Education Hackathon NHS

Reflections on TELHack from John Pyle – a mentor for the weekend

John has had to leave TELHack but has posted this to us to post here.

John Pyle – Director of OpenHealth Hub, Director of Nine Health, Director of Commade

TELHack 2015 (London): A perspective from a veteran of NHS Hackdays

I have been privileged to have been able to see the development of the TELHack from an idea into fruition, from a perspective of experiences with other health related hackathons.

I have attended almost all of the NHS Hackdays in England and one in Scotland. My role and rationale for attending has been to support the disruptive influence of these events, as a result of having been party to many situations where seemingly straightforward IT challenges for national NHS systems have been made more difficult then they needed to be (at face value) as a result of the relationships (including contractual) with suppliers, and the hierarchies , approval mechanisms, and current ways of working within the NHS. So I want to support any initiatives which would improve these ways of working.

For those reading this who are not familiar with hackathons (or hackdays, or hacks – I will use the term hack hereafter, for brevity) I would like to dispel some myths about what people attending these events believe can be achieved. No-one expects a product from a hack to be immediately viable in a real world environment. Everyone understands there are Information Governance, integration, security and other concerns which need addressing before any of the products would be safe to use. That said, to be able to demonstrate what can be achieved in a weekend of tackling the technology shows that there may be ways to take a similarly rapid approach to resolving all those other issues. As has been said at the launch of the TELHack, it’s not about what we can’t do, it’s about what we can do.

The TELHack differed from the many NHS Hackdays in that it was driven from the Health Education England (HEE) Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) programme from the outset, with some clear goals (albeit that some of those clear goals were to see what could be done in terms of innovation and culture change, rather than simply requiring some solutions to stated problems) NHS hackdays have been less controlled, driven by a ‘do-ocracy’ philosophy – if you want to run an NHS hackday you can, and there are people who will help you, but there is no central control or rules of engagement (although certain principles such as inclusivity and accessibility are expected). Recognising the need to ensure the outcomes TEL wanted and their own limited experience with hacks, HEE set up a group of interested parties to shape the hack and then select a partner who would ensure the organisation of the event and involvement of appropriately skilled people in technology, healthcare and education to achieve the required outcomes. It was also clear from the outset that this would not be a one off event – the point was to start a ball rolling which included the further development of products from the hack, and further hacks to keep the pipeline full. In other words an innovation in the sourcing of education related technology to support the goals of HEE.

As a result of this more structured approach, the attendance at the TELhack was managed ot ensure a good mix of technologists, educationalists and health care professionals. There was also a different approach to determining which projects (pitches) got hacked. At an NHS Hackday all pitches are potentially hackable, with teams forming based purely on who wanted to support them. A the TELHack pitches were made then a voting process ensured that enough pitches were carried through to be hacked so each would have a team large enough to get the job done, but not so large that anyone would be ‘on the sidelines’.

At the time of writing the TELhack is still underway, but there clearly seems to be a lot of energy at the event, and I look forward to seeing what is produced.
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