Cracking open new ideas at Principle One’s first Easter Hackathon

In the week before Easter, Principle One held our first team Hackathon, bringing together staff from a range of backgrounds to work in three teams. Each team was tasked with exploring a different ‘problem on a page’ set by P1's directors over two days, drawing on subject matter experts from the wider team as needed, with the brief of presenting back at the end of day two. Traditional hackathons tend to focus on developing a piece of functioning software in order to solve a problem; our focus however was to develop creative ideas to tackle issues across law enforcement, using our in-house toolset and ways of working to fully understand the problem statement while considering the motivations of stakeholders and wider constraints. This was also a chance to collaborate in person with different colleagues, given the constraints of remote working and the nature of consulting, where you may be working alone or in a small team on a single customer-facing project.


Young professional writing on a white board

Team One was asked to consider how the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 could be used more effectively - a very broad topic. They began to focus on the use of Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs). These require a Politically Exposed Person (PEP) or a person reasonably suspected of involvement in, or of being connected to a person involved in, serious crime to explain the origin of assets that appear to be disproportionate to their known lawfully obtained income. The relevance of this problem in the current political climate is evident, making it a challenging but important issue to tackle. They began by narrowing down their problem space, as there was enormous scope when it came to potential solutions. This resulted in a focus on answering the question “how can we facilitate the use of UWOs in high net worth cases, and increase their success rate?”. Team One spent much of their first day working to define the problem space and ensuring all team members had the same level of understanding. They also worked to understand each other’s goals and objectives for taking part. Although time consuming, this meant no one was left behind or relegated to a supporting role and let them pick up pace and work with greater flexibility on day two.

Young professional giving a presentation

Ed Walton, who has recently joined Principle One with an operational policing background, found the Hackathon a great way to continue settling into the company. He said “The Hackathon was an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. It not only went a long way to exploring a new problem area, and showed me how to apply Principle One’s consulting toolset to accelerate that process, but it was a tremendous learning experience. It allowed those of us who have not had the chance to work together before to bond and share our experience and skillsets. Team members were empowered to step outside of their comfort zone and put forward innovative ideas confident that they would not be judged and free from the fear of failure.” Team Two looked into challenges around proving evidential integrity of data within a court of law, focusing on economic crime and the challenge of moving data across organisational boundaries. Through their initial research, they found that there is currently no standardised way of proving the integrity of evidential data, so looked into potential processes that could be used as a solution, considering the wide range of stakeholders involved. Drawing on their diversity of experience, from working with clients such as the Home Office, DCMS and Border Control, gave them different perspectives that they could tap into.

Hackathon team in front of a whiteboard

Their scrum master, Maddie Edwards, said “We all had individual goals and outcomes that we were keen to achieve by the end of the two days. Having to master a topic so quickly was really helpful for our personal development, and we really enjoyed the team dynamic we had in the room. It was a very interesting problem statement, and from our two days of exploratory work it was clear that in this instance the technology solution wasn’t the hard part, but implementing a standard solution to evidential integrity would require significant change both with law enforcement and financial sector stakeholders.” Team Three was asked to explore how police forces could investigate cases of cyberstalking more effectively, also considering how victims could be supported throughout the investigation. Their initial work focused on designing a solution to enable victims to more easily upload evidence, but re-assessed this at the end of day one, refining their motivation model to focus on the problem statement – how to achieve an increased rate of successful outcomes on reported cyberstalking crimes. As a result, they were able to course correct on day two, avoiding a narrow focus and considering wider aspects of the problem statement. This still gave them time to develop some wireframes to explain their ideas and demonstrate innovation as well as creating a timeline to help officers better understand stalking patterns and their potential escalation.

One of the best parts of the experience for Team Three was that everyone in the group contributed as equals, without feeling that any ideas needed to be validated by a more senior team member, and could instead be put directly to an SME for validation. This allowed a great deal of innovation and boosted the confidence of team members as it encouraged an atmosphere where there were no bad ideas.

Young professional giving a presentation

Tom King found the two day project really valuable: “I had a great time working on the Hackathon. When I joined Principle One last year, I went straight into an established team on a long running project, so it was great to have an opportunity to tackle an entirely new problem space from first principles. I really enjoyed the collaborative way we tackled the problem, which really drove innovation in the team.” One of the lessons learned by all teams was the importance of coming back to the “so what?” of their problem space. Even in two days, it was very easy to get fixed on one particular outcome and each team needed to keep in mind their wider challenges rather than falling into the trap of simply producing deliverables against a tick box. A willingness to experiment, fail fast and course correct and discard work already completed requires an open mind and a strong problem solving mindset. The next challenge will be applying these new habits to day to day project delivery, and not just in the safe space of the Hackathon. Looking back, everyone who took part found the Hackathon a high intensity but highly rewarding experience. Being pushed out of your comfort zone is crucial for personal development as a consultant, where innovation and creativity are critical to provide customers with solutions they may not have previously considered. We can safely say that our initial Hackathon experiment will now become a regular fixture in the Principle One calendar.