Social Innovation

Design your Death: A Portable R&D Demo Evening


It’s not often that you get to see what goes on behind the closed doors of a design consultancy. But Portable is no ordinary design consultancy. For a start they are based in Collingwood, which automatically gives them a gold star – my old neighbourhood was a just a hop, skip and a jump across Hoddle St.
Secondly, I’ve heard them say that in their early days they aspired to be a kind of Australian IDEO — and doesn’t everyone love IDEO.

I’ve been to a few of their breakfast and evening talks and they are always (a) fantastic, (b) completely packed – standing room only. I first heard about Portable through fellow RHoK buddy and adopted design mentor Zen Tim. He’s possibly the most chilled out and thoughtful person I know. The first time I visited Portable was back in May 2018. Jason Hendry (Partner & Creative Technologist) gave an excellent talk about how they are using a human-centred design approach to building machine learning tools. More recently I heard Joe Sciglitano (Design Lead) talk about empathy in design and what to do with it. Both talks have been brilliant, and since then I’ve been reading through all their design reports. You can check them out here.

We don’t just do design. We start conversations with like-minded and diverse groups of people, whether they have a shared interest in design, technology or inspiring social good. 
— Portable, Collingwood.
At Death’s door

At Death’s door

Needless to say I knew that their R&D Demo Evening would likely be a pretty special event. I wasn’t disappointed.

I had a great time chatting to Portable and non-Portable folks about all things death and ageing and cancer. I also managed to pick a few Portable brains about tech for social good and the value of working at the intersection of data science and design research – thanks for indulging me Tam Ho.

We were invited to test out and provide feedback on the four prototypes they’ve been developing over the past year. It was a such a privilege to talk to their designers about their though processes, what they define as a success, and to hear more about their plans moving forward. Sarah Kaur (Partner & Chief Operations Officer) then launched their most recent report: The Future of Death & Ageing – 81 pages and 17MB of design goodness.

The highlight of the night was catching up with the lovely Martina Clark, founder of Carers Couch (@carerscouch) – I have no doubt her app will be an amazingly good resource for cancer carers. I also meet Sally Coldham, founder of Airloom (@AirloomSocial) and a She Starts alum, who is also doing amazing work in this space.

An all round fantastic night talking about all things data and design.

– A.B.

In case you missed it…

Empathy. Everyone's talking about it. But who's actually doing it? And what do you do with it once you've felt it? Our Human Centered Design specialist Joe takes us on a journey to discover the what, how and why of empathy, and how it's transformed his design practice. Hear all about how feeling stuff can help you win arguments, how to innovate by implementing the radical practice of listening to other people, and how an empathetic approach will not only help you understand your customers, but give you and your team the natural drive to solve some of the trickiest problems they face. With plenty of storytelling, animated GIFs and pop culture references along the way, you'll laugh, you'll cry, but that's kinda the point, ya feel me?

Worth watching this one too…

To initiate the re-boot of Portable Talks, we look at how a human centred design approach can be used to build AI and machine learning tools. Our Tech Lead and AI enthusiast Jason Hendry will cover the basic principles of machine learning and show you how anyone with a computer can begin the process of creating a basic machine learning model.

Interview with Inge van der Poel from We Are Elderberry

Last Friday, Kate, Aarti, and I had the privilege of interviewing We Are Elderberry co-founder Inge van der Poel. A few weeks ago Inge gave a talk at the Melbourne Design Thinking and Innovation meet-up, about her work at AGL Energy. As their Human-Centered Design Lead Inge is her harnessing expertise in human-centred design to help AGL navigate though a rapidly changing energy landscape. 

In 2014 she launched We Are Elderberry, designing alternative futures for ageing, longevity and a multigenerational society.

Unlocking the potential of the elderly

In 2014 Inge spoke at TEDxSouthBank  about the value of wisdom, the opportunity to rethink our notion of retirement, and the need for alternatives that give older people opportunities to participate in meaningful work. 

RHoK Changemaker 101

Last night I met our newest batch of Social Superheros for our pre-hackathon Changemaker 101 session. Unfortunately I won't be able to attend this years hack. I'll be in Cape Town, South Africa attending the .Astronomy9 conference, running a tutorial session, and delivering an invited talk. But our RHoK lead-up events are fantastic and I wanted to stay involved at some level. Intrepid Travel very kindly hosted us for this event and it was great to have a few of their staff participate and see first hand how we RHoLL. 


