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Left: Batteries Not Included Team present their prototype to Macmillan staff. Right: Screenshot of digital MISS bus alert.

Hackathon 4.0: Digital innovation at Macmillan

Our Digital Assistant, Addy Olutunmogun, reports from Macmillan’s fourth Digital Development Hack Day. She talks to participants and organisers to find out more about the event’s evolution and significance.

If you want to see problem-solving at its most innovative, creative and inspiring, look no further than Macmillan’s Hack Day. 4 original ideas to help us deliver for people affected by cancer, 4 dedicated teams of tech whizzes, 1 day to create a prototype.

‘an important opportunity to demonstrate what technology can bring to Macmillan’

— Chris Trenning, Agile software coach

Office board displaying different Hack Day ideas

The 12 shortlisted Hack Day ideas – whittled down from over 40!

Our Hack Day has grown from a team-building exercise amongst digital development staff to an event that encourages input from across the organisation. In doing so, this summer’s event, perhaps more than any other, has shown how technology can help us deliver in a variety of novel ways.

The Organisers

I spoke to Steve Knight, a web development team leader, and Chris Trenning, Agile software coach, who’ve masterminded this year’s Hack Day.

Why do you think Hack Day is so important for Macmillan?

Steve: Hack Days [a.k.a Hackathons] are a great way to generate ideas, promote a culture of innovation and encourage the use of new technology. We’re an ambitious charity and we need to take advantage of new technology and ways of thinking to help us achieve our mission.

Chris: Hack Day is an important opportunity to demonstrate what technology can bring to Macmillan. People tend to shy away from technology, if they’re not working in it, because they feel they don’t understand. If you’ve got an area you know nothing about, you can sometimes be dismissive. Hack Days help to break down those barriers. They demystify what we do and the people who do it and so remove that fear of interaction.   The event also allows the Technology team to exhibit some pride. They can show off – and I think that’s really healthy for them!

How has Hack Day evolved?

Chris: It’s more inclusive and every event gets a wider audience.

Steve: This year we asked the whole charity for Hack Day ideas and we had over 40 ideas submitted! They came from 6 of our 7 Directorates and included staff from all over the country as well as some home workers. It’s great to get such nationwide engagement with the project. We have also listened to our teams and changed the format of the day accordingly. For example, this time the teams were able to present their ideas in a market stall format the following day instead of formal presentations we used to do.

Chris: We listened to what people liked and didn’t like about previous hack days and used this to develop the format. There is now no overall winner [prizes are awarded to the teams for their efforts and to encourage some friendly competition], the teams now have an opportunity to win in 5 different categories:

  • Innovation – Is tech being used in a novel way?
  • Creativity – Are you surprised by the way the product works?
  • Technology – Is it clever? Does the implementation demonstrate something new?
  • UX and Presentation – Is it easy to use? Does the design make it enjoyable to use?
  • Marketability – Can you imagine this product being utilised in the organisation?
  • Best team name!

We designed this to ensure everyone has an equal chance to win and to recognise value in each prototype produced.

What future do you envisage for Hack Day?

Steve: It would be great if the event became a collaboration with different teams and not just Digital Development. Hack Days can be much more than a technical exercise. They can involve working out a process, coming up with designs – anything you want them to be really. Our involvement [the Technology team] will mainly be coding, but other teams can contribute a lot of different approaches and ideas. A representative from Macmillan’s Innovation team came to an ideas workshop for this Hack Day along with members of the UX, creative and editorial teams. They are all very interested in getting more involved so the future is promising for Hack Days at Macmillan!

The Teams

So, who are these amazing techies taking on this challenge for Macmillan? Steve kindly invited me up to the lofty 17th floor to meet them.

Team Beaver Members: Richard x2, Reinaldo, Nuzhat, Andreea

A member of Team Beaver explains his prototype to a member of staff.

Team Beaver explain why their gamification tool is a winner.

Tell us about the project? Gamification of giving. We’re tying donations and volunteering into a points system that you can get achievements for. Depending on how much you contribute, you’ll earn badges that you can share on your social media profile.

What do you enjoy most about Hack Day? Working together.

Team Floppy

Members: Harald, Milan, Suneetha, Swathi, Shenika

Left: Harald guides staff through this team's transcription tool prototype. Right: a screenshot of the prototype interface.

Harald guides staff through his team’s transcription tool prototype.

Tell us about the project? A tool that converts speech to text and stores it in a database. It will allow us to record Macmillan Support Line (MSL) calls so users won’t have to repeat answers and help staff quickly identify users’ needs.

Team Brahma

Members: Raghu, Adrian, Beni, Ashish

Team Brahma present their Good News page.

Team Brahma show off their Good News page.

Tell us about the project? We’re creating a Good News page that gives users flexibility to see news articles from chosen topics and filter out negative news.

Why did you decide to take part in Hack Day? We love the stress! It’s a challenge as we have to tackle tech we haven’t used before. We’re learning on the go and it’s a great opportunity to learn new things.

Batteries Not Included

Members: John, Mo, Sam, Dino

 

Left: Batteries Not Included Team present their prototype to Macmillan staff. Right: Screenshot of digital MISS bus alert.

Batteries Not Included try to win over staff with their MISS bus tool.

What are you working on? Using IP location software to give users relevant Macmillan information. Today we focused on using the tool to promote our MISS (Mobile Information Support Services) buses but there is potential for the idea to signpost people to a range of local services like coffee mornings.

Why is Hack Day important to you? It gives us a chance to develop applications for areas of need that aren’t always prioritised.

The Winners

If trying to develop these ambitious projects in a day wasn’t hard enough, the teams then had to present their work in a 2-hour market stall. Staff where invited to check out the prototypes and cast their votes.

The results were…

Most Innovative Hack Winner: Team Floppy

Most Creative Hack Winner: Team Brahma

Best use of Technology Winners (draw): Team Floppy and Team Brahma

Best User Experience and Presentation Winner: Team Beaver

Most Marketable Hack Winner: Batteries not Included

Best Team Name Winner: Batteries not Included

Congratulations teams!!

What do you think? Who would be your winner? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

Similarly, if you’ve ever attended a Hack Day, let us know. Was it any good?

 
 

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