Not one, but two, innovative Scottish Government events took place in April this year. The Learner Journey Data Jam from Employability, Skills and Lifelong Learning; and Life Designs from Project Ginsberg, driven by the Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy, were the first SG-led hack weekends.
A hack weekend is a fast-paced, collaborative way of working for developers, and sometimes also involving designers and key stakeholders (civil servants, sector specific employees and end users) who come together to work intensely over short periods of time to produce digital prototypes. They generally last around 48 hours and end with presentations of the ‘hacks’ produced, sometimes with prizes or funding for winning ideas.
There are many benefits to working in this way, and it’s a technique that is increasingly being used by people all over the world to develop digital prototypes for a range of issues. By taking this kind of lean and agile approach to generating prototypes you are limiting risk; it’s collaborative nature brings together people with wide-ranging skill sets; and due to the digital understanding of the developers it generates new ideas. Hack weekends will inevitably also start a conversation about open data, demonstrating how we can start thinking about the opportunities of using existing assets in new ways.
The Learner Journey Data Jam allowed us to tap into the technical expertise, which we did not hold within our small team. We used the prototypes created as a discussion point with learners and educators from schools and colleges to discover how this new service could improve their journey through education. As a result of this iterative approach we have ensured that we are developing a service that meets the needs of our users.
It’s important to emphasise that the purpose of a hack weekend is not to minimise costs by receiving working prototypes from experienced developers, simply for the cost of a few slices of pizza. And there needs to be clarity from the start with regards to who owns the intellectual property (IP) of the ideas created over the weekend.
There can also be difficulties surrounding the data you wish to use. Due to the way that many public sector organisations are set up, and a lack of understanding about open data, it can be hard to get the data you want to use made publicly available. This was something that posed a problem for our Data Jam event, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank the ScotXed team and more specifically Michael Barnes for their help. Michael came along to our event and immediately set to work finding the course listing data we were missing, which proved invaluable for the developers present.
As an organisation we have established the Data Management Board to recognise this issue of open data and one project that is already underway is the Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics Website Improvement Project, which will help us explore how the Scottish Government can improve access to the data that they hold.
Hack weekends are becoming a recognisable part of the process of developing digital services worldwide - and there are opportunities for them to play a bigger role in the development of public services in Scotland. You can find out more about hack events on the Rewired State website, see the amazing outcomes from the recent Culture Hack Scotland, and check the Open Tech Calendar for dates of forthcoming hack events.