I was part of a team that took part in the recent Science Museum Hackathon.
The short story:
- We thought and acted differently
- Our idea was disruptive and uncomfortable for the organisers
- We lost
- It was fun
What was great (hacked on):
- That the Science Museum even put on a hackathon
- The overall winners (the ‘Egg’) had a great team, idea and execution
- Our tiny team of 2.5 older white guys came up with the most radical idea (the DNA of any hackathon)
- Our idea was supported by a major board-level recruiter and the Chairman of a major exam board
- We got to test our idea on people who came along to the Science Museum’s late opening event
- We met some great people
What sucked (hacked off):
- It was too short to be a hackathon (12hrs in-house)
- The data stack was comprehensive but also limited (just one type of collections data)
- There wasn’t enough good food and drink (it really matters)
- The event seemed designed to find a few apps and games idea but not deeper innovation.
Our team (The Delopers)
- Me (obviously)
- Mark Gilchrist – Durham Chemistry grad, ex-chef, top 50 shot (yes I mean guns) and self-taught coder
- Buzz Burman – Cannes Golden Lion winning designer and Design Director at edtech startup Night Zookeeper (he could only come for the Tuesday).
Our BEHAG (big hairy audacious goal)
A first step to create an education tool to help young qualified candidates, particularly from BAME (Black Asian and Multi Ethnic) backgrounds to gain experience in the decision making process of boards/trustees at high-profile cultural organisations like the Science Museum Group (SMG).
A key challenge facing the leadership of major UK cultural organisations is their lack of diversity. This issue was highlighted in a major report from the sector’s key funder The Arts Council, in the Purcell Report and is a key part of a major program being led by Tom Finkelperal New York’s Cultural Commissioner. All these highlight that a lack of diversity is likely to have negative impacts on the strategy, operations and financial viability of major cultural institutions.
However, to address this issue requires the recruitment of new candidates from BAME backgrounds. Unfortunately the recruiters we spoke to said they didn’t think there was a lack of suitable candidates, the problem being they don’t have the experience. It’s a chicken and egg situation; you need to get onto a board to get experience, but without experience recruiters can’t recommend BAME candidates.
Our idea was to create part of what could become a Parallel Board training system where BAME candidates would get exposure to documents and tools to help them shadow, reflect and comment on the activities of existing boards like that of the Science Museum Group (SMG). Such a system could help overcome the experience gap and could be a small part of the solution to getting greater diversity within the sector. It would help recruiters place a wider selection of candidates and could lead to a formal qualification of relevance in participants’ wider career journey.
An iOS app that broke open the locked PDF files of notes from SMG trustees’ meetings and allowed users to choose a document, have access to the content, to comment on it and also search for other comments
Our hack (to break open locked PDFs in an iOS app) was small but technically challenging as we spent far more time finding a problem and thinking about how we could hack a start to the solution, than we did building it.
It was a hard idea to pitch as it didn’t fit with what the organisers were expecting and they seemed to think it was negative towards the SMG and their trustees (it wasn’t). Rather than being negative about existing boards, we argued that this would benefits them in three key ways:
- It could give boards access to different views from younger experts on some of the key challenges facing the SMG
- Rather than undermining their decisions, the ideas generated could form part of a ‘critical friends’ feedback model for boards
- Reviewing the Parallel Boards ideas and suggestions and comparing and contrasting them to those actually made by the board could be used as a benchmarking tool or form part of the institution’s transparency processes.
It was disappointing not to win the ‘Punk’ idea prize – the winner was a visually pretty, but anodyne chatbot hack. This stung, but the judges’ lack of vision was completely offset by the reaction from the public on Wednesday evening. Without exception they embraced our idea, seeing its relevance at both a personal level and as something needed within organisations like the SMG. Probably the best response we had was from a young black secondary school teacher, who said, “It’s exactly what I want to do but why limit yourself because it’s also exactly the sort of real learning opportunity my students want”.
George Bernhard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”. The Delopers were all very unreasonable men and our radical hack was a tiny step towards a solution to a very real problem that none of the other teams could have even imagined. I’m proud of what we failed to achieve!