Hackathon. Crowdsourcing experiment. Prototyping. These are some of the words to describe the project that I attended over the weekend. Called Under The Hood, it sure felt like a first of its kind, rare event in helping to bringing a completely random group of motivated individuals from across different disciplines to brainstorm, prototype, and pitch solutions to address issues.
Who could join? Anyone really! The event was open to public and welcomed anyone willing to help find solutions to community problems. Why do it? I don’t come from a social enterprise nor social work background. I was really interested to see if a group of citizens (and strangers) would be able to conceptualise and effect any real community impact within two and a half days.
The organising guys at Syinc did a really awesome job in putting forth a Community Brief (PDF) detailing the most pressing issues in Bukit Ho Swee – a struggling neighbourhood in Singapore.
Day 1 (Friday night): Brief
There was a good-sized crowd turning up at Lowercase at 1 McNally Street for the start of the Prototyping Weekend. The brief for the five areas were presented, and the audience broke into teams to discuss the issues. Teams then put together and presented the overall pitch for their ideas to everyone. Individuals could then choose to approach the team with the idea they liked most
I was lucky to meet really awesome individuals who wanted to make a difference, and we decided to form a team to tackle Challenge #1: Education, a topic I felt strongly about.
Day 2 (Whole day): Research and solutions
Day 2’s session was held at the void deck of Block 91, Henderson Road. It was interesting to see how the void deck turned into a setup typical of that of a hackathon! Resourcefulness works out, I’d say.
The day started with a quick theory session. Mentors shared the template for research, called the ‘Validation Board’, which would broadly guide our research into customer identification, the problem we were trying to solve, assumptions (that we need to validate or invalidate) and the solutions.
As we put together the assumptions to validate, this was where we were able to divide into groups, and approach Bukit Ho Swee residents (who were present at the event) to test our hypotheses and gather insights.
I thought that it was such a great idea to have residents attend the event, providing food and entertainment in return. The residents (ranging from elderly, parents, and kids) were very open to share with those participating in the hackathon on the challenges they faced. These insights were really helpful into validating our research. For example, I spoke to Neesha, 13, who is very bright and talkative. She shared that her days were spent playing around the neighbourhood and parks as her mum was working and her dad in hospital.
We identified three opportunities in the respect of educational programs:
- We could make use of existing spaces in the neighbourhood such as RCs
- Children had a lot of unsupervised free time, and parents desired for programs to help
- Children did not quite know the range of careers out there today
Overall, any programs we proposed had to be sustainable (minimal manpower, resources). We came up with the big idea called Careers in Progress.
The idea: To inspire children on the massive variety of careers today, through video interviews of mentors from different professions, and hosting monthly mentor-children sharing sessions at RCs/schools.
Day 3 (Whole day): The big pitch!
The final day was spent prototyping the project and preparing for the pitch. My two remaining team members, Siti and Ellie, did a fantastic job at creating the prototype video and setting up the slides! They did this while weathering the pressure of time, critique from mentors and others, and constant ringing of the deadline bell – all very typical of the intensity of a hackathon!
There were a total of seven groups altogether, with these notably great ideas:
- Preserving Hokkien heritage and language
- A timetable to help parents help their kids at school
- A system to match the demand and supply of odd jobs in the neighbourhood
The three judges would each mark the scores upon a total of 30. The great news? Our team had the highest scores and we won the hackathon! Prizes: A Hyper Island Lab Course and Evernote Moleskine notebooks for top teams – both of which I look forward very much to! (I’m quite the Hyper Island fan and Moleskine nut.)
Overall, it was a really exhausting yet meaningful weekend. I loved that I got to meet so many brilliant and passionate people, and it taught me to weather the good and the bad at such hackathons. As for our project? I do hope to see it take off in the near future. Keep a lookout for the beta of Careers in Progress (I hope!).