I remembered the drill from last year. So I arrived early to the ‘Board Room’ giving me time to do all the usual stuff like find a wifi signal, log on to the web site, say hello to the person beside me etc, but once settled into the Apps for Good judging process you forget the mundane. It’s one of the most rewarding couple of hours you could spend. Why.....?
Well you plug in your headphones and you’re immediately presented with a project from a group of school children. The outside world disappears and up comes the project teams ‘pitch’. Suddenly you're thrown into a different place where ideas are often beautifully simple, focused on good and deserving causes – and very much a child’s viewpoint on what really matters or what's an issue to them and their friends. Such varied topics like phobias, bereavement, mountain climbing, employment opportunities for disabled, healthy eating or pet sitting.
So what am I doing here?
I’m helping sift through some of the 700+ entries for the Apps for Good Awards. A competition for schoolchildren who’ve spent a year on an open-source technology education programme that partners volunteer technology experts with schools.
Under the guidance of the volunteers and teachers children work together as teams looking at real issues they care about and try to solve them by building a mobile, web or social app. Its’ not just about coding and the fundamentals of the digital world but developing skills in problem solving, creativity, communication and teamwork.
What rapidly comes across is the enthusiasm to work as a group with technology that can make a difference. There’s no mention of digital, cloud, agile, dev ops, MVP, reiteration, test and learn or fail fast - but you can see all those ‘buzz word bingo’ terms in what the teams say about the problem they're trying to address. How they approached it and what their solution is. They even talk about their ‘target market’ and how it can make money. But not in a commercial way, more about how the solution is sustainable.
Their eagerness to make a difference and win the competition is hugely infectious. Over a couple of hours you can easily review a dozen submissions. You vote via the application and some clever algorithm works out the short list for final judging. But to my mind every one of the entries I saw was a winner.
They came together over a few of weeks of IT lessons (a sprint) talked to their customers (user centred design, user experience), mocked up a possible solution (alpha) and then tried it out amongst them, then perhaps with some friends (beta). They built in the necessary small changes from their feedback one at a time (reiterate, dev ops) and then submitted it to Apps for Good (Go Live!) – so you can see all the elements we talk about every day but in a very natural young and ‘agile’ team (scrum).
I guess it’s like ‘Project Phoenix’ but the Grange Hill version. Oi Tucker!
The only downside of taking part is the very brief engagement you get with each project team, a 10 minute window. It’s incredibly hard to judge them, but you can only go on what you see. I didn’t get to judge the final shortlist, but Mike Potter, our Digital Director did. He was lucky enough to be one of the Dragons at the final this week, meeting the teams as they made their last case for their app to be chosen.
I wonder what happens next to the children and their ideas? – whatever happens I know the experience will live with them – are they ‘digital’? Of course they are but I’m not sure that matters much 😀
Andy Ward is a Senior Enterprise Architect at HMRC and volunteered his own time to help judge Apps for Good. You can find out more about the scheme and this year’s finalists at appsforgood.org