Lisa Butland blog: Hackathons - from facilitator to participant

Lisa Butland the Northern Health Science Alliance's Programme Associate for Active and Healthy Ageing on innovating through Hackathons

1st July 2019

I experienced my first hackathon almost three years ago and I was instantly a fan.  I was lucky enough to lead a fantastic team from the Innovation Agency (the Academic Health Science Network for the North West Coast) working alongside the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Hacking Medicine Team to adopt the approach based on design thinking into something that was culturally sensitive to the UK.  Our collaboration was formalised by the first ever agreement with the NHS.

We enjoyed hosting a number of hackatons, it was a privilege observing the inception of many great innovations and to feel you had played a part in changing health and care provision.

I recently had the opportunity to swap the microphone for a participants t-shirt at the Amgen/UCB Oestroblast.  A topic dear to my heart following a career change after working for the NHS for 30 years to my current role as Chief Executive of Age UK Calderdale and Kirklees and the Programme Associate for Active and Healthy Ageing at the NHSA.  Despite being very familiar with the format of the two days there was still that apprehension walking into a room of around 70 people not knowing a single soul! But I wasn’t alone and by the end of the first day I had met some very inspirational fellow participants and was part of a very talented team who had one challenge – to improve the diagnosis of osteoporosis.

We were off, the six teams tackled three problems, interrupted only by expert master classes and lots of refreshments!

Ideas, challenge, rethinking.  One common purpose, five experts, six teams, 15 hours, and  563 post-its later and it was time to impress the judges.  It’s funny, the last hour when you are finessing the solution and practising your pitch goes in a flash! And we were thrilled to have won!

So some top tips for a winning pitch; first of all have fun and let the passion for your innovation come through, be really clear about the problem you are trying to solve; research and present the supporting evidence; test your solution out with those directly effected (staff and clients); know your competition and what’s makes your solution unique (and better!), be realistic about the costs and sources of funding, and the hardest part, choosing a memorable name – enter ‘Project Boobs and Bones’ – did we nail it?

So, watch this space and fingers crossed that a very pleasurable couple of days will actually lead to a ‘future without fractures’



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