9 things you need to know about Hacks

Participants from Brum City Drive 2017 Hack, which we ran at Impact Hub Birmingham 
  1. What is a hack/hackathon?

Hackathons, or to use the more well-known abbreviation, ‘Hacks’, are a fairly new concept to most people in the UK third sector.

Originating in the software development industry, hacks are events where people from different backgrounds and sectors choose to get together with others, or are encouraged to come together, to work intensively in teams to develop solutions to problems. One goal has been to make useful software which has the possibility of being commercialised.

  1. Why have a hack?

“Starting in the mid to late 2000s, hackathons became significantly more widespread, and began to be increasingly viewed by companies and venture capitalists as a way to quickly develop new software technologies, and to locate new areas for innovation and funding … Hackathons aimed at improvements to city local services are increasing, with one of the London Councils (Hackney) creating a number of successful local solutions on a 2 Day Hackney-thon. There have also been a number of hackathons devoted to improving education…” – from Hackathon, Wikipedia

  1. Our involvement in hacks

Pauline Roche and Ted Ryan of RnR Organisation have been participating as voluntary sector subject matter experts in hacks and similar exploratory events like design sprints, unconferences and data dives for the past several years, in Birmingham and elsewhere in the UK.

“We find that working on challenging issues in teams with a combination of people with technical skills, people who are knowledgeable about the issue, researchers etc, brings a different and new dynamic to approaching and identifying possible solutions to the kind of social issues with which we in the sector are familiar. You can read more about the kind of events in which we’ve taken part in this area in this blogpost”

  1. Differences between hacks and more traditional events

The main differences between hacks and other issue-based events are its length, the opportunity to meet other participants before the main event, lack of agenda, lack of keynotes, lack of fixed mealtimes, giving/getting feedback.

Unlike more traditional conferences and similar events, Hacks are usually held over 24-48 hours, sometimes even going on for a week, and they assume active participation by all attendees. The main event is often preceded by a get together where potential attendees spend a few hours meeting each other with a view to finding out what knowledge, skills and interests they each have which could contribute to a diverse team at a hack.

At the hack itself there are no keynote speakers; instead, people ‘pitch’ the issue they want to work on and then other attendees decide, having heard the pitches, which of those teams they want to join. There are no fixed meal breaks so the creative flow isn’t interrupted – instead, refreshments are made available during the hack so people can take breaks when they feel the need. However, opportunities are provided during the event, not just at the end, for teams to check-in/feedback to the whole event,  sometimes verbally, sometimes using graphics, and respond to questions and comments on their progress.

  1. Things to bring to a hack

  • Wifi-enabled devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones) as well as extension cables and memory sticks

  • Your experience

  • An open mind

  • Design thinking and other information research skills

  • Creativity

 

  1. Participating remotely

Through the use of social media and other collaborative technology, you can be part of a hack even if you’re not physically in the room.

Most hacks have a hashtag e.g. #HackMentalHealth, and people elsewhere in the country (or the world) can join in the event remotely, using the hashtag to ask questions, make comments, share documents etc as well as responding to people tweeting from the hack.

  1. Typical hack schedule

  • Night before hack (or a few days before): Pre-meeting of potential participants. Attending the pre-meeting doesn’t mean you have to come to the hack – it’s a chance to see what it’s about, meet people, share ideas.

  • Start of event: Participants arrive at venue and register, introductions, pitches, teams form, hacking begins

  • Mid-event: Check-in/Feedback session

  • End of event: Teams present/demonstrate their work/findings

 

  1. After the hack

There may be follow-up events, more hacks and opportunities for hack participants to keep working on the issues.

Many people go to hacks on a regular basis, sharing their skills and knowledge with others. One place where developers find out about upcoming hacks is here

  1. Want to get involved with hacks in the voluntary sector?

We’re planning to do more hacks in the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, particularly with smaller organisations in the West Midlands.

We’re collating a list of interested parties – get in touch with us if you’d like to be part of one, whether you’re in the sector as a chief officer/worker/volunteer/trustee, or in other sectors as a developer, designer, data analyst, researcher, subject expert, entrepreneur, academic or student and we’ll keep you up to date with developments.

All events will be announced via our monthly newsletter Digital WM News.

 

More reading and a podcast

Hack weekends: 5 tips on keeping the momentum going, (Sept 2012)

Because not all the smart people work for you… (Dec 2012)

Not a coder? How to do well at hackathons (Oct 2013)

Charity Hack brings tech innovation to Scotland’s third sector (Sept 2015)

‘Sheffugees’ hack helps asylum-seekers and refugees (Feb 2016)

Planning Your Own Tech Event [podcast](Aug 2017)

Blog: Wider Engagement and Fresh Ideas Needed in Your City? A City Data Hack is a Great Place Start (May 2018)

Outstanding Contribution to Technology award winner

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Pauline with her award – Outstanding Contribution to technology 2016; photo credit: Cheryl Garvey

We are celebrating!

