What is a hackday?

What is a hackday? [+video]

By: Information Daily Staff Writer
Published: Monday, November 5, 2012 - 09:57 GMT Jump to Comments

In government, health and third sector circles, hackdays are becoming recognised as a valuable means of stimulating thinking about new and better ways of delivering public services, enabled by digital technology.

Which might come as a surprise to anyone assuming that a ‘hackday’ must be about breaking into high security computers and causing havoc.

In fact, hackdays are increasingly being used to create social good, bringing together groups of people with a range of skills to explore and solve problems, research and develop new ideas, and deliver solutions, often in the form of a website, web tool or ‘app’.

Or, as a typical hackday participant might put it: ‘It’s where a group of people get together in a room, get creative and build some cool stuff in a day or weekend.’ This is intense creativity, and beer, pizza, coffee, and high-energy drinks are as necessary as good quality broadband. Often the venue is borrowed from a university or business and the energy boosting refreshments provided by a sponsor who gets the benefits of participation (and a bit of borrowed ‘cool’) for a vanishingly small investment. Sponsors may also provide the datasets that provide the raw material for teams to work with.

Events usually start with a briefing or brainstorm where ideas are generated around a theme or purpose. Our video was made at #smarthack, an event linked to work going on in Birmingham to explore how open data and ‘smart city’ technologies can help meet some of the challenges the city is facing.

The initial discussion generates ideas, and groups form to take these forward, comprising web coders, designers, researchers, business brains and subject experts.

The bulk of the time at a hack day is spent researching, thinking, designing, coding, engineering, refining, and building prototype solutions or ideas. As with any creative activity, teams will often find themselves pulling their idea completely apart halfway through, before setting off again, sometimes in a completely different direction. At the end of the hack, each group gives a short presentation of their work to the group of fellow “hackers”, sponsors, judges and others.

Hackdays are exciting and stimulating and often quite competitive, and there may be prizes offered, although for most participants, the buzz, the contacts, the learning and the new ideas are reward enough.

The ideas and prototypes produced at the event may be taken forward by the event hosts or sponsors, the developer teams taking part, or other interests. The greatest value of the experience for everyone, however, is to stimulate new thinking. The fruits of a day or weekend spent fermenting ideas, and seeing them turning into reality, will almost certainly freshen participants’ approaches to the problems that are blocking progress in the ‘day job’.

Most of those who participate in hackdays would no more go to a traditional conference than they would eat rubber chicken. But senior managers more used to traditional milieus would do well to find a hackday near them, put on their jeans, and get themselves involved (maybe bringing along the beer and pizza too).

They will find the creative frenzy, the, enthusiasm, and the freedom to make something happen “now” while it can really make a difference, hugely rewarding.

See also: Vicky Sargent's Blog Watch 7: coding & the NHS; hackdays and VIDEO FEATURE The rise of the unconference

Comments

Latest

Today is Document Freedom Day. As of November 2012, all government bodies have had to adhere to Open Standards…

You’ve probably heard – you may even have begun to tire of the wall to wall coverage – but on…

Estimates suggest that 60-70% of total expenditure for a typical NHS organisation is dedicated to the employment…

Pressure on social care budgets is such that things simply can't continue being done as they have been in the past.

Our goal for health needs to change.We need to move away from the notion that health is the absence of disease…

Helping to set the EU regulatory framework, benefiting from EU funded R&D and the free movement of skilled engineers…

With the 2015 General Election just around the corner, a significant window of opportunity is open for political…

Before making any decisions, the most important thing to do is to understand all the options that are available…

The important thing to remember is apprenticeships aren’t new, in the UK they date back to as early as the…

The electoral battlespace is starting to take shape. Campaigners are busily debating the political landscape.

The next five years could see a rapid shift in health and care from understanding populations to understanding…

The Internet of Things was one of the most talked about trends at Mobile World Congress this year. It will change…