Hacking Elderly Care


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My experience of a hackathon by Lisette Gast

The Hague, 2nd – 7th October.

There I was feeling honoured, as I was selected to be one of the hackers in the Hacking Elderly Care Hackathon. A hackathon is a contraction of ‘hacking’ and ‘Marathon’ and has the goal to generate interesting innovative (software) prototypes quickly. I was selected to join, because of my understanding of complex social challenges and our experience as a start-up Sprockler.

The hackathon was an idea of the Vice Mayor of the cit of The Hague Karten Klein. His goal is to “boost” renewal in elderly care in the city of The Hague. Soa group of ICT specialists, designers and creative people were challenged to devise solutions to elderly care.

The group of participants were from the city of The Hague and from India. Choosing participants from India was not a coincidence. This group was not only highly skilled techies; they were also able to look at the challenges put forward from a very fresh perspective. At day one we were divided in three teams and the first day visited 5 challenges on-site. Once again I realised how much more information you get when you do have the ‘physical reality check’ as Hans Keijzer calls it in his book. At the end of the day each team picked one challenge and at the end of the week we received a podium to pitch our ideas.

The exiting part of the hackathon to me is that you are able to completely think out of the box with a group of people to enjoy thinking along different routes. And you do not feel hindered by any limitations that often exist within system, like ‘in our organisation that is not possible’ or ‘we have tried that so many times, and it always fails’. As outsiders with fresh perspectives and skills you can develop and contribute very exiting new ideas in a very short time. Like one of the challenge owners said: ‘we would never have come up with this idea ourselves’.

The Smart Lamp Alexia we developed with our team, enabled us also to have real conversations of what the challenge was really about.

The downside to it, is that all the wonderful people we talked to within the system of elderly care were not involved in this exiting journey, other than information sources or testers of the prototypes.

But then again, we believe that safe-to-fail prototyping really fits the complex domain and we could definitely do more of that.

So I have enjoyed the experience, and grateful to the city of The Hague together with Mariken Gaanderse for their wonderful process. We will make an effort to get our smart lamp adopted somewhere. And I will ponder a bit more on how hackathons fit in our believes when it comes to dealing with social complex challenges.