Note: Jane Griffin originally wrote and posted this on the LGBT Youth Scotland charity site here: https://www.lgbtyouth.org.uk/news/2019/staff-blog-our-impact48-hackathon/
We aspire to constantly innovate how we use technology in the future of our work. Our Head of Partnerships, Jane Griffin, blogs about our first collaboration with Impact48 volunteers on our Purple Friday hackathon project.
A few months back I joined my first Meetup group. The idea was that techy minded folks and charities could use it as a networking space to meet, exchange ideas and hopefully those with the tech skills could help the charities achieve something they were struggling with. Basically matchmaking for a good cause.
In my very non-techy terms I floated an idea for a project that I thought might fit the bill as something somebody out there might be able to help me with. I was in luck – they told me to come back to the next meeting with a pitch.
In a nutshell I wanted to automate a process we’d carried out manually in Feb 2019 for LGBT Youth Scotland’s fundraising and awareness day, Purple Friday. If people send a tweet with a photo we wanted that picture and their twitter name to be pinned on a map that we could embed in our website. In 2019 we copied and pasted the images from Twitter and pinned them into a Zeemap embedded on our website.
After an initial chat post “pitch” it was decided that this was something people could help with. The group felt that a weekend hackathon using the #Impact48 format would be the ideal way and so I got to take part in my first ever hackathon!
We kicked off on the Friday night with a revisit of the pitch for those that hadn’t heard it before, followed by a question and answer session. This was swiftly followed by an idea generating session that was fascinating to watch. Having a room full of, essentially strangers, come together and find umpteen ways to solve a problem for you in an evening then whittle it down to one workable project with only a few sheets of A4, a packet of Berol felt tips, a tube of Pringles and a packet of Hobnobs is nothing if not inspiring!
Having decided the previous evening that the best way to deal with the issue was to start in Twitter and working backwards the team really hit the ground running on Saturday morning.
Mapping out the plan for the next few hours, dividing themselves up to make best use of the skills in the room and agreeing regular progress checks, work began with Barry and Mark focusing on the Twitter end while Hugh looked at developing the map and Patrick and Paul started work on marketing assets to accompany the finished product. Me, well I thought I’d be sat back watching it all take place but I was very much involved in the process, answering questions, feeding in info about how the charity hoped it would work and helping with the marketing.
Seeing the skill with which the team collaborated and problem solved was amazing and really drove home for me the power of these weekends. Having a group of experts working together to pool their talents and make a difference for a charity is really incredible, particularly when you consider the number of hours worked – 21 - and the amount it would have cost us if we’d had to pay……..we could never afford it!
Over the day there were quite a few moments of groaning, head in hands as things didn’t quite work as expected, usually swiftly followed by hands in the air whoops of joy as the problem got solved – who knew coders were quite so effusive! By 8pm we were all tired but pleased that a huge amount of progress had been made – we had a map, we could tweet and see the image added.
With Mark heading back down to Liverpool on Saturday night, Paul called on friend Matt to come and help out on Sunday – from my perspective to have folk give up all, or a big chunk of their weekend, to help us out, and to do so with such enthusiasm, was just awesome.
The aim of the #Impact48 hackathon was always to find a solution, design, develop and deploy within the weekend so that LGBT Youth Scotland could walk away with a working product that we’d be able to run without relying on further support from the hackathon team of developers.
In the end we didn’t quite get to the deployment stage but were really close. The challenge was just a little bit too big for one weekend. But, we do have a product very nearly complete that’s working in a test environment, picking up tweets based on a hashtag, posting the image to a map based on geotag or a hashtagged town name (it still baffles me how they managed to get that to work but I do know that it’s very, very clever!) and turning that local area gradually more purple based on the number of tweets in comparison to last year.
On top of all that the code is all open source so other organisations/charities could take it and use it as well!
My top tips from a charity perspective if you fancy joining the Meetup group and trying something similar:
- Absolutely do it! – It was hard work but we all had a great weekend and learned loads from each other as well as created something amazing from scratch.
- Be prepared – know what your challenge is and be able to make decisions on the outcome for your charity before you step in the ring! (If you’re not the decision-maker then bring them along).
- Pick a challenge that will have impact for your cause and the people you help.
- Pick a challenge that’s time bound – people are giving you their time for free and they need to be able to give what they can and walk away feeling they’ve made an impact without feeling bad that they can’t be there for the long haul.
- Be really clear about what you want to achieve.
- Be ready to roll your sleeves up, take part and have fun.
Finally a massive thank you to everyone who gave their time over the weekend from me and the rest of the team at LGBT Youth Scotland, we’re blown away by what was achieved!
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