Shelter Scotland x Product Forge Hackathon

A group of people in a room sitting on fold out seats with their hands in the air and smiling at the camera.

I recently went to a Product Forge hackathon, partnered with Shelter Scotland.  This was a business, design and development based tech event in which teams had two days and two nights (I can still taste the energy drinks) to create, design and prototype a technical product which would help Scottish people facing homelessness and poor housing conditions.

Scotland’s in a housing crisis. There’s currently 150,000 people on a waiting list for council housing; in 2014-2015 35,764 homeless applications were made.

I arrived to the event a bit late. The night before had been presentations and briefings and most teams were already well on their way to developing a first overview of their product. I was adopted by a team with a couple of solid ideas, mostly based around the experiences of team members, but nothing was concrete.

A workshop on storyboarding had just finished that morning. Storyboarding is a product development technique which is used to map out functions, prioritise operations, get to know a user base and shape user experience. It also visualises the future development of a product. We decided to storyboard our two ideas, to create a clearer picture and develop both so we could decide which to take forward. This took us upward of 4 hours. We endlessly discussed, altered and debated ideas.

Piece of paper titled Shelter Scotland Project Forge. It's a mind map filled with colourful drawings and ideas.

We were fortunate to have people from Street Work at the event, we were able to consult them on what tools would be beneficial for them and their service users, these consults made it clear which product we would take forward to presentation.

The platform, called inVisible Scotland, would ultimately be a public engagement tool for homeless charities. But it’s primary purpose is a flagging system, which integrates with local charity's existing outreach programs to bring vulnerable rough sleepers to their attention and to ensure people get the support they may need. Most of our product development was achieved through the hours of story boarding, so our next move was to create our pitch. Turns out, despite not having a designer on our team, we’re pretty good at designing power points. I’ve truly never loved a presentation more.

I was volunteered to be one of the two team members to pitch. To say I was nervous is an understatement. But a great friend I made over the weekend guided me through it. Although we didn’t win, hopefully the effects of this weekend will be relevant, and we can continue to strive to resolve the housing crisis.

Photo of a young person with a hoodie laughing whilst holding a microphone. They are presenting something in front of a group.

Product Forge works to use technology and the internet to solve real life social issues. Technology is such an important and necessary tool, especially in this day and age. We should not shut young people out from it, only seeing the bad and the dangerous. But fully embrace it and empower young people to be social entrepreneurs, fully equipped to use technologies’ resources and create their own.

5Rights is working to open the digital world to young people. Listening to what’s important for us and interacting with adults who work with young people. To encourage the positive use of digital medias, and to ensure they are properly equipped to support young people online.

Find out more about the 5Rights Youth Commission.