Ideathon MDUK

Ideathon @ Muscular Dystophy UK

I was fortunate enough to be invited along to the 200th Ideathon, a 24hr collaborative hackathon event to solve big problems for charities. This year, we worked with MDUK to help them answer;

“How can we use technology to reach out, connect, and improve the lives of anyone affected by a muscle wastening condition?”.

With technology evolving so quickly, Robert, the CEO, wanted to know how they can make the most of tech to empower people with MD to live a full and rewarding life.

It was a fantastic opportunity to work with leaders from other companies and employee’s from MDUK, all expertly faciliated by Miles at The Collaboration Company.

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On day 1 we went through many fast paced ‘ice-breaker’ tasks to get to know eachother better, met the inspirational people at MDUK including the amazing Hayley who’s son suffers from the condition, and heard from the CEO Robert Meadowcroft who introduced the challenge. Hayley described in great detail how isolated and lonely she can feel, often having no-one to talk to about the condition as it only affects 70,000 people in the UK. She also explained how it had taken 18 months from the initial diagnosis to getting a full diagnosis, during which time she had very little information about what to do from her GP or online. This was absolutely shocking, and surely something we could help with.

We all went out for dinner together that evening and had the opportunity to ask more about the charity and the challenge. Spending this time together really helped me understand the chairty on a more personal level, and realise just how amazing everything they do is, from the people that work for MDUK, to the people affected and the work they do.

The following day we came back to their headquaters and immediately went about getting all of the ideas and thoughts we’d had overnight onto a board, so that we could continue with a fresh mind.

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We then split into small teams, and while thinking about the challenge decided on 3 ‘big ambitions’ that we promised our ideas would follow. We got back together as a larger team and voted for our favourite 3.

We settled on ‘Courageous’, ‘Inspiring’ and ‘Impactful’, as we felt these really captured the essence of what we wanted to achieve.

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Miles then walked us through the process we’d be taken on over the next 8 hours or so, and asked us to throw ourselves into it 100% and fully ‘trust the process’. I was really excited to see how we’d pull apart the brief and present back 4 tangible ideas to the CEO at 4pm that afternoon! Not much time at all!

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Back in our smaller teams, we came up with a series of ‘How might we?’ statements to explore further, focusing on key aspects of the challenge. In groups we produced as many ideas as possible for each statement in 5 minutes, writing these up on the flipboard. It was really important for us to collaborate well, to challenge and build on eachothers ideas.

Many companies and teams get collaboration wrong. They mistake coordination and cooperation for collaboration.

Collaboration is… "The ability to draw from a vast diversity of people with different perspectives and enable them to think and work together to build new insights, fresh ideas and radical possibilities".

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Now that we had roughly 20 ideas for each of our 6 ‘How might we?’ statements, we needed to narrow those down. We picked our 3 favourite ideas from each statement and wrote them out in more detail on large post-it notes ready for the prioritisation exercise with the whole group.

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We mapped each idea into one of 4 quadrants; Rational (it just makes sense), Quick win (something that should just be done), Long shot, and We Love (for ideas we just can’t stop thinking about). This allowed us to get a birds-eye view of our ideas and make a strategic decision about the ideas we take forward.

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From the 20+ ideas we had, we could only present 4 of those back to the CEO in around 2 hours time! We all voted on our favourite 4 and split back into smaller teams to really thrash out the ideas in each of the ideas.

We had 30 minutes to write up the ambition for the idea, thinking about how we could really push the idea further to make sure it was courageous, inspiring and impactful.

We then presented each idea back to the group for critique and areas for further exploration.

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The team I was in focused on the idea of an app that allowed those with MD to reach out and connect with other members in the MD community. When we spoke with Hayley the day before she described the MDUK team like an ‘extended family’, so we wanted to take this into an app that allowed her to more easily connect with people around her, something that she currently finds extremely hard. The ambition for the app is that it would allow users to;

  • Personlise the experience based on their specific diagnosis or relationship with someone who suffers from MD. Hayley explained that there’s an overwhelming amount of information online, so we wanted to filter through this to only show information thats revelent.
  • Connect and chat with other people around the world who suffer from similar conditions, either through a simple chat based UI or using live video
  • See and book events that are going on in the area, such as Powerchair basketball.
  • See a personalised feed of things going on in the community, where users can comment, chat and get involved together.
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We worked with the other groups in the room to see how all of our ideas would work together. Another idea being explored was a new MDUK hashtag, #mdukextreme, where users could upload content of them doing amazing, inspiration activities, so we made sure our app would display any content with this tag in our news feed.

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With our 4 ideas complete, Robert the CEO came into the room and we presented each idea back. We had a long discussion about how we came up with these ideas, why we think they’ll work, and what we’d do next if we were the CEO. It was great to see how open and willing Robert and the team at MDUK are to change for the good, collaborating with us on these ideas over the past 24 hours.

Robert was really receptive to our ideas and was keen to take them forward after the event had finished, with many of us wanting to keep in touch and help make a difference.

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It was an absolutely fantastic experience that I’d recommend to anyone who thinks they know how to collaborate. I learnt so much about working effectively in a team to solve big problems really quickly, and will be taking these techniques back to my day job with me.

I’m still in touch with Robert and the team at MDUK, iterating our ideas and discussing how we can make this a reality. We even heard back from Hayley and her son who loved our ideas and said we’d really understood their needs.

We’re all getting back together in a few months time to see what progress has been made, so I’m looking forward to that!