emergAgency how the hackathon could evolve, step 0

I have used that name before but we have been starting to give it some focus. In recent weeks I have been speaking with Hub Westminster. They have an idea to create a go-to entity for companies, government departments, charities whomever to approach when they have a problem and they want to get some different thinking on it.

Of course, they could approach existing agencies, open up rounds of pitches or any number of other avenues to get new ideas and thinking into their patterns. Recently though there has been a vogue for the Hack Day or Hackathon.

The hack day though is already a possibly flawed and damaged product. What had started as way to get together a group of coders and work together on a problem for a short, time boxed period. Now, you can find hackathons or similar most weekends, across the world and for all kinds of ‘problems’. Whilst great fun us had at many of them and I am sure individuals get benefits from attending, new connections in their network etc. Overall they do not appear to contribute back into the community.

This is not the fault of anyone, just an observation of the structure as it is now.

What does come next? To examine this we need to understand what outcome we want because maybe there isn’t a next at all. Maybe the few of us who are frustrated by Hack events should just avoid them.

So, what do I want to see happen?

1. Attendance of other disciplines. Extend the reach andĀ participationĀ of these events, get product designers, industrial designer along as well, for example.

2. More focused problem definition. What is the goal of the event? To develop a block of code, to create a flow of information?

3. Document! Write everything up, share it so that it can be built upon.

and that leads to

4. Build on code.

Now this does change the whole dynamic, its not an event where you turn up, get some free food and some company where you can knock together something to show at the end of the time.

What we have here is more of a process, starting with a vague problem, honing this down into something more defined or maybe a set of more defined problems to be examined and then setting some people at those problems, within a support infrastructure of facilitation and documentation.

This is closer to what Hub Westminster want, to be able to take to these entities that have problems a new path to generating possible solutions.

So where does emergAgency fit into all of this? Well my pitch was to hold regular monthly events where the theme was plucked from the news, what was interesting, big that month. The actual theme would only be set a week before the day/evening of the event.

It isn’t a hackday, it is what I have described as a ‘pop-up think tank’ where an issue can be examined that the outcomes from that event, they are the next steps that feed into the later ‘hack/development/prototyping’ events.

Beyond that back when I was last using the moniker emergAgency I was thinking more around a pop-up agency to examine a problem. Take the problem space you have been approached with, put together a pool of talent to examine it and prepare possible solutions.

Which leads me onto another thing, there are lots of groups of people who get together to work on ideas, chat, network, create and learn from each other. This vast resource is something that can (and often is) put to good use in approaching problems.

What would be interesting would be some kind of point of contact, some assigned and recognised group/board who can bring in these larger, vague problems and help direct them to the groups, people who might be best placed to help solve them.

They would act as custodians of an ever growing repository of problems and directions for solutions.

It could act as a route for innovation, new ideas that would hopefully come out of this ‘process’ that could become self sustainable, new companies, new products or services. Some owned by exisiting organisations, others new start-ups.

Some of the ideas may just linger in the repository until the right people and team come along and can see how to take that initial idea to the next stage.

By being open, yes clear on attribution then this can become a route for the creation of new ideas as well as new opportunities.

All groups and people who sign up to the ‘foundation’ would get to vote for the panel who work at the top of the filter, the ones getting in and distributing the problems. The foundation should also support the events, discussions and hacks. A continuity of repository, supplying facilitation and documentation support.

It is this infrastructure that stops the current model of hackathons from being an ongoing source of new innovation, of contributing to knowledge.

So, this is just a set of vague ideas. Sign up at the emergAgency mailing list and lets shape these ideas into something that new.