Corporate Earthquakes and hacking change

Back in April 2013 I found myself signing up for my first hackathon – the CIPD-MIX Hackathon, Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage.  The idea of the Hackathon was to encourage CIPD members; and anyone interested in HR, OD and workplace issues, to join together and come up with creative ideas for increasing the adaptability of organisations to a fast-changing world. When I signed up for the hack I had no idea what to expect, I’d heard of hacks but I thought they were to do with technology, coding and software. In fact if you look up ‘hackathon’ on Wikipedia (as I did) this is how it describes the process:

hackathon (also known as a hack dayhackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Occasionally, there is a hardware component as well. Hackathons typically last between a day and a week. Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software.


But as I found out, the approach has moved on, or to be more accurate evolved. See this write up in advance of an event last year in NYC for a great review of the many and varied ways the hacking mentality is being used.  Nowadays, hacks and hackathons are used increasingly outside of tech circles to support innovation and creativity in a range of fields and disciplines. Some of the most exciting examples I have seen recently have been in the public sector, whilst some events have a specific technology focus, aiming to find digital solutions to persistent problems, others take a more inclusive approach and are simply looking for any type of solution to overcome challenges. In the UK a great example is the use of NHS Hack Days, the most recent was run in January in Cardiff and you can read more about the event here.

Like Chris Bolton, who writes the ever-informative What’s the Pont blog , I believe hack days and hackathons are a potential antidote to clogged up systems and clogged up thinking. What I’ve found most exciting about these events is that they move beyond traditional models of public consultation and engagement to inspire people and solutions. You don’t come along to a hack just to comment, complain or have your voice heard, you come to contribute to a solution. And at their heart hacks are about a collective coming-together to create solutions for the future. Invariably, at the end of a hackathon a number of hacks are selected as ‘winners’ and supported in some way (either through funding or corporate/organisational support) to ensure that the ideas come to be realised.

Like most hackathons, mine included a series of short sprints during which we were asked to first help refine the problem (see The enemies of adaptability for a summary of the issues identified during the initial sprint) and then to come up with mini-hacks (short descriptions of our ideas about what could help to overcome the problems identified), participants were then encourage to comment on the hacks and sign up to join hacks they were interested in working on. This was all managed on a simple digital platform created by the Management Innovation eXchange  (who run global hacks tackling a variety of issues). Usually then teams begin work on speccing out the detail of their solutions, working collaboratively in whichever way suits the team. Ours, like many others, was global in membership so we made use of Google Drive and email to help share ideas and editing of the hack. The lead author has the responsibility for getting the hack into its final shape but it’s designed to be a collaborative process from end to end. For the CIPD hackathon this process took place over a three month period, for the NHS Hack Day it was completed in a much shorter duration. But the basic pattern is the same.

What’s so exciting about this model is that it thrives on collaboration and connection, bringing people together from a range of backgrounds, experiences and disciplines and it values everyone’s voice. This is heady stuff for public engagement. For me the CIPD hackathon was a chance to get more familiar with the new thinking in HR, OD and L&D and make connections with other people working in those fields. It did all of that for me, I was exposed to range of brilliant ideas about how to increase organisational adaptability. I signed up for two hacks and was challenged to think creatively about new and old issues facing the world of work. The final hackathon report is here and as you read it you can see how the ideas ranged from the creatively complex to those brilliant in their simplicity (see for example Chuck Out Your Chintz led by Gemma Reucroft aka @HRGem).

So why write about this now after all these months? Two reasons, Firstly I’m excited about the idea of planning an organisational hack in the not too distant future, I think the model is ripe for use in all sorts of workplaces to bring employees into the heart of organisational improvement. How often have you been pleasantly surprised by a colleague’s ideas for tackling a problem or issue? Hacking gives you a framework for capturing these ideas and then connecting people from different parts of the organisation to build solutions. That sounds pretty engaging to me and a more democratic way to solve problems than traditional project teams or committees. Don’t get me wrong to implement change you need plans and milestones and organisation but in the early stages when you’re trying to identify what’s going wrong, or not as well as it should be, why wouldn’t you want to have the widest discussion possible and get everyone involved? And if you’re looking for creative thinking and novel solutions why wouldn’t you want to hear from as many people as possible?  If you can make use of simple platforms for sharing the ideas and creating the hack teams all the better. But not everyone in an organisation will necessarily be up for using digital tech to manage the hack so you can either go back to basics and do it without digital tools or, even better in my book, use the process to help a wider group of staff get familiar with sharing ideas and thoughts digitally, Now that would be a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned.

