Hack and Co-design Events

Harnessing the collective intelligence of crowds can take many forms, and a common version in the tech community is the gathering where people come together to put together potential solutions. This can take many forms, from ‘jams’ in the design community, to the co-design and hack events that we’ll talk about here.

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There is more to this than bringing the right people together. There are the goals of the event. What should the outcome be for the event? How should the event be facilitated? What’s the schedule for the event? The organisers also need to consider where and when the event will be held, as well as how the event should be funded, and if food and other refreshments are to be provided. Then there’s the recruiting participants, and then deciding at various times whether you have/don’t have enough people signed up and what you might do about that to recruit more attendees. Then even when the event has started the issues don’t stop as you need to manage contingencies on the go if people don’t turn up, or the heating disappears for your February event in a cold, snowy climate. Organising events is a non-stop rollercoaster of thrills and spills.

Hackathons, co-design events, what’s the difference?

If this is a collection of whoever comes, then this is a hackathon, or hack event. This generally leads to similar participants on the teams with little diversity. Sometimes these are run for computing students by other computing students with prizes provided by industry as a way to engage students. Sometimes it’s a group exploring what’s possible with the given tech.

If there is consideration given to ensuring a diverse balance between stakeholders (people from organisations involved, and the people who will use the system), who can help define and clarify the challenges, and the community of designers, developers, and tech folks, who are wanting to help prototype solutions, then this is a co-design event. At CodeTheCity we strive to ensure we organise and facilitate co-design events, as we’ll explain below, because these provide a better outcome for everyone.

At a hackathon ideas are proposed and solutions thrown together by the developers based on their assumptions, and interests. This often ignores the human element of the challenge, and the resulting hack remains unvalidated by the community, which is supposed to use this potential solution. Often this looks like ‘a database to gather all local events so you always know what’s going on’. The team then spend lots of time detailing the structure of the database, and the library to use for the interface. This ignores the main social challenges with this potential solution: How will people know it’s there? Who will put new things in, and update changes? Who will weed out incorrect, or duplicate information? More importantly perhaps, this ignores whether this is the challenge facing people trying to work out what to do this coming weekend. It might be a solution looking for a problem. It might be a solution to the wrong challenge as it hasn’t been validated by the people who are proposing the challenge.

Hack events can be fun and exciting, but doesn’t usually lead to solutions that live beyond the event. We have done these for fun as we sought to balance our serious events with more light-hearted ones at Christmas time where people brought their own challenges for the weekend, or we explored a new type of technology such as chatbots. The results have all sat there unused, unless it was a hack started by someone before the event.

A CTC Workshop
CTC Workshop

We use the phrase co-design to express the idea that it is a collective, or communal process to design a potential solution to a specific challenge offered by the stakeholders. We want to include most of the relevant stakeholders in seeking to develop a solution on how we might address their challenge. We want to validate our assumptions about the challenge posed by the stakeholders as we co-create a solution with our participants. We want to find out how people currently decide what to do at the weekend as a starting point, and build on these ideas to determine what a better solution would include, and then explore a number of different ways in which we might achieve this goal.

Then, and only then, do we start to develop a prototype. We seek to spend more time exploring the challenge space before diving into a potential solution. We give in to our curiosity to explore the challenge more, and to generate a number of possible options, which can be evaluated to see which one offers the ‘best’ potential given what we know at the time. I’ve described this process elsewhere if you want to know more about how to ‘diverge’ and ‘converge’ for creativity.

The goal in all of this is to build potentially workable solutions to challenges so that the stakeholders can see which of the potential options they had is the most viable. A co-design event helps to clarify the unknowns around potential solutions so that knowledge is advanced. Now the stakeholder knows that one idea needs further thought, another could work, and that what looked like it might be a great idea, was really an illusion. All of this for a weekend of food, drink and fun. Not a bad exchange really.

The participants come for other reasons. The have a chance to work on real challenges with new people. They have an opportunity to stretch their abilities and gain new skills. The food and drink are nice, but they’re not the real reason people come. They come to see friends, make new ones, and to help make the world a better place thanks to their hard work over a weekend.

As organisers we enjoy helping facilitate the finding of solutions to the challenges brought to our attendees by our stakeholders. We enjoy seeing the diverse group of people come together from developers, designers and our stakeholders. It’s especially pleasing when we see some of these apps and ideas making their way into the world. We also enjoy seeing repeat attendees developing their skills and friendships over time too.

If you think a co-design event would benefit your organisation, or if you are struggling with intractable problems and think that a fresh approach could help, then get in touch via an email to bruce@codethecity.org

Cantcha @ codethecity 13

During Codethecity 13, a project arose around the clarity of labelling of alcohol, initiated following a presentation from @wayne_gault about alcohol labelling and marketing.

Quickly the focus of discussion moved to craft beer, and the rising importance of graphic design in the branding and positioning of the various craft breweries, often using cartoon and other colourful illustrative styles. In a competitive market with many new entrants it’s no surprise that some corners are being cut. Sometimes through a lack of awareness of the issue, sometimes not so much.

