Using Analytics to Solve the Problem of Homelessness at GlobalHack VI
On the third weekend of October, more than a thousand talented designers, programmers, and creative minds got together to come up with solutions to address a great social challenge – providing services to the homeless population in St. Louis. By Sunday some had dropped out, but 148 teams remained to compete for the million dollars of prize money. What differentiates the teams who complete the project and won isn’t just the talent of their programmers, but also how they approach the project.
Grok the Customer
The GlobalHack slogan says it all: Build First. Talk Later. To explain that more, Paul Boal, VP of Delivery from GlobalHack sponsor Amitech Solutions, gave a presentation on Saturday morning describing two key strategies to having a successful hackathon experience, one ‘Grok the Customer’ and two ‘Hack your Team’. The complete problem statement for GlobalHack is kept a secret until the event begins on Friday evening, but teams have known for months that the theme of the hackathon as going to address the challenges of homelessness. To grok something, in this case grokking the customer, means to really understand something with deep empathy and intuition. When you spend your day sitting behind a computer, it’s difficult to understand the challenges of either being homeless or working with the homeless, but that’s what a successful project demands.
The best solutions are most likely to come from teams who have spent time really understanding the homelessness challenges in St. Louis and who keep that thought ever present throughout their weekend of hacking. These teams are constantly thinking along the lines of practical application – “How does this solution actually benefit the homeless?” “How will St. Patricks and other service providers be able to use this solution to help their clients?”
To help with that, GlobalHack put out a series of interviews with some of St. Louis’ homeless: Facebook
Coincidentally, the St. Louis – based Amitech team volunteered at St. Patrick’s a few months before they were announced as GlobalHack’s community partner.
Hack your Team
The other key to success is understanding your hackathon team and working effectively together. The schedule and intensity of GlobalHack discourages exorbitant planning and talking. To create something substantial in 48 hours, your team has to get together and get working as quickly as possible, while still putting enough structure in place to know who is working on what and what it is that the team is going to create. Hackathon teams can benefit greatly from knowing each other ahead of time, but many of the past winners have been teams that were created on the spot from a group of strangers. As long as each person is transparent about their strengths and weaknesses, asks for help when they need help, and offers to help when there is more to be done, the team is bound for success and personal satisfaction.
Up for the Challenge?
If you haven’t participated in a hackathon before, GlobalHack is a great way to do it. Even if your corporate day job looks very different than the intense start-up like mentality of a hackathon, you’re bound to come away from the experience with some valuable lessons. I can’t wait for the announcement of GlobalHack VII to see what the next civic challenge will be! Maybe something in the healthcare domain?
Read more about the winners of GlobalHack VI and the event – STL Today
-Paul Boal, VP of Delivery