Water, Water Everywhere hackathon a great success

We recently held a hackathon with RNLI and Bournemouth Council and are pleased to report first hand that it was awesome! Read on for a flavour of the day, highlights of the successes and to share some of our experiences in organising a hackathon.

Every year, around 190 people drown in UK and Irish waters – half of them didn’t even intend to get wet. Drowning is a problem – and we need to solve it.

This was the premise of the event – a serious and very real problem that requires creativity and innovative ideas to help improve the situation. After months of organisation the hackathon arrived and it turned out to not only be a great day for all in attendance but also a real success with some fantastic ideas coming out of it. Ideas that show real potential and we are now excited to take the best of them forward.

There was a real buzz around the room as the team’s hacked away

The challenges

From the collaborative application of some Geovation problem-finding methodology earlier in the year three challenges were articulated to the participants:

Data visualisation – How might we visualise relevant live and historic geospatial data to make better informed decisions or find new ways to engage the public about water safety?

Flooded with data – How might we use geospatial data to reduce the impact of events like flooding or help emergency response operations?

Monitoring remote locations – How might we understand footfall in remote locations or monitor the status of public rescue equipment?

We used these statements to frame the focus of the day, but it was made clear that these weren’t restrictive. Two weeks before the event itself we held a pre-brief and invited everyone involved to join a Slack workspace where we shared data, information and answered questions. This gave people time to consider the challenges and begin to formulate their ideas prior to the day itself.

How the hackathon unfolded

It was an early start on a crisp autumn Saturday morning at the RNLI College in Poole.

07.30: People started to arrive and plug in their laptops in anticipation. Courtesy of the excellent RNLI catering team, breakfast was served.

08.00: By this time we had a packed room. There were over 30 eager participants, the organisation team, technical people from both OS and RNLI, Ruth from Bournemouth Council and event supporters ESRI UK. Tim Robertson, Future Lifesaving Innovation Project Manager at RNLI, who did a superb job of hosting the event, welcomed everybody to the College. After setting the scene, introducing the challenges and the datasets made available, we saw teams form, ideas evolve and a real sense of pace and collaboration develop rapidly. The tone was set.

10.00: After some digging around the problems and datasets, and sharing ideas and insights, attendees openly shared with the room what they would be working on. It was then time to start plotting, planning and building. There was plenty of drink and treats on offer to maintain the energy levels.

12.30: Lunchtime. Time for everyone to take a breather and regroup over sandwiches. By this time we already had a feel for what was to come. It was so good to see maps appearing on laptop screens, teams huddling around whiteboards and lego blocks being used in anger. The pace and efficiency at which the teams were working was amazing – especially considering some had only met and formed a few hours before!

One of the teams deep in thought and hard at work

As the afternoon rolled on we saw some fantastic problem solving in action. It was particularly nice for us to see so many maps on everybody’s laptop screens! There was lots of geographic data being processed, translated, cut, cropped and visualised. As equally pleasing as the technical skills on show was the teamwork and collaboration – the event had a great atmosphere, melodically assisted by a shared Spotify playlist.  

18.00: Each team submitted a standardised slide deck for their pitch. They had four slides each; the problem they were focussing on, their proposed solution, their execution of that solution and then everybody was given a wildcard slide to use as they wished. This ensured everyone was on the same playing field and is something that we have successfully used for all Geovation challenge events. We had designers on hand to help put the visuals together and help tell compelling stories.

18.30: Time for the pitches! Each team had exactly 6 minutes to pitch their idea and demonstrate what they had built during the day, every one of them presenting a working prototype or tangible output. It was so inspiring and we were genuinely surprised by how much everyone had achieved and how well they could articulate their solutions – especially as this had all been condensed into one day! It was going to be tough for the judges…

19.15: It was finally time for the judges to disappear into a quiet side room to make their decisions – decisions that hadn’t been made any easier by the quality of all the teams. The judging panel was made up of representatives from OS, Geovation, RNLI and Bournemouth Council and all attendees were allowed to vote for their favourite which acted as a 5th judge. After thorough deliberation we decided upon an overall winner and two commendations. In all honesty there was real merit to each and every idea so a huge congratulations to everyone who was involved.

The judges were thrilled with the outcomes after a fantastic day!

19.30: The Award ceremony.

AUB Sponsored Maker Prize was awarded to Team Hoff (Dominic Varley) for his Surfwatch prototype, marvellous pitch and unbounded enthusiasm all day.

ESRI UK handed out an award for the best use of their software. This went to team Cube for a fantastic concept which they presented as their wildcard.

The Community Vote went to Pete Boyce, recognised by all as making the best contribution to the hack and embodying what events like this are all about – helping out others, connecting people, sharing skills and helping projects come to life.

‘Ideas with Outstanding Merit’ went to Greenwood Campbell for their beacon concepts and to ‘Flood Alert’ for their platform connecting vulnerable communities to people with resources to help.

Hackathon Winner went to Team ‘Geoff’ who looked to mash up Geocaching and Public Rescue Equipment checking. Leveraging an existing community to address a country wide challenge, their idea and execution was genius!

Next steps

There was potential in all the ideas and all teams will be invited to continue the discussion and explore their ideas further. The winners will be offered an exploitation route through the organisation that is deemed most relevant and we look forward to supporting them as it progresses. We are excited about the potential in the ideas and their ability to genuinely make a difference.

OS and Geovation also gained useful insights to work with from this event. It’s always great to see people using our data and services to develop real solutions; we can learn to improve our own offerings through these invaluable insights.

We would like to say a huge thanks to the fantastic innovation team at the RNLI for their superb organisation and hosting. A massive thanks for their technical support and catering staff on the day for ensuring that everything ran smoothly.

The day was lots of fun, useful, informative and inspiring – we certainly hope to be involved in more events like this in the future!

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