Sending one particularly colourful can to the Google Vision API was telling. Google identified it as a “Yellow, Aluminium Can, of Soft Drink”. You can try the vision API yourself here.

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The team working on this issue came up with the idea of creating a new version of reCaptcha. Rather than clicking on all the store fronts, or vehicles, you would click on all the beers, or all the energy drinks.

This would both raise awareness of the issue, and provide a data set to demonstrate the level of confusion around specific labels. If the ‘spongebob’ beer in the mockup below is regularly identified as an energy drink, perhaps the labelling falls short of the standard.

Screen Shot 2018-06-09 at 19.47.22

How this could be useful

The Portman Group publishes the Code of Practice for the naming, packaging and promotion of alcoholic drinks. An ultimate goal of the CANtcha team was to use data generated from the app to add weight to submissions to the Portman Group where packaging falls short of the Code.

Some early (and far from rigorous given the timescales) testing showed that enough of the alcohol was being misidentified that an issue likely exists.

Code for the mock ups, some initial data sets, and some initial analysis are available on Github. A more technical write up is also available.

Even though this was a very brief, short lived prototype – I’ll never look at a beer in the same way again

I subscribe to a craft beer delivery service. It sends me a case every now and then with enough interesting beer from around the world to keep my ‘bottle of hipster a week’ habit going.

A case just arrived.

Now that I’m aware of the Portman rules, I couldn’t help wonder what CANtcha would make of a couple of them:

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I suspect both of these might fall short on one or more counts. I also love both of them. The Google API mentioned above identifies one as beer, and the other as an energy drink. It’s likely obvious which is which.

Neither is identified as a can of coffee, surprisingly.

Volunteer with us

At Code The City we are always looking for opportunities to work with volunteers.

We recognise that this not only helps us to delivery on our charity’s aims, but also helps the volunteers themselves.

We’ve just published an overview of the opportunities, with a new volunteer form, and mention of the upcoming ‘I volunteered at Codethecity’ t-shirts. Guaranteed to be the must have fashion item of 2018.

So if you’d like to help us at upcoming hack weekends, please check out that page and fill out the form.

Code the City 12 – Tourism

The Challenge

Tourism is vital to the local economy. While loads of tourists pass through Aberdeen we could do so much more to make it a destination of choice.

The featured image above is how we used to attract tourists to Aberdeen. How should we do it now? What role does design, marketing, technology or data play in new interactions with tourists?

Who should attend?

Anyone – despite our name, coding is a small bit of what we do.

Of course, coders, data wranglers, designers and other techies are important to a hack weekend.

We’d be delighted to see you if:

  • You work in the tourism sector, operating attractions, providing accomodation or other services
  • You have identified a problem with service delivery, or see an opportunity to do things better!
  • You have an interesting in service design
  • You work or study in the creative industries
  • You have experience as a tourist in Aberdeen or anywhere else
  • You are someone who wants to do more with data but isn’t sure where to start
  • You are a student (of any discipline)
  • You are someone who wants to improve the local area, or use digital and skills to improve local services
  • You are from the third sector or local government
  • You work with mapping, GIS, or location data
  • You are curious about learning new techniques and skills to use in your day job, and finally
  • And, of course, if you are a developer, designer, UX expert, data wrangler, coders, or service designer

So it’s a Toursim hack?

Yes – we’ll be identifying opportunities and barriers to making Aberdeen City and Shire a destination of choice for tourists, creating projects, teams and prototypes to address those. Some of those will turn into coding projects – and some will all be about research, service design and paper prototyping.

Timings

The event will run Saturday 9.30am to about 5pm, then Sunday 9.30 to about 4.30pm.

What happens over the weekend?

* identification of opportunities and barriers

* ideation to address those

* creation of project teams to work on those

* agile prototyping of solutions, so that by close of play Sunday we will have demonstrable solutions which could be developed into real worls products or services.

But, a ticket will cost £5 (*)

What do you mean, it’s not free? CTC is usually free!

At CTC 11 in December we broke with a tradition established over the previous 10 events and charged a small amount to attend. The reasone was that in a couple of recent CTC events we had higher than normal numbers of people booking free tickets and not showing up. That meant we over-catered, and despite our best efforts we had left-over food, which is a bad thing and wastes money too.

So, we attached a monetary value to the ticket (* backed up by our promise that those attending would get their  money back when they showed up). And it worked. The bookings didn’t go down. Fewer people dropped out. We didn’t waste food and we banked the money that went unclaimed. A few generous individuals recognising our new charity status even refused their money back, which was nice.

Tickets

You can get tickets here (on Eventbrite).

Location & Getting There

We’ll be at the Sir Ian Wood Building at Robert Gordon University’s Garthdee Campus. You can get a No 1 bus from King Street / Union Street which will take you into the campus and drop you at the door. Or you can get a No. 2 bus which will drop you at the gates to the campus.

If you must drive, then parking is free and open at weekends on campus.

