Digitally Hacked: collaboration and innovation

Written by: Kate Vogelsang

October 8, 2014 - 5:13 pm
Categories: Digital , Engagement , Events , Lambeth , Social Media

o How much can 30 people achieve in just 3 hours?
o What if those 30 people are full of energy, fuelled by beer and quiche?
o And those 30 people are in a fantastic space, with passion and ideas and skills and knowledge?

The answer is really quite a lot.

If you’ve done a hack before you know the drill. Get a bunch of people in a room – from web developers to designers, usability experts to residents, council staff and councillors – give them a challenge or two, some post it notes, pens and data and ask them to come up with the most creative and innovative solutions.

Have a look at for some really good hack stuff. They’re not the only ones who do it – we’ve also worked with and who really are doing some great work across the public sector.

We’ve got a history of hacking here at Lambeth through Made in Lambeth which started in July 2012 – read more about my first experience and how we ran our website development project at

We’re proud of how we innovate, get communities involve and creatively collaborate at Lambeth. Four people in our website project team of nine live in the borough. We had numerous usability testing stages in the project. We built the site in the open so people could see what we were up to throughout the project. But we want to keep on working with our community, continually challenging ourselves, and continually improving.

This was our first totally digital hack so we started small, trying to harness the energy of everyone in the Impact Hub.

The two challenges were:

We want to get as many people as possible contributing to decisions we are making in how we deliver services whether that’s how we run our libraries services, ways to improve our parks or how to spend the budget we have. So how can we make it easier for people to engage with the council in decision making online, particularly those who aren’t that comfortable using the internet?

And …

The demand for council housing far outweighs supply and we are not able to house the majority of those who seek our help. There are a number of things (eligibility criteria) that need to be taken into account when advising people on their housing options, and most people want to have a face to face conversation with the council about this. The council would like to make sure that, in the main, only those priority need groups who the council may have a legal duty to assist are seen by council officers, saving their time and ours, but also that everyone else is supported in finding other ways of getting accommodation. This includes not just council provision, but also private sector options.
How can we make this process easier, quicker, more open and more positive for both the council and residents using digital technology?

Digital inclusion

What we wanted people to think about was digital inclusion – thinking about those who weren’t that good with a mac, or a smart phone, or a browser. We invited people from our digi-buddies scheme to come along, as well as customer services staff who may have a different perspective from us digital geeks.

I’ve done a few hacks before, but lots of the people here hadn’t, it was about a 50/50 split with experienced versus hack virgins. For me the challenge was trying to harness their energy into actions and outputs.


Really importantly I had some great facilitators working with me – Lily Dart from DXW, Jon Foster from Origin housing and Olivia Sharp from the council’s digital team.

Their job was simple. Ask people what they were working on, and ask them what they needed. Continuous challenge and poking with a metaphorical stick was really important, not because people weren’t working hard, but to give them focus and a bit of drive when they needed it.

Focusing on problems was critical too. People couldn’t just be doing ‘stuff’ cos it seemed like a good idea. They needed to know what they were fixing, why and for whom.

Every 45mins each team was asked to update on what they’d done so far and what their next hour was going to involve. In 30 seconds. This was about keeping momentum, ready for their 3 minute presentation at the end.

As I said at the start and end of the evening, a hack is only as good as the people who come (and that’s not me trying to make excuses if it doesn’t go well!). So for me the most crucial part was the work we did in getting the right people there and engaged and working with us. And having a good time.

So what was done?

Four groups did everything from wireframing a new site that tells people about what stage Lambeth is in the commissioning cycle, and allows them to feedback at any stage; ideas for improving the council’s web information on housing, allowing people to assess their own eligibility but also providing better information on other housing options and also building a prototype tool that people could use to find out just how long they could wait for a council house based on their personal circumstances (pictured below).

Prototype tool for working out wait for council house

How we take this forward will be really important, so we’re reviewing all the post-its and flip charts and code and thinking and process building and deciding what to do next. What is definite is that this will not be the last hack we do, so keep an eye out for the next council hack and sign up if you like the sound of it – see

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