UKGovcamp and NHS Hack Day: a fortnight of fab

Two great events in two weeks. A proper good start to the year.

On the 18th January 2020, I attended UKGovcamp 20 in London at the Ministry of Justice offices in London. The following weekend on 25th and 26th January, I helped run another NHS Hack Day at Cardiff University. They were both great.

UKGovcamp 20

It was UKGovcamp last weekend (Saturday 18th January), hosted again at the excellent Ministry of Justice offices in London. This was my third UKGovcamp, and many of us will be looking forward to next year’s already.

UKGovcamp is always a nice event. There are many more emphatic adjectives that people could use to describe the event: enlightening! emboldening! refreshing! inspiring! All totally valid. It’s also just really nice, and that’s really why I keep going back.

The effort put in by the organising team is obvious – it’s a confident event, and is slickly run. Being involved in organising events myself (NHS Hack Day and UK Health Camp), I have learned first hand that it is easy to underestimate how much effort it takes to make things look calm.

Amanda Smith was a great host – I was definitely watching and learning. The whole team are supportive of each other and this sets the tone for everyone.

Photo taken from behind the audience at the pitching session at UK Gov Camp. Many audience members have their hands raised to indicate their interest in the pitched session.
Photo by @mattstibbs / CC BY-NC

Every year, there’s an increasingly strong focus on diversity, accessibility, and inclusivity. Irrespective of whether you personally care about these things (although most of the people at UKGovcamp value them highly) – we all feel the benefit of them being such a focus.

I pitched a session, which was a first for me at UKGovcamp. It’s not the first time I’ve had to talk to a room of people, but it still scares me and I get very worked up about it! I’m glad I pitched, though.

It started as a bit of a niche topic, which I was attempting to open out into a discussion that was more widely revelant and applicable to people outside of health. I didn’t quite manage to pitch it like this, but we had a decent number of people in the room and everyone had something to say.

I felt that I was among friends for my session. Though it was niche, the whole room were actively involved in the conversation, and that’s testament to the sort of supportive, inquisitive people that UKGovcamp attracts.

It did make me appreciate the skill in putting together a session pitch that is well thought through, and designed to be inclusive and engaging. It’s certainly not mandatory to have prepared a session, but it can make experience even better for people and those are the sessions which often live on for people after the day.

I’m looking forward to applying for a ticket next year ūüôā


NHS Hack Day #23

The following weekend, I was part of a team running NHS Hack Day #23 in Cardiff. I’ve been involved with NHS Hack Day for a few years now (initially as an attendee, and more recently as an organiser). Anne-Marie Cunningham, a GP and health informatician by day, led the Cardiff event. She’s also a great host.

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Photo by paulclarke.com / CC BY-NC

I love NHS Hack Day ‚ô•ÔłŹ

NHS Hack Day shares many of the values of UKGovcamp (and the community around it). It too is a community event, run by people in the community, for other people in the community. It too is an event that is entirely dependent on the attendees for its success! And it too is an event that is much easier to enjoy when the organisation is calm and clear (which takes a considerable amount of effort to enable).

Cardiff #23 was excellent – maybe one of the best yet. We had over 115 people, 28 initial pitches; 18 projects made it through to the presentation stage at the end.

We live-streamed the presentations on YouTube and had over 20 people watching at one point – this was very encouraging and we will certainly continue to put the effort in to streaming in future.

NHSHD_26Jan_066
Photo by paulclarke.com / CC BY-NC

It also meant we could record the presentations, which are now all published on the NHS Hack Day website. You can also find the videos on the NHS Hack Day YouTube channel.

As always, the results from a little over 12 hours of hacking were amazing. Genuinely impressive. I always get halfway through the presentations and think “I wish people from all over the NHS were watching this right now.”

People might assume that most of the ideas people pitch are from ‘tech bros’ who want to solve the NHS with ‘Uber for dentists’. In our experience this simply isn’t true (well maybe one or two ‘fillings via the blockchain’ pitches) – the overwhelming majority are real problems from real people.

Clinicians present problems they suffer on a daily basis when trying to do their jobs; patients present problems they experience in accessing their own data, or in managing their own care.

Here’s real magic though: often people pitch these problems with relatively low expectations of what will happen. “I’m afraid I can’t really help to build anything – I’m just a clinician” or “I don’t really know how far I can take this problem because I’m really not techy.”

These are some of the best candidates for successful projects – with these problems, you get a team forming around the actual user with the actual problem. Many might not realise it, but this is basically a dream come true for any product team trying to build something that useful. It’s actually more interesting to join a team where the person hasn’t already solved the problem.

