MyData 2017 – Health Profile Hackathon

Juha-Pekka Ahvenainen, Markus Alavaikko, Markus Torkkeli

The National Institute of Health and Welfare (THL) is a state agency that promotes the wellbeing and health of the population, prevents diseases and social problems, and develops social and health services. It also is the statutory statistical authority in health and welfare in Finland maintaining a knowledge base within its field of operation.

We among roughly 25-30 others participated in MyData 2017: Health Profile Hackathon on September 4th 2017 organized by THL. We enrolled in hackathon through Facebook. It was THL’s first attempt arranging a public hackathon in trying to get new ideas on how to reach out to people more efficiently.


According to Wikipedia a hackathon is usually a design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, and others, often including subject-matter-experts, collaborate intensively on software projects. Participants usually form groups gathering around a subject that has being set beforehand so that each group consists of a heterogeneous mass. Service designers may act as facilitators to the groups enabling their fertile work flow. A form of service design process is followed to keep things holistic and a set of methods are used to get on and beyond.

In their own development THL specialists had came to a conclusion, that to promote individuals healthy living a motivating support service might be needed – for example to motivate  to maintain healthy choices. Health profile hackathon´s aim was to develop a concept, or an idea, of a service with which you can compare your own health (data) with population averages – in an interesting and innovative way.

Participants were given access to play with large scale data set couple of days beforehand, and an opportunity to design an interactive health profile. The given data was anonymized replica of the national FinHealth data collected in 2017 through questionnaires and interviews. Data comprises individual level information about health examinations, such as body mass index, body fat, blood lipid values, blood sugar value, health behaviour and liver function. The best concept or idea was going to win for tickets to Slush Health Side Event and a pitching talk in THL that might result as further collaboration!

The show was set to start at 3 pm. After a short half hour introduction to the subject the teams formed out of nowhere! We didn´t know anyone else taking part in the hackathon. We never got a chance to get to know them or were introduced. So our team consisted of the three of us and that knew each other from the Laurea Service Design Programme beforehand.

In introduction we were given a four-hour time frame to innovate an interactive health profile based service. That kept us busy till the very end. We got our pitch together barely before our turn. There were no facilitators during the hackathon which came as a surprise to us. Usually facilitator leads and guides participants of the hackathon trough the innovation process. We just worked on our own. We were not given any service design tools to work with. Big papers were available and I´m glad we had our own post-it’s that you need throughout the process.

There was also a problem that we noticed during the hackathon: according to service design process it is important to interview customers or possible users of the service in the empathy phase. Sometimes service design sprints star with ready-made customer profiles or personas. We did not get this empathy data from real customers so we sort empathized ourselves, which was not the best way to do it. Customer personas would have been useful during the innovation process. Or information about the fact that we need to form the personas before the actual hackathon.

Talking to the THL staff we dug out some information on who might be their most valuable target group and we concentrated on that. We noticed that one of the teams used some time and resources to do some telephone interviews during the hackathon! We didn´t have time for that.



Nevertheless, we managed to innovate some kind of interactive health profile. We used storyboard to explain our concept at the pitch. Even though storyboard is very informative and clear way to express your idea making it in such a short time is a pain. In this case a User interface design could have worked better? The pitch was supposed to last three minutes, we only got two! And no warning…

We felt that two minutes was too short for a superb pitch. And we did not win the first price! But we had fun. This experience showed us the meaning and importance of facilitation during this kind of event.

THL took good care of us, thank you. We´ll be happy to attend their hackathon anytime again, hopefully this time as facilitators. Sauna was also hot, there was plenty of pizza (3 kinds of) and selected refreshments  available after the session!


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