I've talked about Changemaker 101 in previous posts, so I won't go into the details here. Essentially Mandi was her awesome business analyst self and walked our changemakers through the basics  of software development and introduced them to Agile and Lean methodologies. The goal of the evening was to help them identify their main roadblock and to prepare problems statements for the upcoming RHoK Info Night.

This year we have nine changemakers, including two return changemakers (Jen & Roberto);

While I won't be here to witness the RHoK Summer Hack magic – did I mention I'll be living it up in South Africa? ;) it was so great to meet Martina Clark from Carers Couch. This is such a great social enterprise I really want her to get the most out of RHoK. She also lost her best friend to cancer and because of our not-quite-shared experience we kind of hit it off.  You can read about her story here. Funnily enough we also happen to live in the same street! You gotta love Elwood folk :) 

Carers Couch provides advice, resources and attempts to build a supportive community around those who are caring for someone with cancer; be it a husband or wife, a mother or daughter, a father or son, the neighbour who cooks frozen dinners, the friend and fellow school mum who ferries the kids around, the close friend, the confidant, the not-so-close but still very important friend, to the local barista who brings morning coffee and cheer. 

Martina came to us with a really clear, albeit challenging problem:

According to the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, emotional burnout, depression, anxiety and chronic illness are common and impact the overall mortality of carers. Self-care is crucial in preventing this but due to high workload and lack of support, many carers just don’t get a break. This burnout can impact the person who is dependent on them and can last well beyond the life of the dependant. I have experienced this first hand and have had it shared with me countless times now through Carers Couch. While nothing can prepare you for being a carer the right supports can help. The solution is taking the plethora of ‘stuff’ and bringing it into a single location, enabling the carer to increase their capacity and resilience resulting in better mental & physical health outcomes, communication and linking them with the relevant support specific to their needs. Through acknowledgement, education and awareness Carers Couch continues to normalize and validate the carers experience and its impact on physical and mental health. Carers Couch is there to assist with the unique needs that can come with caring for a loved one diagnosed with cancer. 
— Martina Clark (taken from her RHoK application)

Carers Couch already exists, and has been up and running for well over a year. It sounds like she's done an amazing job so far with setting up a website, building up the community, giving talks, getting key stakeholders in place (e.g., Peter Mac), and participating in the Melbourne Health Accelerator Program. Martina's problem now is that she's reached a point where her business can't scale easily, which is where RHoK can really help. A little business analysis and development work, and tech mentors to assist in the move from manual and clunky to streamlined and automatic, can make a massive impact. So over the next few week RHoK will be helping Martina figure out how to deliver carer support in a really effective way. I'm super excited about this project and I'm hoping that we continue working with Martina post-RHoK to make sure she ends up with a whizz-bang tech solution with everything Carers Couch needs. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day (or two days...)

My fellow RHoKstar (and veteran) Shaun Wilde will be her RHoK Buddy and Tech Lead this year.

She's in such good hands.

GitHub Constellation

Melbourne certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to tech networking events, and last night’s GitHub Constellation event was no exception. A fantastic event and an opportunity to meet experts, leaders and passionate advocates and builders of open source software. As expected the food and wine was excellent and there was an abundance of Octocat stickers… all the Octocat stickers.... and as much as I would have like to, I didn't wear my GitHub hoodie.  ;)

Let’s start with some fun facts. There are over 95,000 GitHub users in Australia with 31% from Victoria and the majority of those based in Melbourne.

Daniel Figucio (@dfigucio), Director Solutions Engineering at GitHub began the night by giving a GitHub Project update. Most of these were announced recently at GitHub Universe. It seems like they are turning their focus towards projects and GitHub as a data platform. I’m not entirely sure what that means but it sounds like a good move. They are also focussing more on data-driven security and they’ve implemented separate team discussions as part of issues. There is now a snazzy graph that tracks dependencies within a repository and soon you will be able to track security vulnerabilities. Security alerts are an important step towards keeping code safe. 

