Hackdays. The antidote to a clogged up system?

20140111-214318.jpgYou must have heard the quotes that get rattled out in public services to encourage different ways of thinking? Often misquoted, they get attributed to to Albert Einstein (to add some credibility) and are generally along the lines of:

  • “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them”
  • “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

All well intentioned stuff, but that’s usually as far as it goes. People are encouraged to think differently….. and then dive straight into the tried and tested brainstorming session (with the usual suspects) to come up with some innovative ideas.

There is a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy at work here…… if you repeat the same process (brainstorming etc)….. you are probably going to get the same results. It needs a bit more than asking people just to think differently. You need something to clear the blockage.

Hackdays, the antidote to old style thinking? In a few weeks I’m going to an NHS Hackday in Cardiff organised by Anne Marie Cunningham and James Morgan. Everything you need to know about the weekend (including the fact it’s 2 days not 1) is covered in this ‘Wishful thinking in Medical Education’ post by Anne Marie.

Based on my experience of other hackdays, and what I know about this one, I think they have the potential to unblock established thinking, and create something different. Briefly the hackday in Cardiff will involve:

  • A pre-hackday ‘pitch planning’ session; Wednesday 22nd January, Canton Library, Cardiff.
  • Diverse groups of people gathering on Saturday 25th January. Hopefully this will include people with experience of using the NHS as patients and carers; people who work within the NHS and people with digital skills who can help develop solutions.
  • Pitches. People describe a problem they would like to fix or an idea they would like others to work on with them.
  • Work on the pitches. How most of the time is spent. Service users, developers and NHS experts working together to develop an elegant digital solution.
  • Review and recognition. At the end of the second day (Sunday 26th), what has been achieved is demonstrated to a panel of judges and recognised.
  • What next. This will depend largely on what is created during the hackday(s).

So how is this different to established thinking? There are a number of things going on in a hackday which fit into the idea of disrupting the established processes and thinking. Anyone interested in service improvement should be able to find something that fits in with their view of ‘how things should be done’ under any of these headings.

  • Co-production. Getting service users and people who deliver the service in a room together with people who can provide a digital solution has to be co-productice.
  • Crowdsourcing. There’s definitely an element of this involved. The request to get involved and pitch your idea has been spread far and wide.
  • Rapid Prototyping. Attempting to build a solution in a single weekend is very rapid in comparison with most public service approaches.
  • Safe to Fail Pilots / Trojan Mice. There will be lots of things happening in parallel. If they fail, no problem, learn the lessons and move on.
  • Disruption. There is no doubt just the very thought of a hackday is disruptive. I’ve heard “that’s going to get the IT people rattled” mentioned several times this week.
  • Open Innovation. Bringing people together who actually work for the NHS (patients and developers) certainly fits in with the idea of open innovation.
  • Knowledge Sharing. The conversation about the hackday has being happening on social media for a number of weeks. I expect that conversations and the sharing of information and knowledge will continue during the weekend and for a long time after.

What is there not to like?

Nothing as far as I can see….. apart from the fact it’s on a weekend and you are giving up your time for free.

Well, I could have added this to the list about under the heading of ‘Work with People who are Passionate’.  Anne Marie uses the term ‘geeks who love the NHS’ in her blog post. That rings true for me. Just imagine what can be achieved by people who love what they do; working intensively with diverse thinkers over a single weekend. If you have any interest in improvement and public services, turn up, participate, take ideas back to where you work. It might be just the antidote you need to unclog the system.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Hackdays can help to disrupt established ways of thinking in public services.
  2. The effect of having a hackday can be as important as what you create during the day. They disrupt at many levels.
  3. They can unite people with different ideas on how improvement should be delivered.

Links: Anne Marie Cunningham Post. All the details on signing up are in here. http://wishfulthinkinginmedicaleducation.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/im-proud-to-be-hacking-nhs-come-and.html

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

7 Responses

  1. Chris

    Would be interesting to include some links to examples from the previous hackdays that are in everyday use or in process of adoption within NHS.

    Hope it goes well.


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