My second reason for blogging about this now is that a refined version of our CIPD hack ‘Corporate Earthquakes‘  led by Alberto Blanco and co-authored by myself, Matt FrostStephen Remedios, Conor Moss  and Guido Rubio Amestoy has been chosen as a finalist for the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) Digital Freedom Challenge. The Digital Freedom Challenge team evaluated contributions from hackers around the world , in their words ‘looking for depth, boldness, originality, thoroughness, and the ability to inspire and instruct’.  Our hack focuses on using immersive learning techniques to empower organisations to face up to seismic change, in doing so participants gain skills and ways of working for the future which will increase organisational agility to predict, survive and build positively on unexpected change. We’re very proud that our hack has been selected but in order to make it even better we need people to comment on the hack and give us their thoughts. And time is short so please do have a read of the hack and add your comments, we’d love to hear from you. I’m sure the other finalists would be interested in your thoughts too, see it’s never too late to get involved in a hackathon!

Why it’s time to talk

Today is the first #timetotalk day, part of the brilliant Time to Change campaign led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. The aim is to start a million conversations across the UK about mental health and wellbeing. It’s five years now since I was diagnosed with clinical depression and talking was a huge part of my recovery and continues to be an important element of how I manage my mental health on a daily basis. I first blogged about this a couple of years ago so it feels right to return to the topic today.

At first talking was impossible, not just because I didn’t know how to express the depth and despondency of the feelings I had but also because I was worried about what people would think, how they’d react. What snap decisions would they make about my abilities or competency because of my mental health? At a point when I could barely understand my feelings let alone verbalise them, someone suggested I cheer up & snap out of it. I wished I could. But then I wondered if everyone else was thinking the same. We wouldn’t dream of telling someone with a broken leg or cancer to snap out of it. Just when you need to talk that sort of response, that stigma, can lock you away. Thankfully the stigma around depression and other mental health conditions is slowly receding in the face of concerted public campaigns like Time to Change. But it still exists.

Talking really does help. I don’t mean professional talking (although talking therapy is invaluable to many people and played a big role in rebuilding my world), I’m talking about the everyday emotional connection that comes from someone saying hello, asking how you are doing and meaning it, and most of all not avoiding you or averting their gaze because your illness makes them uncomfortable.

I was lucky I had family, friends and colleagues who took time to check in with me, help me take things at my own pace and who importantly listened when I wanted to talk, didn’t force it when I couldn’t connect, and let me shape the flow of our dialogue. It meant the world to me. And many of those conversations weren’t about my mental health, they were simple day-to-day natters about everything and nothing. But each one was a thread that wove me back into my life.

The more we bring conversations about mental health, wellbeing & illness into our daily lives, the more time we make to talk and really listen to each other, then the better our relationships & connections will be. We all have mental health, and one in four of us will experience mental illness at some point in our lives.

So why not join me today, start a conversation. It doesn’t have to be ‘the’ conversation, or a deep or long conversation, just a chat, maybe with a cuppa, it could make all the difference, it did to me. If you want some tips then see the image below or visit the Time to Change site.


And if you’re stuck for a way to start the conversation then why not sign the pledge wall and let everyone know you agree it’s time to change. And to everyone who took time and care to talk to me when I needed it, thank you.

MOOCs, content curation & learning what motivates me!

Over the last three weeks along with 298 other MOOCers I’ve been working my way through a mini-MOOC on how to be an effective digital curator. If you’re not sure what a MOOC is I point you to this BBC article and this post by Steve Wheeler on Massive Open On Line Courses. If you’d like a crash course in digital curation then all the resources from the MOOC are also available now via Sam Burrough here.

When I heard this mini-MOOC was being planned by two of my Twitter network Sam Burrough (@burrough) & Martin Couzins (@martincouzins) I was genuinely excited. This was something to kick off my 2014 CPD, something which interested me & would be helpful in the day job.

