Hackathon or Workshop: An Update from iHub

Back in March we announced a grant to iHub in Kenya to help them host a hackathon focused on water access and safety issues in the country. Five months on, here’s an update on how they got on, in their own words:

The facilitator and the research team held several meetings to plan how the hackathon
would  be  conducted.  Initially,  we  reviewed  the  research  report  to  extract  problem
statements  that participants  could  address.  The  problem  statements extracted from
report  included  addressing  issues  related  to  water  access,  complaints  management,
water quality and treatment, and getting access to information on water projects in the
region. Simultaneously, the research team looked at active water applications and how
they  worked.  On  comparison  of  collected information,  the  facilitator  and  research
team decided that rather than host a hackathon where new water solutions would be
developed,  they  would host  a water  ideation  workshop instead.  The  ideation
workshop would  focus  on  understanding  limitations  on existing  water  applications,
reviewing the challenges citizens are facing (as extracted from the research reports)
and  designing  new/improved  ways  to  tackle  the  identified  problems  using  mobile
technology. The output from the workshop was a toolkit to use to implement water ideation workshops in future for scenarios where there were already pre-existing applications not widely used by citizens for accountability.

The water ideation workshop was set to take place from the 10th to the 13th April 2013.

Key activities carried out prior to the ideation workshop included:

  • Reviewing  the  research  reports  and  outlining  problem  statements  that participants could work on.
  • Inviting Stakeholders (water companies, officials from the Ministry of Water and  Irrigation  in  Kenya,  representatives  from  NGOs  working  in the  water sector  and  water  technology  companies).  Email  invitations  were  sent  out  as well as a blog post informing the iHub community on the event.
  • Preparing materials (sticky notes, markers, pens, notebooks) that participants would use for the workshop.
  • Setting up the space for the workshop.

Despite the comprehensive preparatory work and studies, on the first day of the workshop only ten participants turned up, with lots of organisations issuing last minute apologies. Despite this and the tense political climate in the country at the time, the iHub team and participants were able to discuss their needs and frustrations and plan a way forward. The solutions that were generated from the ideation workshop were quite similar to one existing mobile application in the water sector – MajiVoice. The research team has since initiated talks with the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company to request for the permission to research on how the citizens are currently using the water application. Talks are ongoing, although iHub hope that concrete steps can be taken over the coming months.

iHub’s experiences give a good sense of some of the challenges faced by many of our grantees – unfavourable political conditions, stakeholder apathy and the need to change things at the last minute. Very few projects ever run according to the timeline and project design laid out in a proposal – things change or get cancelled. The best organisations can adapt to this and iHub would seem to have done an admirable job in this regard. We look forward to hearing the outcome of negotiations with the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company and hope to keep you updated.