Our Managing Director, Pauline Roche, won the award for Outstanding Contribution to technology at the 2016 West Midlands Women of the Year Awards held on Friday November 11th at the Novotel Birmingham on Broad St.

Pauline is an information science professional specialising in community building, outreach and developing better processes for the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to use technology and data. She is passionate about increasing the digital skills and data literacy of people in charities. She co-founded the Net Squared Midlands: tech for social good meetup series and VCSSCamp.

Pauline is a tech connector, do-er and fosterer of skills and knowledge in the West Midlands and beyond. She bring charities, funders and community groups together to address social issues by organising events, blogging and tweeting through her business RnR Organisation, a social enterprise supporting data informed programmes focussing on asset-based community development and tech for good. She aims to be an example to women striving to improve life in their community.

Read the event story here

Asset-based transformation: an introduction

Fig 1 is our first design of such a model. We will, in the coming months, develop this design and model. This will be done through discussion with commissioners and community activists to enable a robust, fundable and sustainable model to be designed that recognises the importance of all participants within the process.

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Fig 1 ASSET BASED COMMUNITY HEALTH OPERATIONAL MODEL – 1ST DRAFT

The development of this process is only part of our thinking.

For this model to be implemented systemically, ensuring success and sustainability, we would argue that there is a need for true transformation of the public realm funding processes, to review its attitude and opinion of VCSE / community groups, and their role in service provision.

Figs 2-4 outline our thinking about changes to the public realm funding decision making process.

We promote the use of data from wider sources than those currently used. We outline an asset based approach that should be adopted to support services, not because utilising community assets is a cheaper option in time of public realm budget cuts, but because community assets are an essential and skilful resource than can optimise the impact of projects.

In the coming months we will expand on these designs exploring current process, Fig 2 Traditional (Established) Model (yellow section on left), and the ‘market’ development of a supply chain. This diagram also explores the Product Development Process, (brown section on right), which is supposedly assimilated into the supply chain process.

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Fig 2 TRADITIONAL (ESTABLISHED) MODEL, PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT PROCESS

Fig 3 Current Ecosystem, Design Process, Wider Data Proposal explores what impact the term ‘transformation’ has had on the ecosystem, with the yellow and blue sections identifying a “delivery disconnect” in the sustainability of income from any ‘product’ developed within the supply chain.

This figure also provides an outline of the ‘Design Process’(grey section), as well as outlining a Wider Data Proposal (green section).

These last two sections form part of ‘absolute’ processes, processes that, together with the Product Development Process, are external to the system but should be incorporated within it, if true transformation is to take place.

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Fig 3 CURRENT ECOSYSTEM, DESIGN PROCESS, WIDER DATA PROPOSAL

The last sheet, Fig 4, incorporates elements of our previous work, Three Field Asset Based Community Development (green section), together with structures developed by Poc Zero with whom we are working to develop transformational proposals. Poc Zero’s Ring Of Confidence, is augmented by Boxes Of Support (orange section). The final section Developing The Dojos (purple), begins the exploration of how community organisations can be engaged as ‘peers’ within the delivery and process, designed or developed through public realm funding.

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Fig 4 RING OF CONFIDENCE, BOXES OF SUPPORT, THREE FIELD ACTIVITY

The Operational Model, Fig 1, and subsequent transformational designs, Figs 2-4, place asset engagement and development at the core of the activity.

We believe that communities, assets, volunteers, whatever label is used, should not be seen as an aid to public realm funding cuts.

Communities and individuals, irrespective of their issues, can be assets to a programme but, generally, projects/programmes are developed within a deficiency model, activities to rectify deficiencies.

We at RnR put communities at the core of activities and model how both public organisations, Fig 1 and public realm funding can be transformed to accommodate their resources and assets, Figs 2-4.

This is what we believe to be true transformation.

If you are interested in discussing our designs or activities, please contact us to discuss how we can work together for you to achieve your outcomes and demonstrate your impact.

 

Pauline Roche

Ted Ryan

September 2016 

All images © copyright RnR Organisation except for Ring of Confidence © copyright Poc Zero

UKDigiStrategy consultation 2016: Response from Net Squared Midlands

It’s a very open call for ideas, although there are four suggested themes.

Introduction

A group from the public sector and voluntary sector with an interest in digital transformation and digital growth in the charitable sector discussed this at our Net Squared Midlands: Tech for good event in Birmingham in January 2016 and responded with the bullet points below:

1)         Unlocking digital growth

Every business and every charity can benefit from using digital technology, but for many of the smaller charities and micro community groups that we work with there are huge leaps needed to make digital transformation happen.

  • Corporate Social Responsibly – could larger businesses provide digital employee volunteering and mentoring services, brokered through the national network of well established local Volunteer Centres and Councils for Voluntary Service?

