Richard Lee at a hackathon organised for staff and volunteers at St John Ambulance

Richard Lee at a hackathon organised for staff and volunteers at St John Ambulance

Sciana-inspired hackathon sets charity’s operational plan

Sciana member Richard Lee adopts a technique from fellow Sciana member to help produce his charity’s operational plan.

Hackathons, where people come together for a sprint-style event to solve problems or deliver improvements, usually involve the development of technology or software. Richard Lee, a 2018 Sciana cohort member, learned about the concept of a hackathon during a Sciana gathering. In particular, he learned the benefits of a hackathon from Tobias Gantner, who has used the events extensively to solve health care problems or come up with new solutions.

Lee took the concept of a hackathon and used it at St John Ambulance, where he is chief operating officer, as a means to bring people together remotely and set the direction for the charity for the coming years.

Lee said, “At St John Ambulance, we needed to create an operational plan to take our strategy forward for the next couple of years. I wanted to try and get the areas of focus from the 14,000 people who volunteer for St John Ambulance. So I set up a series of hackathons, using video conferencing.

“Over the course of each hackathon, I set a number of challenges, each of which lasted about an hour and a half. These were all about specific areas, for example, fleet and logistics, and recruitment and retention. There was a five-minute presentation, including examples of some things that we could do. We then asked what people thought. Each centre that was involved emailed in their input, opinions and ideas.

“By the end of the four hackathons, we had a set of ideas that formed our operational plan for the year.”

Lee, who later took part in a Sciana-backed hackathon, was inspired to use the hackathon concept as it allowed him to bring people together in a unique way. He said, “At each hackathon, we had 10,000 individual ideas, with a core group of 500 people who came to all of it, and then another 150 people who came to some of it.

“It was all done remotely, which meant I could involve people and centres from all over the country. They all emailed their group answers back, and there was a faculty making sense of it all. We used a piece of artificial intelligence software which grouped the ideas, working out which were the same.

“The hackathons worked really well; people liked them – and they were particularly good for a dispersed workforce.”

Sciana: The Health Leaders Network is a new initiative bringing together outstanding leaders in health and health care policy and innovation across Europe. The Sciana network is supported by a partnership between The Health Foundation, Careum Stiftung, and the Robert Bosch Stiftung in collaboration with Salzburg Global Seminar.