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

Our fair trade organisation, Traidcraft, has just launched its Justice Campaign. The campaign is calling for the…

The impact of chronic illnesses continues to rise in the United Kingdom. The World Health Organisation estimates…

RealityBites - The National Healthcare Conversation moves to Tuesdays and takes on the future of general practice.…

Britain has a habit of funding new museums and attractions, when it would often do better to support and renovate…

The best way to track developments in UK’s local authorities is through the work of local journalists. A…

It makes sense for CCGs to have a bigger role in commissioning but they will need the oversight of NHS England…

The quarterly Enterprise Tracker report produced by RBS in association with UnLtd shows that UK social entrepreneurs,…

There needs to be a grown-up consultation with the public about how patient data is handled, says Tony Davis,…

Do you do digital? Take the test

The Information Daily is collaborating with Socitm to research organisations' commitment to and capability for a digital future.

Take the test

View Results

If you have already taken the test, you may view the latest detailed results by entering your email address below


Headline results so far: Results from 108 users

Corporate commitment: 46%
0%
100%
50%
Digital capability: 53%
0%
100%
50%

As a clinical consultant representing a proprietary software supplier in healthcare, you may be surprised to hear…

The way the NHS pays rent to GPs must be made the top priority for the new co-commissioning agenda or the shortage…

Raytheon will receive nearly half a billion pounds for its work on the cancelled eBorders project, but it was…

In 1948, responsibility for social care was handed to local councils and the medical stuff to the NHS. Now the…