I’m going to write something separate on how NHS Hack Days (and maybe hack events in general) are actually an unintentional ‘neutron star’ of modern product development principles – densely packing, into one weekend, many of the behaviours we spend months trying to enact in our ‘real jobs’.

We’re doing two more NHS Hack Days this year: one in Manchester on 6th/7th June and one in London in the autumn.

There’s a lovely set of photos here taken by Paul Clarke (paulclarke.com). (Separate album for second day).

You can sign-up to the mailing list on http://nhshackday.com/ or follow https://twitter.com/nhshackday for more news about those events.

UK Health Camp is a spin-off from UKGovcamp focused on the health and care sector. You can find out more at https://ukhealthcamp.com or follow https://twitter.com/ukhealthcamp.

You can find out more about UKGovcamp on https:/www.ukgovcamp.com or follow https://twitter.com/ukgovcamp

What a fab fortnight ūüôā

NHS Hack Day 17 – Manchester

"NHS Public Data" team

I have just spent the weekend at NHS Hack Day in Manchester, hosted by the Co-op in their new tech hub The Federation.

I wrote this blog post with the primary intention of sharing with my colleagues in NHS Digital to hopefully encourage some more people to get involved – but I don’t think there’s anything here that doesn’t apply to everyone.

It was a brilliant weekend, and there was a super mixture of people there – plenty of healthcare professionals, IT¬†professionals, some senior management types (CIOs / CCIOs), general “techies” (professional, aspiring, and amateur), researchers, and¬†a lawyer.

"Mobi-Alert" team

What’s NHS Hack Day like?

For those who aren’t familiar with¬†NHS Hack Day, it goes something like this:

The event runs 9-5 Sat and Sun

Lunch is provided on both days and hot drinks are available throughout.

Saturday morning is spent using coffee to recover from the work week, chatting with people, and pitching ideas.

Pitches are 2 minutes each and you can pitch anything from a solid idea to an open-ended question (this time we even had someone who wanted to create a sci-fi story about healthcare in the year 2100).

Most people are nervous

Some people only decide to pitch an idea whilst watching the other pitches – the team that won last weekend only decided to pitch after getting confidence from the other pitches.

After pitching everyone has some time to go and talk to the pitchers, explore the ideas, and gradually¬†teams are formed around the¬†projects. Sometimes ideas are merged together,¬†sometimes they’re split off into smaller projects.

The rest of Saturday, and most of Sunday is spent working on projects 

Different people work in different ways; some teams like to stick the headphones on and just chip away at a problem and others will spend a lot of time working through problems interactively. 

Sometimes people start building software etc.¬†in the first hour, sometimes people don’t build at all.

On Sunday afternoon teams decide if they would like to present their project to everyone else – and if so submit their projects

This is completely optional, but it feels good and is encouraged – the community is friendly and rarely does a team not present something.

"Trendy" team

At about 15:30 everyone gets together and watches presentations

Each team gets 3 minutes to present their work, and 2 minutes to answer questions.

I’m always amazed at what people have managed to prepare¬†– last weekend we had a Fresh Prince¬†rap from one team, and a promotional video from another…

I had several conversations with people where they were not sure where they were expected to be in terms of progress at various points through the event. Superbly, there is no right answer.

The presentations are one of the most enjoyable bits for me Рand last weekend had me smiling throughout every single presentation. There were so many great ideas, and every team had something interesting to show.

Teams will present anything from some paper mockups and a bit of narrative through to a fully working product with audience participation Рit is dependent on the type of project, the team, and how good people are at getting up on Sundays mornings.

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After presentations, there is a short period of evaluation where either a panel of invited judges, or the community, will vote for the top three projects – and those teams are given some prizes

We tried a new approach to voting this time where the community was given 3 votes each to vote for the three projects they were most excited by. We trusted the community to not vote for themselves, and to only vote three times – this simply doesn’t need policing.

People then help put the borrowed space back to how it was found, and head home feeling enthused ūüôā¬†

The last 30 mins is spent clearing up, saying goodbye, exchanging contact details, plotting world domination, and just generally wrapping up an enjoyable weekend.

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Why should I care?

If you’re thinking “well I’m sure you all had fun, but does this matter to me?”, here are a few of my thoughts:

There is absolutely no ‘right skill set’

In fact I shouldn’t need to explain that diversity always wins and this certainly includes diversity of skills.¬†¬†The¬†best outputs come from the teams with the most diversity, and there is no buzz quite like¬†building something with a diverse team of techies, healthcare professionals, artists,¬†and users.

On our team, we were all learners in one way or another so a large amount of our time was spent pairing, learning, explaining, and discovering Рthis is just as rewarding as having something shiny to present the end of it.

