I have episodes of feeling like a fraud- a good for nothing hack. It can be a strong enough feeling when people come to me for advice or ask me to share my knowledge, skills and experience (Really? Me?) but it can also crop up when I decide to volunteer time to offer skill and advice. Hack days, hack events, jams, hackathons- whatever you want to call them- are short periods of intensive work with friends and strangers to solve a problem with a creative solution. Traditionally centred around computer programming and software development, hacks I’ve attended lately encourage involvement from a much wider variety of backgrounds. I remember the first hack weekend I attended in 2011 had tick boxes on its registration form to identify the types of people coming along and none of the choices were even close to representing me. No free text option. But over the past year or so you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a hack event in Edinburgh and I’m happy to say they seem more inclusive than ever before. But that does not stop me from feeling like my help won’t be needed because my experience isn’t great enough or relevant to the task at hand. But every time I have this anxiety and doubt I am proven wrong. It turns out not everyone is into writing web copy or coming up with a social media engagement plan.
The last hack I attended was Edinburgh’s Good for Nothing in November and the weekend’s work was focused on helping a local community centre (you can read details of the weekend on The Crags website). Good for Nothing is an amazing community of people and our local chapter is led by super heroes Akiko and Lucy who tirelessly scour the community for organisations and projects in need of some help and support to achieve their goals. When Lucy and Akiko make contact with a group they feel would benefit from a Good for Nothing session, they reach out to their networks to bring in designers, developers, artists, writers- anyone really- to hack away at a challenge and create solutions that they then hand over to the community organisation to use to meet their goals. There are lots of notes, stacks of mapping exercises, hours of thinking out loud. People with varied backgrounds who would not otherwise reasonably spend time together join forces for good. I learned so much from the last session (I wrote my first ever press release, got a peek into Akiko’s incredible business planning techniques and discovered Post-it has an app which is incredibly exciting) and I was actually useful in posing some questions about social media marketing and outreach that got some discussion and thinking started. The end result was a package of plans and designed pieces that will get the Crags started on their journey to consult the community about how the centre can expand community use and be accessed for things other than urban sports which has been their USP for some time.
As always, I try to think about how cool new things I see or do can be applied to my work in the public sector. I’m currently working with Scottish Government’s Digital Engagement team and we are looking at ways we can help our policy colleagues develop their digital engagement skills. I have a theory that if there is a team or project in government thinking about greater engagement, has a plan that’s halfway there but maybe a bit stuck due to skills gap or a gap in knowledge, a Good for Nothing model could be applied and we could bring together people over the organisation who would reasonably have no reason to otherwise meet. I’m going to float this soon either through an upcoming internal ‘digital fortnight’ series of events or try to build it in to the Digital Engagement team’s suite of internal consultancy services which are currently being developed. I’ll let you know how it goes, if it goes and I’ll do my best to go in confident and feeling not at all fraudulent.