Laptop computers are bunched together as students collaborate at a hackathon event

From 30 May to 2 June, we’re partnering up with Product Forge and the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities (SGSAH) to deliver Scotland’s first ever heritage and history hackathon.

Interest in Scotland’s history and heritage continues to grow, and our country’s reputation as a hotbed of digital innovation is also going from strength to strength.

Our story goes a long way back, and advances in technology mean we can continue to take it further forward into an exciting future.

We’re looking to combine the vast expertise from Scotland’s heritage sector with the burgeoning talents at the cutting-edge of our tech industry. However, we need your help too!

So, what’s a hackathon?

A hackathon brings together students, entrepreneurs, and members of the tech community – such as developers, designers, and data scientists – to develop innovative digital products that solve problems for particular sectors.

In the past, Edinburgh-based Product Forge have run hackathon events for the likes of Scotland’s tourism, transport and health sectors. This time, it’s all about finding solutions for the problems we face in the heritage sector.

At this event – taking place at Codebase in Stirling – participants form teams, before working together over the course of four days to propose and develop new digital solutions.

There’s a competitive element too – but the main focus is on creative collaboration, sharing experiences, and having a lot of fun!

Image of a group of young people participating in an ideas workshop

We’ve run smaller co-design projects during Scotland’s Year of Young People in 2018, but the hackathon will be much, much bigger!

How it all works

It all starts on the Thursday evening. You’ll meet up, get to know each other, and fuel ideas with a bite to eat.

It’s then down to business, and team formations begin! Regardless of your background, you’ll have something to contribute. This is your opportunity to find collaborators with skills that complement your own! The idea here is to find yourself a well-rounded team.

The next step is all about choosing a problem to solve. Some participants will arrive with a problem they’re looking to have solved, others will need to do a bit of digging at the start to find one!

Teams then validate their thinking, and test their assumptions. This is the research stage, and can involve anything from cold-calling, through to examining data-sets. Organisations within the sector – like us! – will be contributing a variety of data-sets for teams to get stuck into.

A diagram explaining the steps in the hackathon process

The Product Forge hackathon brings technical and non-technical participants together through a simple process.

Once you’ve done a bit of investigation and have more understanding of the sector, it’s time to propose a solution! Combine what you’ve learned with the technical know-how in your team to come up with genuinely viable solutions.

When the outline of your proposal begins to take shape, mapping out your team’s product, service or tool with a ‘storyboard’ is a key step. This assists the team in prioritising the workload for the rest of the hackathon.

After this, it’s tech time! The more technical members of your team get to work creating a functional prototype of the solution. Meanwhile, the rest of the collaborators delve deeper into the research!

The Rocket Pitch

All of a sudden, you’re on the home straight! As the competition draws towards its conclusion, teams develop a one-minute ‘rocket pitch’, along with a more comprehensive six-minute presentation. Each team goes through two rounds of pitch practice, so it’ll all run like clockwork when it’s time to present…

The event comes to a close with each team presenting their ideas and prototypes to a diverse panel of expert judges. Our very own Director of Heritage, Barbara Cummins, will be part of this judging panel!

The judges then declare a winner for the weekend – and it’s time to celebrate!

Using Data from the Historic Environment

While we’ve worked on smaller co-design projects in the past  – particularly during Scotland’s Year of Young People in 2018 – the hackathon with Product Forge offers a much bigger opportunity for us to collaborate with a host of creative minds from different areas of expertise.

There will be five themes that each team can choose their problems from. These themes – or ‘tracks’ – are based around the data we have to contribute, and some of the challenges organisations, and the public, face within the heritage sector:

  • Climate change
  • Family history
  • Creative responses
  • Landscapes and their histories
  • Communities
A visitor explores an exhibition using a tablet to scan a QR code

We want to find creative digital ideas for encouraging engagement with Scotland’s heritage.

Neil Gregory, our Deputy Head of Engagement, thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to bring new ideas into the heritage sector:

“Here at HES, we have amazing imagery in the National Record of the Historic Environment – but we also have brilliant data as well. How people engage with this is really important for us.

“Hackathon participants will not only enjoy using this data during their four-day adventure, but they’ll hopefully shed new light on how we can get this vital information on Scotland out there in more dynamic ways in the future.

“It’s all too easy for organisations to rely on their own in-house expertise. We’re certainly not short of brilliant people, but sometimes it’s ‘hard to see the wood from the trees’. I’m really looking forward to the illuminating ideas I’m confident will come out of this event. We’ve never staged anything like it before!”

How do I sign up?

The heritage and history hackathon is open to everyone – from unlikely innovators to veteran founders!

Whether you’re looking to launch a start-up business, or develop a product that already exists in your organisation, this will give you all the tools, inspiration and the teammates you need to disrupt the status quo.

If you’re up for joining us, don’t worry if you’re coming by yourself. You’ll be supported by a group of knowledgeable mentors who’ll help you find a team that’s right for you.

Your ticket includes all meals, and 24hr access to the event venue. You won’t need to bring any ideas with you; just a laptop and your enthusiasm!

And if you’re not the technical type – no problem! Hackathons aren’t possible without the input of sector experts, designers, researchers and service users. Creativity happens when different disciplines meet. Anyone with an interest in history and heritage can make a really valuable contribution!

While you’ll get a lot from taking part from the beginning, don’t worry if you can’t make it all. Just drop the Product Forge team an email to arrange joining at a later time.

So, what are you waiting for? Sign up for Scotland’s first Heritage and History Hackathon today!


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About Author

Nathan McConway

Nathan works as a Digital Project Officer with HES, currently focused on rationalising our websites to make sure users can find everything they need.