When I started out my motivations were to:

  • Finally finish a MOOC – I’ve started two possibly three before and never completed them, I’m a completer-finisher at heart & when I don’t finish things I beat myself up, third time lucky I thought.
  • Learn something about digital curation – I’ve been pulling together & sharing digital content for a few years but I was hoping to get a better framework, a set of guiding principles for an activity which I genuinely enjoy. Curation lets me wander around the thoughts & ideas of a huge range of talented, thought-provoking folk (and stumble over a few cow pats along the way but that’s life digital or not!)
  • Share reflections with like and not like-minded fellow MOOCers and learn from their experiences & insights.
  • Have a bit of light relief from January’s bleakness, KPIs & implementing a new IT system at work.
  • Understand the MOOC approach better, see it from a student’s perspective rather than as a learning professional and evaluate if my cynicism about the grand claims made for them as the saviours of formal education was on target or completely misguided.

Two and a half weeks later, which ironically coincided with possibly the busiest period at work I’ve ever known, I reached Level 7 – the end. Each of the circles on the screenshot below represents a resource to be viewed and commented on, an easy coast it was not.


The mini-MOOC (mini because it only lasted three weeks not three months like some of the more formal MOOCs do) was provided on the Curatr platform which awards you experience points ‘XPs’ for viewing and commenting on resources, taking quizzes, answering open questions and commenting on other people’s contributions. When you reach a certain Level threshhold you’re invited to reflect on a question for the level, add your thoughts & bingo you’re levelled up to the next stage. You can rush through not comment or contribute, much like any other MOOC, but I saw little evidence of people doing that. Most were commenting, contributing some more extensively than others but there was more cross-commentary & discussion than I’ve seen before.

It’s easy to point to some obvious reasons for that including : The topic, if you’re interested in digital curation you’re already likely to value the thoughts of others and the role of dialogue online. The designers, Sam & Martin are pros they designed an engaging, effective learning journey peppered with well chosen thought provoking content. They also both happen to have a strong online network of people interested in learning design, social learning & collaboration who signed up for the MOOC bringing insights & comment.

And finally, the platform I think I forgot to mention the leaderboards? Jo Cook has blogged about these already but they warrant another mention. One part of the platform shows you leaderboards of people who’ve earned the most points for resources viewed, contributing comments, adding content and voting up other people’s comments. When I first saw it my heart sank. Gamification, I thought… I won’t like that. I could live with levelling up which is based on levels in video game playing but having everyone see where you are on different scoreboards no thank you.


As is so often the case time makes fools of us. The experience made me realise that far from hating gamification it really motivated me, not as much so getting a reply to a comment or seeing someone using a resource I posted, but it did motivate me. It made me think back to nights playing Scrabble with my Mum, being closeted in my bedroom playing Space Invaders when I was 8 or 9, doing pub quizzes etc etc. and a dawning remembrance that I am extremely competitive. This isn’t a complete shock to me in my mid-40s but I really didn’t expect a MOOC to trigger it or that I’d be learning so much I wouldn’t care if my competitive leanings were obvious to others.

So what did I learn?

That built well, designed carefully & implemented with care a MOOC can be a powerful learning tool. It won’t be a ‘one-size fits all’ cure for every context but I’ve come round to recognising it should have a place in our toolkit for L&D. That gamification works ( this will be old news to some of you!) and it doesn’t have to be complicated or tricky to implement. I’m already thinking about ways to implement elements of it in our work. That the process and platform is only as good as the people in it or on it, this MOOC was made by the huge amount of sharing that went on between people, it buzzed with energy & conversations every time I logged in. Oh and I learnt a heck of a lot about being an effective curator and I’m amazed by how deeply that learning feels embedded already. I said during last weeks t-MOOC that the learning shone through in the quality of the chat and it really did.

So a MOOC that managed to surprise me and keep me motivated draws to an end – oh well we’ll always have #dcurate!

Cat buckaroo, memories and how times change

Like many of you we visited family this weekend, a chance to catch up on news and marvel at how quickly the children are growing up. Watching my nieces play on their Xbox Kinnect system I was struck by how at ease they were with using gesture enabled technology, impatient in fact that it didn’t respond fast enough to their movements. And I was surprised to hear them diss the Wii games which were firm favourites less than two years but seen as passé because they need you to hold a controller. It led us ‘grown-ups’ (which apparently we are now though I don’t remember signing up for that!) discussing our relatively recent adoption of touchscreen tablets of various hues and how this has changed how we interact with technology and each other.