  • See volunteer centres https://www.ncvo.org.uk/ncvo-volunteering/find-a-volunteer-centre

2)         Transforming government

Whilst many staff in charities may be comfortable with using their smart phone to go on-line or conduct on-line transactions, the organisations they work for often aren’t at the same level, or don’t have the same infrastructure to make access to government services easy. Many charity websites are not responsive or mobile friendly and others are out of date, poorly designed or non-existent.

Simple transactions Government procurement is seen as being very bureaucratic and a barrier that small charities often with limited digital skills and capacity struggle to engage with. There is a need for more information sharing and awareness raising of what the third sector can (and can’t do) digitally as part of a strategic relationship with government.

  • Simpler commissioning models are needed, maybe with a group of third sector organisations collaborating on contract submission to “Government As A Platform”. ”; info sharing with public sector – lack of knowledge;

  • See the model working in Mansfield http://www.tea-m.org.uk/

3)         Transforming everyday life

Relevant activities that promote digital inclusion should be available at the point of need for individuals who use the services of charities, (e.g. Rough sleepers, single parents etc). Taking time out of running a small community group to assist a user undertake “computer classes” is not sufficient and can be off putting when the environment used is a school or classroom which may have unpleasant memories.

Help citizens to understand what their devices can actually do.

Will e-learning and MOOCs ever really catch on in the third sector?

  • Unlike public or health sectors where training is compulsory and e-learning has been found to be a very cost effective way to deliver this information, no such requirement exists for many tasks in voluntary organisation.

  • See Run A Club platform for skills development & administration of small community sports groups Run a Club packages

For some people leading chaotic personal lives there is a need for “pre basic digital skills”, mentors who can explain the reasons why being a part of the digital society is important. Vitally they also need to mentor and ensure that those farthest from being digitally active retain their connection, remember their e-mail address or government portal passwords.

4)         Building the foundations

Of the 160,045 voluntary organisations in England, 83.1% are small or micro organisations with less than £100,000 income per year. It is these organisations that are most at risk of being left behind digitally and which this strategy needs to accommodate.

The digital framework and basic digital skills developed by Go On UK [now doteveryone] goes part way to helping organisations, but needs to cover the strategic digital transformation issues an organisation has to consider in order to build strong foundations.

Organisations prioritise service delivery over technology, which for a small charity is often the best use of limited resources and capacity, but basic ‘good practice’ cannot be ignored. Digital Fundamentals which must be embedded in the way organisations work, employ staff with digital skills and recruit volunteers to help their cause include:

  • Demystifying ‘the cloud’ and the efficiency saving that this form of working can bring to an organisation, its staff and trustee boards.

  • Being more aware of the many social media tools that help a charity raise its game, increase fundraising and promote its message to a wider audience.

  • Charities need to be directly aware of the National Cyber Security Programme as many don’t adequately protect their data files, use paper based filing systems or fail to back-up databases and don’t use anti-virus and other basic tools which could keep their digital assets safe.

  • Access to impartial advice about the best digital tools and products, not those linked to a particular supplier or solution e.g. http://www.connectingcare.org.uk

  • See Charity IT Association – https://www.charityitassociation.org.uk/about for Tech Surgeries and a Virtual IT Director for small charities who don’t have the resources to employ their own.

These statistics are a concern:

There are some worrying statistics from the 2015 Lloyds Bank UK Business Digital Index  [updated annually]which tracks digital adoption among small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) and charities:

·         58% of charities lack basic digital skills (23% of SMEs), up from 55% last year

·         28% of charities think that they’re doing all they can online

·         Over 50% of charities do not believe that having a website would help increase their funding and nearly 70% say the same about social media

·         55% of charities think that the knowledge level at board level is lacking.

·         One-quarter (25%) of all organisations surveyed (SMEs and charities) believe digital is ‘irrelevant’ to them.[i]

And this list of technical equipment and events is exactly what is needed by many smaller organisations:

A national charitable funder ran a pilot programme recently which was to help charities use technology to create change in the lives of certain groups in society. There were a number of things which the funder said this programme would not cover and these were:

·         Upgrading of internal IT systems

·         Large-scale capital costs

·         Updating of websites and routine social media campaigns

·         Exploration events or hack days

·         Staff or volunteer training

·         Capacity-building to make an organisation more ‘digital ready’

As an organisation which believes in the need for the digital transformation of civic society, we think this is a handy list of work which does need to be funded by some funder(s) and we aim to identify and seek dialogue with funders who will fund these areas.[ii]

Summary

In summary it is vital to see increased opportunities for face to face networking with other Digital Leaders in the charity sector where exchange of information is possible and all share a common understanding. We have found it possible to gain knowledge of how to build a strong digital foundation by learning from one another in familiar surroundings and from people they trust in similar situations to them.

©         Pauline Roche & Paul Webster – January 2016

[i] http://www.rnrorganisation.co.uk/blogs/smart-cities-smarter-vcse/
[ii] Do.