We talk below about the specifics of the lessons learned from the Interactivism – Accessibility Hack Weekend, but wanted to start off by giving you our top five tips for making a success of your hackday:
1. Getting a diverse group together - Forming a well balanced group results in a well rounded product. Service users define the problem and test whether the solution works in reality. Social innovators design the solution to the problem. Developers write the code to make the solution into a reality. While some lucky people fall into all three categories, a group that is mostly developers may not be developing something that closely matches a real need, and a group of service users and social innovators may have lots of ideas, but struggle to develop the tech to make their ideas a reality.
2. Focus half on the idea, half on the tech - Just as the teams need to be balanced, so does allocation of time. The ideas will then be both well designed and well developed with longer-term sustainability.
3. Make time for talking and time for doing - You’re getting the idea of it now. The collaboration that comes from spending time in groups discussing your project adds real value to the time where you are making stuff happen, but if all you do is talk…
4. When putting an event together, focus on the fundamentals – Your hard working participants don’t want to be worrying about anything other than working as hard as they can to build that prototype. Make sure that your venue has good wifi that can cope with heavy usage and that everyone has somewhere to plug in their laptops. Use a venue where teams can get together in breakout spaces that is their own and isn’t too noisy. Make sure that the space is suitable for those with access needs. And order more than enough food and drink to go around (checking that everyone’s special dietary needs are met too) so that no one goes hungry.
5. Make it joyful – Who likes to attend a boring event? People are often giving up their spare time and working long hours to attend hack weekends, so create a culture of fun and exploration. Are there any times in your schedule where the serious coding starts and the service users will be sitting around twiddling their thumbs? Could you run a separate session for them during this time? Have you invited a good mix of people and chosen group facilitators who keep everyone in good humour, even when people are getting tired and stressed? Unless people are enjoying themselves they aren’t going to be coming back for more.
What are your thoughts?
So looking back to Interactivism specifically…
A couple of weekends ago now, Simpl and Google hosted Interactivism, a Hack Weekend setting out to make the Internet that little bit more accessible for older generations. From Googlers to grannies, students to social innovators, the event brought together a diverse and energetic bunch of people to see what we could create. You can check out everything you need to know and more about the weekend over on our Simpl website.
Given we’ve held quite a few hack type events in our time now, we thought it might be worth sharing the lessons we learnt from organising Interactivism and where we tried to do things a little bit differently.
Finding, merging and making ideas happen
On this occasion we pre-sourced the questions over on Simpl as a way of ensuring real need (as identified by just about anyone) was met by the event developing ideas that would be popular and have some legs after the event (it also saved a lot of time at the hack day too). This is somewhat unusual for pure hackdays, which tend to give developers free reign to go away and create in teams or on their own, but really just with other developers (except perhaps for things like @sicamp). Given some of the ideas submitted to Interactivism were somewhat similar, and we were keen to include as many people as possible in the weekend, in a couple of cases our teams were asked to work with more than one idea to produce one prototype. The prototype being where the two ideas crossed over and it could meet a common need.
In some cases it worked, with the teams quickly deciding which elements of each idea they would work to build (one of the combined ideas ‘Spotted‘ even won the Gransnet award). However, in some cases teams found it hard to negotiate where the common ground was, making it difficult for them to merge their ideas to the satisfaction of both of the ideas owners. Inevitably the negotiations got in the way of valuable development time. Lesson learned. Suggest but don’t force.
Getting more student developers along
Interactivism was initially oversubscribed with applications from students developers, meaning we decided to randomly select a number of these to invite. So it was a real shame when a number of these students could not attend. We had not anticipated that the drop out rate would be so great for an event with a popular brand like Google, especially when a summer award programme was on offer for students who caught their eye.
Our thinking around how to improve this for future events include offering reimbursement for travel and accommodation costs, giving a fixed double RSVP deadline and then offering places to people on the reserve list. We did eventually offer places to all of the students who applied, but some had made other plans by the time they were invited.
The right mix of skills?
Although we had a number of student and Google developers attend Interactivism, the “pick your own team” approach did not deliver an equal number of developers working on each idea. And despite warnings that if some groups were undersubscribed and others oversubscribed we would move people around, that proved tricker than it sounded when planning the event. Next time we hold a hack event we will make sure that there are enough developers on each team to turn ideas into reality in the limited time that everyone had.
A judges’ feedback pit stop
We were lucky enough to secure some high quality judges for the Interactivism prize giving panel: Andrew Eland (Google), Michael Norton (UnLtd), Margaret Goodwin (AgeUK Internet Champion) and Mark O’Neill (Skunkworks). The judges attentively watched the final presentations from each of the teams and in the end voted EZPZ the winner. However, members of the judging panel commented that they would have benefited from wandering around and asking teams questions about their projects before seeing the final presentations. Team members also suggested a judge’s feedback pit stop would have helped them focus their ideas, giving them a chance to check that their work was heading in the right direction mid-way through the event. That having been said, after the first few hours of discussions and decision making in groups, we did give all teams the chance to present their ideas to each other, asking questions and making suggestions as to how they might tweak their thinking. This worked well we hear so would look to keep that in next time round.
Some feedback from the people that really mattered Gransnetters…
We found some really encouraging, insightful feedback over on Gransnet. Thanks to all who came along and lent their brains and experience!
“Though I still have concerns about what total reliance on computers will do to society, brain functioning and our grandchildren, the event has inspired (or is it shamed) me into being more open-minded, less cynical and with a greater readiness to learn the jargon and systems. I’m even going to represent a young relative at an event in London to do with his business because he’ll be away – don’t think I’d have offered but for the confidence gained at the ‘hackathon’.”
“Lot of myths were busted on all sides last weekend.”
“Gransnetters couldn’t have been better treated or less patronised. I worked in a great group of grans and bright young brains on a project to cut numbers of NHS appointments missed and it was fascinating to see ideas translated into a potential website and services. Best of all, no-one raised their eyebrows or glazed over when I spoke but were genuinely interested in other points of view and information. It was great to feel valued and to be involved in such a worthwhile weekend – which was also fun!”
“Gransnet members got even more absorbed in their teams than anticipated and many stayed around until late on the Friday night to help their teams. We did hold a session for Gransnet members on the Saturday to share their experiences and knowledge of using the internet with each other, to prevent the boredom kicking in whilst the developers got stuck into the intensive coding, and this is something that we would repeat when involving service users at future events.”
We had a blast creating some top ideas that will continue to be developed whether they won or not, whether the developers will be a part of the Interactivism Award over the Summer or not. We’ll be tracking progress and keeping you in the know on that front.
If you were a fellow Interactivism-er we’d love to hear how you found the weekend and ways we could make the next one even better. Just leave a comment below or get in touch. If you’d like to be kept in the loop for future events simply sign up to our mailing list and we’ll see you very soon!