Community Centric Policy Hackathons

Service Policy hackathon design
Location Anywhere
Client Various

It isn’t always effective to have big shiny hackathons. Sometimes, even if we are commissioned to run a ‘hackathon’, it can be detrimental from the offset to call it a hackathon. At New Union we specialise in the policy hack type of rapid prototyping and we are experts in shaping the narrative.

We have a knack of designing events that are accessible, interesting and above all, engaging, because if we are going to gather any kind of sample that may influence policy or any kind of change, we need quality input.

Quality, and accessibility, is important with regards to citizen engagement, especially around issues that can sometimes spark fierce debate. So it is important activities are well designed, tested and fit for purpose.

We know workshops such as these are all about gathering evidence for the governance but we also need to ask “ Why would stakeholders or those who work in the local third sector would want to turn up?” We understand this because we are those people.

That’s why our events are innovative, learning based as much as possible and relatable in regards to the language. Yes, participants will come along and give us important evidence to create better service but they will also receive training on the workshop issue so they will gain new skills and improve the capacity of the organisation they represent. - we even design branding and marketing for each event, so every policy hack we run is completely unique. We can also design it so you can run it yourself as we can provide supporting materials such as a manuscript and guidelines, meaning that absolutely anybody could run them.

What is a policy hackathon? It’s basically a workshop that gathers intelligence to influence a certain policy subject or how Governance works. The word ‘hackathon’ usually has a tech connotation, meaning a bunch of programmers and coders come together and create something digital to solve a social issue in a day or over a weekend, we have run these too but we prefer to be community facing if given the choice.

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Deaf Digital Connect
Social isolation is a massive issue that affects the deaf community. Even though digital gets a bad press on occasions, it can be a powerful tool to help social change.

The best people to ask about how we can best use digital to fight social isolation for deaf people is the community itself.

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This workshop was designed to collect information from the deaf community to influence Local Government policy to help combat social isolation within their community

During the event we discussed the factors that create social isolation, gather intelligence on how social isolation affects the people in the room, examples of how we can use digital for positive change (including a live demonstration of VR) and examples of how the community could fight social isolation.

You can read about everything that happened during the day, including all of the raw feedback from activities by clicking here. You are more than welcome to use this data to support your work.

We have also made the workshop downloadable, so if you work with deaf groups and you would like to run the workshop please do. There is even a manuscript for each slide. You can download that here.

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Future VI Festival
Many disability groups depend on technology, the visually imparied community is no different. In fact you can argue they rely on it more.

From smart speakers to screen readers to even robotic vacuums, technology is part of a normal visually impaired person's everyday life.

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We realised, when it comes to digital consultation, the VI community can be left behind. That is why we helped Sandwell VI access funding from the Local Authority to create Future VI Fest.

There were two components to the project, the first looked at tech that is already out there, and how to gain access. The second was a policy hack that created a ‘Sandwell VI Digital People’s Charter’ that will influence how Sandwell Council interacts with visually impaired people but also share it with other local authorities so they can offer a better service to those they support.

The hackathon addressed 3 points:
- What is important for visually impaired people in Sandwell when it comes to digital engagement?
- What are the gaps in regard to digital accessibility?
- What would be beneficial in regards to digital innovation in the region?

This event was a fantastic opportunity to access hard to reach groups in regards to issues that affect them. If you would like to read the charter, you can do so by downloading it here.

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#FitFittle / Hack For Hunger
The saying ‘fit fittle’ means good food in The Black Country dialect and that is a message the Jubilee Food Network in Sandwell has been trying to promote to help tackle food poverty in the region.

We were tasked to think of a regional wide citizen engagement campaign and present the findings of the campaign at a hackathon called Hack For Hunger with health professionals , with activities to create a consensus they can carry forward.

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To ensure the hackathon content was resident generated, we put paper plates in all of Sandwells libraries and encourage staff to get residents to write on them with marker pens. We asked “What do you believe to be the barriers to eating well in the area?”. Out of 1293 plates we quantified the answers down to these percentages:

27% Cost (High cost of healthy food and cheap takeaway options), 20% Lifestyle (takeaways are easy for people with busy lives), 16% Accessibility (Fast food is far more available than healthy options), 14% Education/Skills (People do not have the skills to cook or identify healthy food), 14% Nothing !! (Positive responses saying that there is nothing to stop us eating healthily, healthy food is cheap available and tastes really good) 7% Taste (Take Away food tastes better).

The hackathon wrapped all this up to ask the group how we could productively form this into a narrative that citizens understand, in regards to barriers to eating well. What can we do as professionals? How can the group install innovative practices?

We collated all of the findings into a constitution document that is now being used by the Jubilee Food Network to improve their service levels and engagement with the community when addressing such a sensitive issue.