KitKats, sticky notes and wires: CMS at Kingdom Code hackathon

After a session crowdsourcing “pioneer problems that tech could solve” at Greenbelt 2023, Madeline Linnell took a proposal to the Kingdom Code hackathon in October. Here, Madeline reports on what happened and what’s happening next.

KitKats, sticky notes and wires: the supplies amassed our team’s table as we typed away during the annual Kingdom Code hackathon in northeast London. The place was buzzing. Teams sprawled throughout the church hall huddled around laptop screens, expressions ranging from smug satisfaction, that last line of code running without any apparent errors, to drained, stress-ridden glares into a Visual Studio Code abyss. Our team began the weekend on the latter end of this emotional spectrum.

CMS’s project aimed to design and prototype a Pioneer community platform – something that would facilitate connection across Pioneer alumni and students as well as the exchange of skills and resources. However, as the hackathon unfolded, it became clear that this objective wasn’t necessarily the answer to the problem. So, what was the problem?

The team working on CMS's quest: (l-r) Adrian, Sarah and Nathalie wIth Madeline

Our team of four – composing of an IT project manager, a lawyer specialising in technology law, a PHP developer and myself, CMS’s web and application developer – found that the main issue was the lack of cohesion among alumni and students. As in, there wasn’t a single, comprehensive list or means of finding out who was part of the Pioneer community, what kind of work they were doing and where they were located.

If a Pioneer wanted to get in touch with another member of the Pioneer community – perhaps to dialogue about shared interests, exchange ideas about one’s research, offer prayer or guidance, or barter skills and resources – the only means of finding said-person would be to contact a CMS staff person and ask. And though this is a suitable means of connecting with another Pioneer, it could easily fall into the trap of institutional memory loss – a referral would be dependent on the staff person – and wouldn’t be able to recount every single Pioneer who has gone through the programme.

CMS’ initial project proposal presupposed that a custom-built app would foster this sense of cohesion and potential collaboration. But why use a custom app when another, well-known app may do – something like Facebook or WhatsApp? Surely using a familiar app like one of these would alleviate users from having to learn and use yet another app. Simultaneously, however, enforcing a social media app may also prove burdensome if not irksome to Pioneers. It would also not offer a comprehensive list of everyone part of the Pioneer community, as not everyone uses the same social media platforms nor do they want to.

Wrestling with these sets of issues, our team landed on the concept of a portal, the Pioneer Compass. The Pioneer Compass would feature an interactive map, visualising where Pioneers are around the globe. The end user could click on a pinned location, which would prompt a Pioneer profile to pop up. This profile would detail a short bio, list of skills and how to contact said-Pioneer (only with the consent of the Pioneer, of course! As our lawyer teammate emphasized…). Our PHP developer created a little demo map using the framework Laravel and an integration with MapBox, while the others created user stories and profiles to build the case for this concept. Following a standard design methodology, our team essentially completed the first two steps of the process, defining the problem and ideation, leaving the remaining two steps with me, that is, design (i.e., proof of concept) and testing.

The CMS hack wasn’t a code-heavy solution, but rather the development of a design problem. The hackathon team were absolutely fantastic throughout the intensive 24 hours, and I am immensely grateful to them – as well as to the much-needed KitKats, sticky notes and wires that powered us through.

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