Thinking Out Loud: A Hackday for Social Housing

This is an exercise in thinking out loud to try and refine some ideas on the concept of a hackday for social housing. Please feel free to chime in if you’ve got some thoughts on the topic.

Before I go prattling on, I should probably broadly define what I think a hackday is.

Hackday or Hackathon
A one or two day event where people come together to rapidly make things in response to a common challenge or theme. It can be technology related, but it doesn’t have to be.

Some pre-reading

I did a quick scour of the web to see what information was out there regarding arranging Hackdays/Hackathons. These were the posts that captured my attention.

First up — what’s the point in a social housing hackday?

There are some common challenges that all housing associations and tenants collectively face. There are inevitable overlaps with other public services too.

Whilst there are a number of professional networks and membership bodies that are sharing knowledge and good practice, I think it makes sense to try and connect the dots in a way that’s focused on figuring things out in an open, collaborative, fun and creative way.

Which isn’t to say people aren’t already doing things in their own respective organisations, but there’s additional value to be gained from linking up people who wouldn’t normally work together to actually attempt to prototype ideas through doing.

Fundamentally, I don’t think Hackdays are about solving 100% of a problem, I think they are community building tools. Done right, I think they’re a mechanism to bring a diverse range of people together in one place for a short time in the hopes that those newly formed networks and ideas live on and bear fruit at some point in the future.

Who is a social housing hackday for?

Essentially, anyone interested in improving social housing. That might include..

  • People who work in *Housing Associations.. (Housing, Development, Maintenance, IT, Finance etc.)
  • People who work with *Housing Associations.. (Local Gov, Health, Police, Developers, Suppliers.. etc.)
  • People who have experience of living in social housing.
  • People interested in housing in general.
  • Any combination of the above.

*I use Housing Association here as a placeholder for any type of org that provides social housing. I didn’t forget you ALMO’s & Councils!

How does a hackday work?

Short version. Advertise event and bring people together. Do a round of ‘pitches’ where people explain the thing they want to build or problem they want to fix. Everyone finds a space to form up teams. People are welcome to join/leave whatever team they want depending on how they want to contribute. At the end of the event each team does a quick presentation. Sometimes there’s a prize for the best thing.

Open by default!

I believe most hackdays operate on the premise that anything created is open to public consumption. That means that once you’ve concluded your ‘hack’, your work is freely available for others to continue/remix as they see fit. I think this is essential to 1) ensure there’s half a chance that the idea lives on and develops and 2) to ensure that people don’t unwittingly invest their free unpaid time in something that immediately becomes a closed commercial product.

What sort of things might people work on?

I’ve posted on Twitter to see what others might theoretically pitch if there was such a thing as a social housing hackday.

Here’s my list that I randomly plucked out of thin air for illustrative purposes.

  • How might we make Universal Credit easier for people to get to grips with?
  • What might a digital tenancy agreement look like?
  • What data might Housing Associations publicly publish that would be useful to others?
  • How might we design a tenancy account so it’s easy to make payments, understand debt, have clarity about services charges etc?

Is the word ‘Hackday’ a bit of turn off?

I’ve had some discussion about this previously. It’s a word which some people don’t recognise at all and for those that do it carries technological connotations which might be off putting if that’s not your day job or comfort zone.

I think my default position on this is that I’d want to make this type of event as open and approachable as possible for non-techie types. After all, the people closest to the problems are often not in technology roles. So maybe it’s better to call it something not ‘hack’ related??

I also think digital prototypes are great if you’ve got the skills, but paper prototypes can be good enough to communicate a concept or idea to others. Also, perhaps not every ‘hack’ needs to have a digital dimension? I’m thinking of an instance where you might be trying to re-design a process or service.


Feel free to give me a shout about anything I’ve written here and if you think this might be of interest to someone else, please bounce it on as it’d be great to get as wide a range of views as possible. Ta! 🙂


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