Social Hackathon – solving one of Finland’s most complex social challenges with students
Blog: Jukka Isosaari
I come from a town where a traffic jam meant a tractor on a road with two cars behind it. In fact, the actual village I come from is about eight kilometers away from the town. The only traffic jam of even this magnitude we had there was at the annual ‘hirvipeijaiset’ gathering, when everyone drove at the same time to the village’s school to eat elk and potatoes local hunters had prepared for us. Getting around as a teenager was a challenge - I got to town either by bicycle, getting my parents to drive me, or hopping on the local library bus that drove through all the small villages around the town once a week.
In 2017, the situation hasn’t changed much – except the library bus probably doesn’t exist anymore. Now everyone has access to all the information in the world through their smartphones, tablets or laptops. Villages like mine are lucky to be able to keep the school running – in this case they have positive migration rates as the village is located rather close from a larger city providing a good living environment for young families. Not every village in Finland is that lucky.
Finland is full of small towns and villages where jobs and basic services are vanishing.
Students to the rescue!
In order to think of ways to tackle this challenge, we are organizing a social hackathon together with OP Financial Group and Aalto University. This challenge is spot on, especially now under the centenary of Finland’s independency. The challenge for Aalto’s students is to come up with new solutions on how to support people living in the fading and draining parts of Finland. How to keep up the livelihood and vitality of the municipalities or even boost it up? The brief is vague and the outcomes might be hard to imagine at first. But there is a reason for this.
The situation in the villages is not simple and caused by multiple factors. If we would know what kind of outcomes we need exactly there would be no need for this kind of hackathon. There is not a single solution to fix and solve all the issues. Therefore, we (Finland) need creative and concrete ideas that meet the needs of real people. Ideas that no-one ever thought about or ideas proven to work in different context but not tried here before.
Now, where do you get these kinds of ideas? We thought, why not ask university students? Here is why:
- Students have fresh and different thoughts - especially if you mash up teams with mixed multidisciplinary backgrounds from business, engineering, design or even creative sustainability.
- Students do not see the obstacles typically brought up by… well let’s say more-experienced people – or at least they have natural curiosity to peek behind them.
- And last, students are aware of the possibilities of the digital era, they want to shape the future and most importantly they are not afraid to question existing solutions.
Waiting for surprising results
As a co-organizer and a coach to one of the 10 competing teams, I am extremely excited about converting the concept of usually tech-focused hackathons into a concept of brainstorming new solutions for wicked social problems such as this. The teams will no doubt have a tough time framing their focus and filtering the options. However, I am convinced that even though the brief is really wide and allows multiple ways to approach the problem, the results will surprise us all.
As a former small town habitant this topic is close to my heart and I will do my utmost in helping the students any way I can. Who knows, maybe all you need is just a new way of serving ‘hirvipeijaiset’ or keeping the library bus on the move!