Sponsorship

Robert Gordon University will be sponsoring this event. We could do with another sponosor or two to make sure we cover all costs. If you would like to sponsor it, get in touch with @codethecity on Twitter.

We look forward to seeing you in February!

Ian, Steve, Andrew and Bruce.

Code the City

Registered Charity in Scotland: SC047835

CodetheCity 11 – First project updates

A healthy turnout for Codethecity 11. Following a few introductions, seven project ideas were pitched to the group:

  • Aberdeen open data – where is it?
  • Plant watering wifi greenhouse guardian
  • Guide to Aberdeen
  • Idea gathering system
  • Computational model of a heart
  • IOT Edge video recognition using Rasp Pi
  • Robot theatre

Following the first hour of work, six teams had formed around these ideas. Just before lunch this is how the projects looked:

Aberdeen Guide

Working on data gathering and structure, form completed by more than 30 people already and team is working no adding structure to this.

Codipi

Working with a combination of Raspberry Pi and MS Cognitive Services to do interesting things with image feeds. Hello Pi is now working, and initial research around using the image processing API.

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PROD – Please Release Open Data

Team are working on pulling together a picture of the rate of open data progress in cities across the UK. Turning this into an infographic, while also working on data santa idea.

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Out of Storage

Arduino project to create an interactive robot theatre. It’s alive – and the team are adding sophistication to the number of aspects that can be controlled.

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Feed Me Now

The greenhouse management service is coming together. Sensors are dangling out of the windows of Fraser Noble Building confirming that it’s a little chilly out there. Ian is currently experimenting with http://www.blynk.cc/ as a shortcut for getting the boards talking to the internet. Working while tied by USB already.

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Heartshare

The team is working on a simulation of a human heart – starting with a sphere as a simplistic model, and building from that.

 

What can I do at Codethecity 11?

We’ve had loads of positive comments that CTC is returning on 25-26 Nov with a Christmas themed hack weekend.

Other than at our very first CTC weekend, we’ve tended to have a theme – health, culture, sport etc. Those themes have put some shape around the weekends’ activities and helped people to identify challenges to work on, projects to tackle and solutions to develop. Which is great.

Who should attend?

Anyone – despite our name, coding is a small bit of what we do. We’d be delighted to see you if

  • You are a service user, or service provider, who has a problem with service delivery, or sees an opportunity to do things better!
  • You have an interesting in service design,
  • You are someone who wants to do more with data but isn’t sure where to start
  • You are a student (of any discipline),
  • You are someone who wants to improve their local area, or use digital and skills to improve local services,
  • You are from the third sector or local government,
  • You are curious about learning new techniques and skills to use in your day job, and finally
  • Of course, if you are a developer, designer, UX expert, data wrangler, coders, or service designer.

What to expect

For many of our serial-attendees, they know what to expect and how we work. So they are happy to go with the flow. If you haven’t been to a CTC event before, having a look at those links above will give you an idea of how things go.

Some others have asked ‘why no theme this time?’ – perhaps expecting a more traditional service-type theme.

Well …… there is a theme: FUN.

If you come along, you can interpret that pretty much as you like!

Tell me more

Here are some examples, of some suggestions that we’ve heard. How much fun you consider them is a personal matter!

  • Bruce has been posting about how he would like to crowd-source a guide to fun things to do in Aberdeen.
  • Andrew has let it be known that he wants to work on his arduino-powered mini-theatre – and you would be welcome to work on it too.
  • Steve is threatening to take some robot-artist device for you to programme to sketch rude pictures with.
  • Ian has suggested that his classmates from RGU get stuck into a resurrected project to scrape FOI data.

There also have been mention of building a Raspberry Pi-powered hadoop cluster, citizen-science style home data scraping kits and a whole bunch more.

Maybe you want to create some software to write (and tweet?) its own cracker-style jokes. Or a platform to lobby councillors to provide better open data, or anything else [We said fun – Ed].

It is entirely up to you. But as you think up some ideas, you might want to consider two things:

  • Will you manage to pitch the idea at the opening session to others so that they will work with you on it? Building a project team is much more productive than working solo on something. To do the latter you could stay at home.
  • Would it impress Santa? If you want the funny old fellow to reward your efforts you need to impress him, spread a little happiness, or make something that improves lives.

And, finally …..

If you don’t have an idea to bring, that is cool too. We’ll start the Saturday with some pitch sessions, so listen to others and join a team to work on their project which inspires you.

Don’t delay, get a ticket now! Otherwise, you might be disappointed!

See you there.

Ian, Steve, Andrew, Bruce

Help us Crowdsource an Aberdeen City Guide

Where do you go on a lovely, sunny day in Aberdeen? What do you do for lunch with friends if it’s raining? Which are your favourite indy shops? We’d like to know so that we can turn this into open data and build a city guide of the most popular ones.

There are lots of cool places in Aberdeen, and wonderful things to do, and we should let others know which ones Aberdeen folks love to visit in the city and surrounding area.

We’ll take these suggestions and use them to create an #aberdeenguide at our November co-design and hack event.

To help us out go fill in the form. Share the link with others.