They are also ramping up their own machine learning projects in order to understand customer behaviour. I wasn’t surprised to hear this. It seems more and more companies are using machine learning to predict user behaviour and create user-driven products. The GitHub News Feed now includes a Discover Repositories tab. Recommendations are based on the users you follow, your starred repositories, and what is trending. Admittedly I’ve never really followed or starred things in the past but I will be now that I’m using GitHub more. My favourite “new” thing is GitHub Collections


I’d never really taken the time to explore GitHub. I tend to just go directly to the repositories of people I know. But the project collections look really good. I’ve got to say I was pretty pleased to see the Made in Africa collection on the front page. I don’t know if GitHub knows I’m about South Africa and that I help run Random Hacks of Kindness. I’m guessing not… but you never know.

And then there were the speakers… 

Julie Mission (Make it APPen)  is a nurse by trade and self-confessed nerd by nature. She builds apps to enhance patient care, mainly for pain management and carers, and assists hospitals and healthcare professionals to create their own. She’s a pretty fantastic woman who started building apps in her 50s, although she’s been programming in DOS since the 80s. She now uses Xamarin to build her apps and last year she wrote a book called Planning and Designing an App to Enhance Patient care. I had a really good chat with her afterwards and was pleased to find out that she’s based in Bendigo. Earlier this year RHoK Australia expanded and RHoK Bendigo is now up and running. I’m hoping she will get involved in the community.

Meet Free to Feed, one of our 2017 RHoK Winter Changemakers

Last night I met up with my fellow Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) organisers to go through the RHoK 2017 Winter Hack change maker applications. This is one of my favourite parts of the process; deciding who we can support and how we can put together a compelling case that will entice hackers.

Each year the application process opens in February or March. It's a mix of change makers approaching the organisation, and us going out and approaching suitable candidates. A lot of the magic happens by word of mouth, and more often than not referrals come from previous charities, non-profits, and social enterprises that have already worked with RHoK. 

It can be tricky finding the right fit. Ideally we look for small organisations that are fairly well established, but lack dedicated IT support, or are experiencing problems where technology or perhaps even just a review of business processes, can positively impact their work. Our application process is simple. We ask prospective change makers to give an overview of their work – their mission or vision statement, how they currently operate, and to describe the challenges they are trying to solve. Our Steering and Organising Committees meet to evaluate projects, and if successful we start engaging closely with the change makers. 

We've had a number of excellent applications for the Melbourne Winter Hackathon. Seven of them really stood out and I'm really looking forward to working with them as a RHoK buddy and tech lead.

I'm super excited to tell you we'll be working with Free to, a social enterprise that created the free to feed project. Free to feed is a pop-up cooking school with all classes run by refugees and asylum seekers. It's brilliant. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of participating in Hamed's cooking class – Persian vegetarian favourites – and I remember at the time thinking, RHoK could really help these guys with a few things. Aside from the  seriously good food, Free to Feed's core values really resonated with the RHoK organising committee. Most importantly, they are trying overcome some challenges that RHoK can actually help them with. They are a rapidly growing enterprise, managed by a very small team and they have a number of logistical issues that make it difficult to expand. At the end of the day (or rather the hack weekend), we want to be able to deliver useful solutions to our change makers, that either help their organisations to function better, or place them in a better position to secure funding, additional resources, or whatever else it is that they need. 

You can follow Free to Feed on Instagram and Facebook.  

This year we will also be working with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), specifically ASRC Cleaning, which provides much needed employment to people seeking asylum by providing professional, reliable cleaning services to ASRC's commercial and domestic clients. ASRC Cleaning began a little over three years ago and is the second social enterprise established by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). A lot of their business and IT processes are very manual, and hopefully RHoK can come up with a creative solution to help the business work more efficiently. 

You can also follow the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

We have several more change makers that we are working with, but I'll leave those for a later post :)


Agile 101 session for our latest group of RHoK change makers

Last week we held an Agile 101 session at Pozible HQ for the five change makers we will be working with this coming June. This was the first time we've held this special session and I think it was well worth doing. It's important for a number of reasons. It helps change makers who are new to tech to understand how software is build and how the hack day participants, specifically the software developers, are likely to work. It also enables the change makers to get involved very early in the process and allows them to feel more confident about communicating with, and leading their development teams. I love how the RHoK Leadership continually works towards improving how RHoK operates, and is always looking for better ways to make sure that change makers have a central role. 