This type of event is unconstrained thinking at its absolute best

As an embittered and tiring NHS technology person, I go to these events to recharge my batteries. This kind of community is not subject to the organisational, political, and learned behavioural constraints that many of us are.

It’s incredibly rare¬†that¬†a¬†pitch is binned¬†because “we’ll never get it through the¬†<insert your favourite bureaucratic restriction here>¬†process” – people are there to busk and solve problems. The concept of a political mandate, or a¬†4:1¬†return on investment¬†simply isn’t important here.

The ideas and outputs from these events are a map for the future

Maps are so useful – we are all pretty convinced of the benefit of roadmaps, and visions, and Google maps.

The ideas at these events give us a clue about what is around the corner for NHS technology. Many people at these events are recently qualified healthcare professionals, or are maybe only involved with NHS technology as users and see this as an opportunity to have a voice.

The things they want, and¬†expect,¬†are clues – to what we should be thinking about, to where we should be going, and to where we’re falling short.

It helps prove that the centre can engage, listen and help

Do not read subtext into this – I am¬†not saying “NHS England / NHS Digital never engage with the community”.

But it should not raise eyebrows at these events when one says that they work for NHS Digital, or NHS England – people are, but shouldn’t be, pleasantly surprised.

Last weekend I think I counted the number of attendees from NHS England / NHS Digital on one hand – I’d love to see this go onto two hands.

People are enthused to see us there, and actually we can be really helpful as¬†guides, navigators, and mentors. It encourages innovators just to know that we’ve considered it of value to take time to be there.

It’s not just about AI and mobile apps – people solve fundamental¬†problems too

One of my favourite projects from last week: FastPass. A team of seasoned IT support professionals who were determined to sort out the drag of password resets Рboth for support staff and users. They built a working system for self-service password resets and they intend to take it forward within their local NHS trust.

My team tackled the challenge of collecting timely feedback from users of NHS services at a scale that would produce enough data to be significant.

Real problems, not flashy, that could genuinely make stuff better.

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In conclusion

Next time there’s an NHS Hack Day near you, try and get along – if only for one day.

If you don’t like it then fair enough.

But you might do, and you might find it leads to you bringing a better, more energised self back into work the following Monday Рand that can only be a good thing for your own organisation, and the NHS.

Visit http://nhshackday.com/ for more information, or follow @NHSHackDay on Twitter.

If you are interested, and would like to ask some questions feel free to drop me an email at matt@stibbsy.co.uk or @mattstibbs on Twitter¬†– I’d be really happy to tell you more.

NHS Hack Day 16 – London

Last weekend was the 13th NHS Hack Day¬†(#nhshd)¬†–¬†superbly¬†organised and hosted in London by Helen Jackson (@DeckOfPandas)¬†¬†– and the 2nd #nhshd¬†that I’ve attended.

My¬†first #nhshd¬†was in Manchester last year where a small group of us¬†hacked¬†an idea to help medical students get access to more hands-on learning opportunities – we called it¬†SLOT (Supervised Learning Opportunities by Text). We¬†agreed¬†to¬†continue with¬†the project on after the hack day and we’ve just started a trial at¬†Western General Hospital in Edinburgh – we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we get some interesting results.

There have been several blogs published since last week¬†describing what it’s like to attend a NHS Hack Day and I think they’ve done a pretty good job – so I’m going to avoid repeating the same¬†things and¬†link to a few of them instead:

http://www.drgrimes.co.uk/?p=206

http://itsuite.it.brighton.ac.uk/rlr17/blog/?p=215

http://openhealthcare.org.uk/blog/2016/05/20/nhs-hack-day-13/

There were many excellent ideas pitches and I was really encouraged by the number of ideas that were focused on making a tangible change to the way and ease with which people can do their work.

I arrived with¬†no preconceptions about the type of idea I would work on – only that I would actively avoid anything that was focused around sending people text messages (I’ve hacked around this a few times now).

I was particularly excited by a couple of the ideas:

  • The first was an¬†idea¬†to hack a real anaesthetic machine (brought to the venue) to get data from it directly and do useful things with it –¬†we were told that currently information is normally transcribed manually from the machine to¬†the patient records.
  • The second was an idea to hack¬†an easily-deployable¬†patient observation system which can be used¬†in the field during health emergencies where you don’t have reliable power¬†and¬†connectivity – the example¬†used¬†was the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa where using paper to record observations was both impractical and an infection risk.

The idea that I was ultimately drawn to was from Adhiraj who is a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist working in London. He described a frustrating situation faced by clinicians working in mental health all over the country. We ended up prototyping a solution to help locate available mental health beds, and automate the process of requesting and accepting referrals.

We managed to demonstrate a working prototype by the end, and were lucky enough to be placed in the top three by the judges! A very satisfying end to the weekend ūüôā