I’m sure variations of this conversation have been had round many Christmas feasts this year as kids unwrapped the latest gadgets watched on by adults whose childhood Xmas memories were of games like Connect, Operation (my personal favourite) and Buckaroo.


After dinner we sat around the table and played board games for three hours, not a laptop or tablet in sight and had a great laugh. Those will be the memories I’ll cherish and I’m sure the girls will too when they look back.

Given my enthusiastic adoption of social media it might surprise people to know I wasn’t much fussed by technology for many years and I held out against having a mobile phone for a long time despite working in an area which required a lot of lone working in the field. I didn’t use a computer until I went back to university to study for a masters in my early twenties, I completed my first degree using handwritten notes and one of these:


This is inconceivable to my nieces they just haven’t experienced a world without handheld technology.

By the way those of you worried cats aren’t featuring at all here should check out the old internet meme Cat Buckaroo , made me chuckle for a long time & a great example of technology reimagining old favourites!


My friends and family often tease me about the volume of my tweeting but I’ve seen all my close family move onto Facebook this year some who swore they’d never ‘do’ social media (accompanied by dramatic shoulder shudders!). I think this has been both a response to the family moving further apart geographically but also the fact that everyone now has access to a tablet or phone that makes social networking easier than digging out the laptop or heading up to the study to use the PC.

Does this mean we speak less on the phone now? Probably yes, but it also means we all keep in touch on a more regular basis and share little moments of each other’s lives in a way we haven’t for years.

Similarly, we don’t learn so much by rote now that information is but a moment’s Google away. This is true but we can now explore the links and connections between different things, the ideas of others and alternative perspectives on the world quickly and easily – this makes for powerful, connected learning experiences.

Whilst we might worry that we can’t drag ourselves away from our tablets or about needing a digital detox, for me as long as technology continues to help me make connections, hear fresh perspectives and share moments of those I love I’ll continue to be an enthusiast.

At the end of the day what makes precious memories isn’t the games we play or the technologies we use it’s the feelings, the emotions and the connections we share with each other. The medium will change but the emotions and feelings created remain timeless and precious.

Happy New Year to you all, go make some memories.

Reblogged: #adventblogs Day 8: Loosen Your Stakes

Posted by: Alison Chisnell in her inspirational Advent Blogs series on December 8, 2013

Today’s post is written by Kandy Woodfield, better known to many of us as her Twitter handle of @Jess1ecat. Artwork for today (and every day!) is by the brilliant Simon Heath @SimonHeath1

I’m ambivalent about stakes. They’re good (I’m told) for slaying vampires, or the walking dead…20131216-005225.jpg

They’re important to stick in the ground when you need to stand up for something you believe in and hold true to that.
20131216-005309.jpgBut they’re also used to mark boundaries, they anchor you to opinions and perspectives, they can end up being pretty rigid things that control your freedom and creativity.

For much of my life I was quite proud of being the type of person who knew exactly what was happening and when – yesterday, today and ten years into the future. I liked lists and things happening as they were scheduled to and I thought those stakes were serving me well.Then a few years ago a personal crisis forced me to reappraise the negative side of that boundary setting. All of a sudden my life wasn’t going the way I’d planned at all. Stakes I’d carefully, heavily hammered into the ground to keep me anchored were upended at an alarming rate, I felt set adrift.

Coming out of that period I learnt to stop limiting myself to the boundaries my plans and set ideas gave me. I started to look around at the here and now. New options and possibilities opened up. It took a lot of personal reflection (and a fair bit of therapy but that frankly is a whole other story!) but I started to live in the present and it’s a scary but exhilarating place to be.

So what do I try to do differently now?

– I try to think ‘why not’ rather than ‘what now’ when unexpected opportunities/issues crop up
– I take risks and force myself to do things that scare me
– I try to be in the now, not to dwell on the past or live in the future
– I’ve accepted change happens, sometimes it happens because I’ve had a hand in planning it but mostly it just happens, and it’s scary but it can also be liberating
– I’m less dogmatic or prone to sticking my stake in the ground and not wavering, as a result I listen to others more attentively

In upending my stakes what I’ve actually raised is the stakes I have in my life. This year that’s led me to meeting a whole new set of friends in my Twitter network in real life, running an international network of researchers and taking part in a judging panel for an awards ceremony. Unconstrained by ideas about what my life ‘should’ look like, I’ve met more people, done more interesting things than my carefully crafted planning would ever have allowed me. I confess I still like a good ‘to do’ list so planning isn’t out altogether but nowadays I pick and plant my stakes more sparingly!

