Rahul Soans and Anna McCracken are from BA3, which provides consultancy, workshops, tools and resources to families and early childhood intervention providers to help the community manage the change presented by the NDIS. You can read Rahul and Anna’s full bios here.

The move from block funding to the NDIS is in equal parts exciting and scary. Exciting because service providers are no longer mandated to provide services that are dependent on funding. Scary because for the first time they have to be ‘innovative’.

A Hackathon (as the title of this piece alludes to) is an event. An event that typically runs for 24-48 hours with the sole intention of collectively solving a problem. The term itself originated in the technology sector as a mashup of the words hack and marathon. A hack here meaning a way to creatively problem solve – a skill that would be prized for service providers moving from block funding to a market-based system such as the NDIS

Why do this? The technology sector in the late nineties realised that to be innovative in technology they couldn’t work in silos. They needed to open up and bring in people with different styles of thinking, different ways of looking at the world, different personalities – or they were in danger of creating products just for white men between the age of 19-23. So they brought in designers, engineers, project managers and customers (depending on who they were solving for).

For many, innovation is an ambiguous term. For most of us it seems out of reach, best left to the geniuses among us. In the technology world it’s the Steve Jobs and the Bill Gates (creators of Apple and Microsoft respectively). But innovation is really about solving a problem. It is well within the grasp of anyone. It could be looking at the problem from a bird’s eye view and seeing if it’s been solved in other areas.

Steve Jobs, when he was setting up the Apple store, knew that he wanted a different experience to traditional retail. So instead of trying to upend the retail experience, he asked himself, “where do people like hanging out?” And the answer was the lobby of 5 star hotels. So he put his staff through the Four Seasons training program to find out why. One of the answers was the hotel concierge, someone who was friendly to talk to and who could answer your questions. Hence the Genius Bar at Apple stores. What is needed for innovation is exposure – exposure to wide variety of people, ideas, technology and culture.

Hackathons bring these elements together and are a breeding ground for new ideas. They get the creative and problem-solving juices flowing. Unlike a day-in-the-life of a disability service provider, where risk-taking may be frowned upon (or in the case of block-funding, completely unnecessary), a hackathon ensures everyone has equal say and that the cost of failure is low. Outsiders to the sector bring a new energy and diverse perspectives to the challenges that are being looked at.

The move from block funding to the NDIS presents a whole raft of challenges for the disability sector. The need for new ideas is now more important than ever.

A hackathon for disability services

Clickability, along with BA3, hosted a hackathon for a select group of disability service providers on the 11th of May. The problem we looked at was, ‘How do we assess quality in disability services?’

We first identified what quality is and how measurement and implementation would need to change for service providers moving into the NDIS. The day was then split between doing fun activities to get people thinking out of the box and exploring case studies from other industries. The second half of the day was spent on an exercise that entailed looking at quality from a family’s perspective and then working backwards to establish a common purpose, key processes and key metrics that would establish a quality practice. Industry professionals from other sectors such as technology and design also took part to get some fresh thinking in the mix.

Based on the feedback the event was a success – participants enjoyed the ability and freedom to think differently and share that process with people outside the industry. They loved the introduction of new tools to facilitate new thinking.

Why is this important?

Author Steven Johnson says that you will find the future wherever people are having the most fun. That’s what play does; it strengthens emotional bonds, inspires creativity and fosters critical thinking. So, in conclusion, hackathons are a fun and engaging way to get new ideas. They are devoid of bureaucracy, hierarchy and position. The beauty of a hackathon is the spirit of collaboration. Everyone is on the same page and everyone has equal say. For the sector to move forward ideas need to be shared, built upon, added to, subtracted from but most importantly worked on together. Being protective and exclusionary about your ideas might work for an organization in the short term but will lead to the detriment of the sector in the long term.

And plenty of donuts and bagels definitely help. Clickability and BA3 had a great time running our inaugural hackathon and can’t wait to do it again.

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