Running a Changehack

What is a changehack?

A changehack is a way of engaging with staff, students and your community. A changehack is about making change happen, coming up with the innovative and workable solutions and ideas.  Building on the practices of a hack which seek to collectively solve and ‘nut out’ technology problems, a changehack uses similar principles of time limited engagements, specific rules of participation and a casual but slightly pressured environment of crowdsourcing.  A changehack can bring together people into a learning community to collectively solve educational and organisational problems.

Why does it work?

A changehack works because it seeks to challenge head on and avoid some of the standard blockers that prevent real and productive debate and solutions to a problem.  Systematic moaning, resistance to others ideas, the easy fall back of ‘Oh, its a great idea, but it won’t work here’.  Also, a changehack draws on the principles of crowdsourcing. Not simply generating ideas but asking people to become citizens of the crowd, participating because there is a collective good that comes from that participation.  We use the power of the crowd to solve sometimes intractable problems and through the interaction of competing ideas and generative debate one up with solutions far better than we could have by ourselves.  

How does it work?

1. Build your crowd. A room of like minds generates group think.  It is the echo chamber that we all like hearing from but so, so regret afterwards. Invite people to be a part of the changehack who represent divergent, strongly held, passionate, organisationally committed or simple interested positions.  Make sure they ‘get’ what you are talking about.  Yes, learning will happen through this crowd for a number of reasons, but you need people who will all throw their 2 pence worth into the mix.  We have used both physical and virtual crowds, running the changehack in parallel then later as a complimentary process.  But in all cases, the crowd was key.

2. Set the rules. A changehack works best when you set rules of engagement.  Their aim is to fake agreements to a set of core assumptions or principles.  They set out the way people will interact. They set out the expectations.  They set out behaviours that should lead to success.  They set out rewards and punishments.  See ours below.

1 We are teaching and learning focused and institutionally committed

2 What we talk about here is institutionally/nationally agnostic

3 You are in the room with the decision makers. What we decide is critical to the future of our institutions. You are the institution

4 Despite the chatter, all the tech ‘works’ – the digital is here, we are digital institutions. Digital is not the innovation

5 We are here to build not smash

6 There is no moaning (rehearsing systemic reasons why you can’t effect change – see Rule 3)

3. Interventions are critical. A changehack without interventions loses momentum. Pick some people to give short critical interventions.  These need to be fast paced, enthusiastic, controversial, pragmatic, energised or simply from someone who the crowd respects.  The purpose of these interventions is to keep the crowd on their toes. Make them think constantly and deeply about the problem at hand. Piss them off, shake them off, make them angry or impassioned, challenge their assumptions or make them laugh. Interventions generate momentum for the change hack.  They can at the start, in between or right before the end.  They can virtual or physical.  

4. Set out the scenario and the context. This is critical. You need to describe the room they see in.  Without this it can become simply too big or run the risk of being so generalised and abstract so as to be of no use.  Give them the contexts in which they see solving a problem.  It could be a case, a scenario, a real life experience, an outcome or artefact.  We have found it works best if this task seems a little insurmountable, difficult or perhaps even impossible either within the time or generally, at all!

4. Set challenges.  A changehack is time limited.  Pick a series or sequence of linked or random challenges.  Set a time. Get people into random (or apparently random ;-)) groups, set out the task and get them working.  We have used a few different methods to make a task work.  We have asked participants to make one thing work to solve a problem (hack the VLE to encourage students to discover new knowledge). We have asked people to make a 100 word presentation to the VC or out their response out as a tweet.  We have run a single task or run up to 6 tasks in afternoon. We made the first task an 8 minute one and then progressively reduced the time as participants understood the game.  We definitely mix up the groups so that everyone gets to talk to the rest of the group.  Whatever you do, make sure there is a way to record these outputs.  We used an ideation platform such as LOOMIO to record all the insights.  We have also used Twitter, storify, padlet or simple good old paper.  Make sure to not lose the insights whatever you do

5. Have a reward. Traditional hacks use beer and pizza.  Choose your poison, but a reward works wonders. And not university sandwiches and cold tea.

6. Control time. It is critical to control time, finish on time, make sure groups don’t ramble around a problem. Make sure people know when you say 8 minutes you mean. Have a ticking clock. Intervene and stop the debate. Move onto the next.  We find it great when you run a few of these time limited things, then break for an intervention, let the participants clear their head.  We sometimes abandon the new whinging rule and give people 10 minutes of free form debate about an aspect of the problem, then start again. The intention of a changehack is to keep things moving and just stir up the way debate and discussion prefers to land.  

7. Refine. Refining ideas is incredibly important.  You can do this in the room through bringing all the generated ideas for a specific scenario into a single table and getting the people to refine them.  We like to take it wider. If you can, out them out into the community, get the wider crowd, the networks of those in the room, you networks and others to debate, refine, vote and get the ideas and solutions to a collectively (dis) agreed point.  It all depends on how much time you have.  But this thinking time makes for a better outcome.

8. Share. A changehack is designed to be shared.  Sure, use Chatham house rules. So share it with the people involved. If not, then share it more widely. A changehack creates a living, crowdsourced artefact. We believe strongly that if people own the outcome of a changehack, it doesn’t become another talkfest gathering dust on flip charts and post it notes at the back of someone’s office.  

9. Beer. A changehack is a human process. It works because people like interacting and discussing, especially freed of organisational strictures. So, help them interact. Take them to the pub. Buy them a coffee. Talk to them and make it social.  If you run this virtually, have a chat room or video open to see people. A changehack works because we value interaction and engagement, we value the community it forms, however fleeting.  We value the things we have shared with each other and we value that sometimes it is passionate, embarrassing, challenging, frustrating and inspiring.  You see asking people to give if their precious time, make it worth it.

So there you go. This is an evolving thing.  We loved running our first changehack, which resulted in the #futurehappens site you are on now.  We want to run more of them, with more people and with more problems to solve. If you want to find out more, let us know through Twitter or through the comments below.  If you want to just run one, power to you, go for it.  We think it works, because we have seen it work.  Let us know how it goes. Add to this site and tell us what you did differently so we can make change hacking a thing. Oh, and ALL of this is Creative Commons so go ahead and use as much of it as you want.