So my question for you all is what stakes are tying you down? What will you do to loosen the guy ropes this coming year to see where it takes you?


Reblogged: Quantitative literacy is a life skill

This blog was first posted here: October 3rd, 2013

We’ve got a problem with numbers in the UK. From parents browsing school league tables, to voters weighing up the comparative costs of party manifestos, quantitative literacy is a life skill. And nowhere is this truer than in the social sciences; year on year young social scientists graduate without the numerical skills needed to master the age of ‘big data’.

Concern about this deficit has been troubling social science for a number of years and a range of initiatives have sought to address it from the great work being done by the Getstats campaign to the ESRC Quantitative Methods initiative tackling the issue in the social sciences.

Today the Nuffield Foundation, HEFCE and ESRC have raised the stakes and announced a significant investment to address this persistent gap. £19.5 million has been awarded to 15 universities to create a step change in the skills of our next generation of social scientists. The funding will support 15 new Q-Step Centres, additional teaching posts in quantitative methods and targeted university degree programmes which focus on developing quantitative literacy in a range of social science disciplines.

As a major employer of social scientists with a commitment to support the quality of social research in the UK, we welcome this bold move. We are delighted to be working closely with three of the Q-Step Centres at City University London, Cardiff University and the University of Edinburgh. Our researchers will be sharing their expertise and experience of working on some of the most complex quantitative policy research with undergraduate students through lectures, careers workshops and work placements as well as a range of other activities. This role continues our long history of being at the heart of capacity building for social science through NatCen Learning including our past stewardship of the ESRC funded Survey Skills scheme for early career researchers, a current programme working with lecturers to boost their skills in delivering quantitative methods training and our own graduate researcher scheme.

We need to act now to ensure that in ten years time Britain is still producing social scientists who are skilled enough to run complex surveys, communicate with the public effectively, and continue to push the envelope of quantitative methods. We hope it has not come too late.

The Tumblr archives: The Power of the Social (Spring 2013, updated with images Dec 2013)

We’ve been looking at all sorts of digital and social media during a ‘23 things’ programme at my organisation and last week we focused on screencasting and webcasting. I’ve become convinced over time that we’re underestimating the power these, and other, tools have to allow us to make the most of the best learning network we have at our fingertips: each other (or to use the jargon our personal learning/knowledge network). I know many of my colleagues are absolute whizzes at technical things which I have no idea about, rather than going on a training course or receiving a three page ‘how to’ document I’m dreaming of the day that I can encourage them to share their knowledge with me and others with a quick screencast. I know that for simple technical things I’d much prefer that to a long email or a lengthy session taking me away from my desk. This illustration from Julian Stodd sums up the potential of social learning perfectly:


I work with a great bunch of committed, smart and interesting people who I’d love to engage with more creatively. In any organisation people’s ideas, brainwaves and reflections are the dynamo which will keep that organisation succeeding in the future. It’s perplexing then that so many companies and organisations are fearful of tools and approaches which could support the sharing of that learning. In a recent blog Harold Jarche argued that we should be aiming for loose hierarchies and strong networks in our quest for personal and organisational learning and I completely concur. Euan Semple’s book ‘Organisations don’t tweet, people do’ should be compulsory reading for all managers, expertly making the case for the social workplace in simple, easy steps.

As an L&D professional this revelation (and it really has felt like a revelation over the last couple of years) means that I’ve had to ‘readjust my set’ as well. Training sessions and workshops have a place in the (hopefully) rich mosaic of blended learning which goes on in the workplace. But we need to be making much more use of the social (both the social tools and the social ethos – sharing, co-creating and learning together) and that means letting go, moving from being the ‘expert on the stage’ to ‘the sage on the side’. All of us need to take some time to start thinking more socially, about how we can become the ‘sage on the side’ for others. As with any learning, walking the walk is the most important thing we can do – moving to a truly social workplace is a process, it doesn’t happen overnight but the journey sure is fun!

The Tumblr Archives: My first ever post… Social learning in action (first published 19th Feb. 2012)

Social learning is the new ‘buzz’ in learning and development. The role of informal collaborative learning and the rise of social media tools have high currency in topical debates about how we learn. Understandably so, the ‘social’ is everywhere we … Continue reading