The session was led by out intrepid leader Angus Hervey (@angushervey), Tim Elliot, and Mandi Hicks (@ZombieGRl64). After meeting our five newest change makers, Tim and Mandi gave a really fantastic presentation on Agile 101 & Lean Principles. Starting with the various roles and processes in software development.

the various roles in software development: 

  • configuring infrastructure and environments
  • writing code
  • testing
  • graphic design
  • user experience design
  • business analysis
  • product management
  • project management
  • maintenance

By definition hackathons don't include all these processes, the idea being to get a "quick and dirty" solution out the door in a short period of time. It's less about robust software development and more about building a useful prototype that adds value. But revisiting the various roles in software development is useful for reminding ourselves of how software ought to be (and usually is ) done. As a change maker it also gives you a chance to think about what aspects of the hack are the most important, what the priorities are, the level of planning required for each step. It's also an important part of planning for further development.

Mandi talked about Agile and Lean Principles. Not too long ago I had a bit of a moment of enlightenment when it comes to agile. In astronomy research, there are those that agile and those that don't, or rather those that do the exact opposite – whether they realise it or not. I think I'm firmly in latter and I can't help but wonder if the most successful astronomers are the former? The following list nicely summarises the core principles.

the agile principles

  • Customer satisfaction by rapid delivery of useful software
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development
  • Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months)
  • Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
  • Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
  • Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
  • Working software is the principal measure of progress
  • Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  • Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential
  • Self-organizing teams
  • Regular adaptation to changing circumstance

Essentially the idea is to develop a product rapidly by breaking things into smaller parts, where each part is intrinsically high-value. The process also requires continually seeking information and feedback – often – and then refining work at each step. Achieving this also requires software developers to embrace the so called "fail often, fail fast" mantra. The goal is to maximise value not only at the "end" of the process but throughout, and it provides a method for measuring progress in the context of extreme uncertainty. Ultimately the idea is figure out the right thing to build – the "thing" customers will want and will quickly pay for, so the success of this model is in it's ability to identify the right solution early on in the process.

In many ways this is the opposite of academic research – aside from the fact that it's much more exploratory in nature and you don't always know what the end goal is. In academia, there tends be an assumption, or expectation, that postdocs are the "experts" in their field, fresh out of their PhD.  "Failing" is rarely encouraged (or at least, admitting and perceived negatively, and for these reasons early career researchers are afraid to ask for (or appear to need) too much help. After all the years of training postdocs are supposed to be self-directed, self-motivated and self-sufficient. To some extent large collaborations can mitigate this thinking. Of course there are many researchers who do exhibit agile principles. Researchers who exhibit agile principles make use of their networks, are resourceful, change or work on multiple projects (large and small), and are willing to admit, relatively quickly, when they are in need of help or require other skills. Anti-agilers are likely to be researchers who persist on seeing a project through to the end, well after it's deemed worthwhile, or persist with badly executed data analysis or code because they can't bear to let go of work that represents significant time and effort. Understanding agile in software development context has enabled me to reflect on past roadblocks and has changed the way I approach new projects. There is no greater destroyer of creative potential than the misguided decision to persevere with something that isn't going to achieve what you want.

lean principles and the business model canvas

"Lean", is a systematic method for the elimination of waste. The idea is to focus on the aspect that adds most value by reducing everything else. Lean manufacturing is a management philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Production System (TPS). For hack projects, the lean principle can be invaluable. Before and during hackathons, hundreds of ideas bounce around the room and with infinite possibilities (other than time) it's tempting to want to do everything. In reality a successful hack project is more likely to be something that is simple, has a clear purpose, and has high-value with minimum effort. This is where the idea of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) comes in to play. A product that is a little fun to use, feasible, and valuable, is much better than something that is technically perfect, but not terribly interesting or useful. A really useful tool that helps identify what will add the most value and how best to achieve the end goal, is the Business Model Canvas (below left). It's essentially a visual tool to identify developer and user motivations, key activities and resources, and long-tern sustainability (in the event of further development). A simpler version of this – one that is ideal for hack events – is The Product Canvas (below right).

user personas

Developing user personas are another really useful way to figure out what you are trying to achieve. We strongly encourage our change makers to go through this processes. It can help to mitigate unrealistic assumptions about the target audience and it can really help teams to develop the right type of solution. You can sketch personas out on a piece of paper, they needn't be fancy. However if you're looking for a really nice online tool to quickly create personas and share them with your team then I suggest trying UserForge. It's free, simple to use and quite stylish. A good tool to get you in a web development mood.