This weekend I participated in the Twin Cities session of the Global Service Jam, 48 hours of doing and not saying. Going in, my understanding of the concept was that it’s like a hackathon, but instead of hacking computer technology to create apps or software, you hack the real world to create… well, things. Or ideas. Or services. After actually doing it, I’d say this description is pretty accurate.Because so much happened and I tend to go on and on anyway, I’ve decided to write about it in two parts: the first part where we mostly focused on the problem, and the second part where we mostly focused on the solution.

Part 1: Identifying the Problem We started with the reveal of the theme, which looked like a paper pattern to make a cube or a box. It was revealed at the end of a brief video about the jam that explained what the jam is, what you do, what you learn, etc. Everyone kind of looked at each other like, are they serious? But that’s when the fun started. I was in a terrible mood after work (this was Friday evening), but I was so intrigued that I almost totally forgot about it.

Our process for ideation (coming up with ideas!) involved writing anything and everything that came to mind about the theme on slicky notes, putting them on the wall, and eventually moving them around and categorizing them in some way. There was also a lot of moving around people-wise so that we could maximize our exposure to other people’s ideas and notes. My favorite was Robocop giving someone the finger, which ended up being close to another group that had Robocop and gang signs. There were others about containerization, patterns, interchangeable or swappable things, there were so many I can’t remember any more.

Eventually we were asked to come up with “How might we” statements that related to the now-categorized ideas on the wall. We were told not to put a solution into your “How might we” statement. Somehow we then had to choose the best/most interesting/most workable statement, and present it to the group. After the presentations, we all self-selected a group with a statement that we wanted to work on. The group I was in talked about an idea of kind of standardized community space borders (the innards can change) that would be swappable depending on the community needs; we figured that different cities could share them back and forth and there would be a catalog so your community could just order the one that people decide they want. Our statement ended up being something like “How might we enable communities to decide what community spaces should be”, and I chose to stay in that group.

The next morning, we had some training to help us with the next steps for the day. We learned about empathy and the importance of talking with users (the people we are designing a solution for), personas as a way to capture the type of user we were designing for, and problem statements which would help us create a solution to solve a specific problem or meet a specific need. We made a list of useful things we knew about our “how might we” statement, checked our biases (any preconceived solutions we already had in mind), and came up with interview questions to learn the things we didn’t know yet. Next we hit the streets to get some answers, then came back together to share what we’d learned.

Until we started talking to people outside, all of the ideas came from inside our little community of jammers. I had thought that it was really interesting seeing the wide range of ideas people came up with when the theme was revealed, but this was even more eye-opening because these folks had pretty much no context for our questions. We basically told them we were doing a project on community spaces, and then asked them about what they thought community spaces were, whether and how they used them, what kinds of communities they might say they belong to, and how they might go about making a change they thought would benefit their community.

When we got back together to share what we’d learned, the most interesting thing to me was that there were some recurring themes that we had heard. A few people talked about how they didn’t know how to find information about community space or activities. Some folks mentioned that it’s difficult to make change on your own and many people said they would work with others to make change in their community. Our group decided to focus on the awareness problem and the challenge of finding others to work together for change in the community. Some of us were interested in an analog solution (not a technology solution), others were interested in a physical or engineering solution, so we split up. In Part 2, I’ll talk more about the two groups and our respective solutions.