention in the context of fostering collaboration between different people and teams within the same organisation.

So, what’s a Hackathon?

An event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.

Following the session, this tweet sparked some discussion about arranging a potential hackathon for housing.

Over the weekend I’ve been pondering the pros and cons of running a Housing Hackathon. I no particular order, here’s a bit of a splurge of those thoughts to a) help me get them ordered into some cohesive form and b) put the discussion out there for the wider world.

“Aren’t hackathons just for techie types?”

I’ve been speaking to a few people about the NHS Hackday happening at the end of January. People are often worried about going to an event which sounds distinctly technological when they don’t directly work in the field themselves.

(Victoria Ford allueded to something similar during the Perago talk. A lot of the language around hackathons is super techie.. and male!)

To be fair to the team running the Cardiff NHS Hackday (shout out to the ace Anne Marie Cunningham and co!) they do specifically say on the event page that this is not an event just for the geeks.

From the NHS Hackday event page: https://ti.to/nhshackday/nhshd-cardiff-2018

But you do need *some* techie people for a hackathon, right?

I’ve not yet attended a hackathon (the NHS Hackday will be my first) so I’m hoping to get a better grasp about the ideal mix of skills required for a successful event.

My current understanding is that if you want to make some rough prototypes, you need some people with the skills to put something together. At this moment in time, I don’t know of that many developers or data people who work in the housing sphere.

  • Would this be an obstacle?
  • Could we encourage people from outside the Housing bubble to come along and lend their skills?

Do you have to build a thing?

I’m wondering how much it matters if you end up without any working prototypes? Is a paper prototype or a rough concept good enough to spark some enthusiasm?

It seems to me that a hackathon is fundamentally about community building. Some of the most interesting work might happen days or weeks after the event based on the relationships struck up during the hackathon.

BUT.. I totally get that the lure for some people is spending a couple of days making something cool and potentially useful.

If not a hackathon, how about a Jam?

Richard Sage made an interesting suggestion. How about a Service Jam?

What’s a Jam? Here’s a pretty good explainer via Simon Penny’s post on Global Jam Jam.

Global Jams are the same as a musical jam, except instead of musicians coming together to have a good time, challenge themselves, learn new skills, and meet new collaborators, it’s people interested in using a design-based approach to solve problems or create value. Jammers’ interests might be personal, political, commercial, academic or social. There are three Global Jams every year — Global Service Jam, Global Sustainability Jam and Global Gov Jam. Each Jam lasts for 48 hours and brings together local people in order to collaborate, play, create, innovate and test new ideas around a common theme.

It seems to me that this sidelines the technological aspect in favour of design thinking. Again, we’d need some expertise we could draw upon in terms of people who could lead groups in service design.

But on the plus side, it would be brill to expose more people to working on a design challenge end-to-end. Another quote from Simon’s post..

From a Global Jam facilitator’s point of view it’s fantastic to take a group of people from a range of backgrounds on a design journey together. It’s nice to introduce a bunch of people who don’t know each other on a Friday evening and see them generate loads of energy and test ideas over the course of a single weekend.

Food for thought!


Comments & suggestions very welcome!


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