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Hacked Off?

Kent County Council is always looking to create innovative and cost-effective methods of delivering services. One way in which this can be done is through hosting local hack-days for creative students and graduates to come together, to contribute and share ideas and to try out new concepts and prototypes.

Who would we invite students to the hack day? The successful outputs can differ enormously depending on the type of specific community group that has been engaged, and one group that generally goes unnoticed and at first glance seems one of those that are ‘hard-to-reach’, is perhaps not all that difficult after all with the right tools and formula.

We could adopt the approach that Apps for Good has tried with their award-winning personalised teaching course that lets young and talented developers produce imaginative apps that are useful and resolve local problems, using state-of-the-art technology in real-life environments and Dragon’s Den style pitches, both independently and as part of a team. It features well-respected experts in each field whom work closely with students, in person and soon remotely, to enhance problem recognition and resolution, self-confidence, planning, entrepreneurial and research-based skills; leading toward the final goalpost of using Google App Inventor for Android to actually build a prototype. Following user-feedback, students will gather knowledge on how to further improve their app idea.

Apps for Good were created by the merging of non-profit organisation CDI Europe and Dell, and support of businesses like Orange, Talk Talk, and Ogilvy. From April to June 2010, the European branch of CDI ran their first pilot course with nine young and unemployed students at High Trees Development Trust, South London. September 2010 saw the unveiling of the Apps for Good secondary schools programme, initially starting with Central Foundation Girls School in Tower Hamlets, East London. During 2011, this is planned to expand across other schools throughout the country. In time the world can be connected via a shared interest to innovate and improve society.

Leading on from the recent success of Young Rewired State, it has been suggested that Kent County Council try to host a similar event themselves where young developers, designers or thinkers can be engaged from schools, colleges and universities in the Kent area.

How could we gain some interest in the day? As noted in the following blogpost – http://blog.localdemocracy.org.uk/2011/06/16/towards-a-local-authority-wide-schools-data-hack-project/, in order to encourage and inspire the day, it could be turned into some sort of competition and should ideally feel as fun as is possible, possibly through the use of prizes and other small incentives, or invite a local Kent celebrity to host the day. It can be implemented into the curriculum and so the teachers and parents or legal guardians can be placed in the centre and provide beneficial support throughout. One way of achieving this would be to allow those who teach or command authority, to fully understand full facts with past successful examples, as well as to reinforce the notion that young people are engaged in a variety of forms and it can be necessary for their personal development. Parents or students can further be engaged with review sessions and screenings of works in progress, at each stage of the day.

That being said, only certain subjects will be of relevance – namely the technology-based classes, such as Information, Communication and Technology, Design and Technology, even Mathematics, or any other where data can be gathered and analysed or interpreted. How can this enhance the curriculum? And how can we make these answers clear to Kent students? The possibilities here are endless.

Initial promotion can be achieved via a class quiz on what a hack day is and what it could involve, with the handing out of chocolates for correct answers – This will then spread the initial idea or burst of information to parents. After this, it can then be promoted in a way that captivates, with colourful visualisations that are chosen as the most appropriate or easy to understand, and language, fonts and colours which stand out or add a buzz of excitement to the feel of the project. Perhaps additionally 3D visualising effects can be incorporated and projected onto a big screen. This is an extremely playful and educational concept in which the two can combine perfectly. The school may have a newsletter or online mailing list through which adverts, posters or packs could be received.

Surely the process of engagement varies a little? Yes, it is worth noting that whilst prior to the event, communication with the students can be made through teachers, it is also possible to engage them via the many social-networking websites that are currently in use, such as Facebook, Myspace, blogs, Twitter, school forums, or uploading colourful data-visualisation adverts to YouTube or even requesting for the teachers to pin up poster visualisations around the various institutions.

As is often the case, the day will go much more smoothly if KCC supply teachers with a set of suggestions for data, advice on practicalities such as CRB checks, contacts and guidance on how a local hack day should be run. Involving people with expertise will bring a greater depth of knowledge to the project. Perhaps links can also be provided to some quality example videos, worksheets, presentations and info-graphics, as well as suggestions for motivating or rewarding people and judging on the day.

And what is the benefit of creating such an event locally? This would allow greater opportunity for KCC to successfully understand the types of services its young local residents would like to see more of, as well as show local students every single way data can be presented, or how much more engaging a presentation becomes when created using tools like YouTube, Slideshare or Prezi, compared to raw CSV files or PDFs.

Once shown properly, it should be found that the customer is often in a better position to explain council services than the providers of them, since they know what they want or need, and can present the information in a way that appeals to them and their peers or those that surround them. Assuming all goes to plan, this if well-publicised, could inspire other people or institutions for the creation of future hack days.

We’re developing something similar to a hack day so feed in your ideas here!

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Noel Hatch

Many thanks Andrew. Yes, I do know Tim Davies, what do you think of the dichotomy between getting public involved in the ideas development & developers in app development versus an approach which is to build the public’s skillset (in this case young people) to develop the apps as well as the ideas?