NEWS18 March 2014

How hacking helped create a co-operative council

Lambeth Council’s Nathan Pierce explains how hackathons helped change the relationship between the council and its citizens.


As Impact Magazine reported in August, a growing number of firms are turning to hackathons to help solve business challenges. McDonald’s is the latest – its January event was a 24-hour competition to develop apps and tools “that provide relevant services and enhance the experience of Millennials”.

“They are an interesting cultural phenomenon,” said Tom Rowley, co-founder of Stripe Partners, and chair of the MRS Annual Conference session, ‘Ready, steady, hack!’

Rowley’s session sought to demonstrate ways to harness the energy and creativity of hack sessions to help different types of organisations – including public sector ones, like Lambeth Council.

Nathan Pierce, the council’s senior policy officer, explained how Lambeth had set out to change the relationship it had with its citizens. “Lambeth calls itself ‘the cooperative council’, which means doing things with people, not doing things to people.”

Working with Rowley’s colleague Tom Hoy, Pierce and the council created Made in Lambeth – a community project that sought to involve local people in local initiatives.

It runs make-a-thons, flash mobs and online challenges, and works with both council staff and with local businesses – including a low-interest payday loan company and a local newspaper, the Brixton Blog – to solve problems, and design ad campaigns and initiatives to raise awareness and support growth.

The two-day hack events are in stark contrast to your traditional council consultations. House music is blasted out to maintain energy levels, groups of participants are encouraged to compete with one another, and too much talking is discouraged: they’re about doing things, not discussing things.

“It isn’t the kind of thing a council would necessarily do,” said Rowley.