Mental Health

My experience of UNLEASH Hacks Australia

December 2020


Katherine Clayton

spur: hosted the virtual Australian UNLEASH Hack in November 2020.

20 participants from a dozen time zones ideated solutions to the challenges posed by loneliness and social isolation in Australia.

The following journal is a reflection by Kathering Clayton of what it was like to be a participant of the program:


The UNLEASH Hack Australia 2020 was my first hackathon experience.

I had heard about hackathons before - and to be honest, they terrified me! The prospect of working under pressure, with people I'd never met, to generate and pitch a solution was definitely not my idea of a relaxing weekend. But as an aspiring social worker, I wanted to gain insight into this world of innovation and social impact which neither uni nor my career in government had given me. Having seen how often bureaucracy stymies ideas, I wanted to see what innovation looked like and understand the tools needed to create urgent social change.

The theme of this Hack was social isolation, loneliness and suicide - a hugely complex topic by any measure. So, I was also curious to see how the innovation process fit when tackling a ‘wicked problem’.

At 9.30am ACST on Saturday morning I sat down to a virtual room full of smiling faces from around the world - many participants managing the time difference by staying up through the night. The amazing team from spur: quickly broke the ice with a mixture of breakout rooms and group games. Then, we were introduced to the structure of the weekend: problem framing, ideation and pitch.

Problem framing is the process of clearly defining the problem you are seeking to address. This means resisting the impulse to jump to solutions and researching the issue to understand what the problem is, why it is a problem and who it is impacting?

Problem framing is not easy.

My experience of it showed me the importance of having a deep knowledge of the subject matter. This is something that is difficult to gain in a weekend - regardless of how many abstracts and executive summaries you skim read from google scholar! The time constraints of a Hack also mean you can't consult with the people the problem is impacting. This inevitably limits your understanding of the issue, including the strengths and resources a community might already be using to address the problem.

However, while my team were not experts in mental health, we all had lived experience - an important source of knowledge when it comes to mental health. As a team we were able to share our own experiences of loneliness and it was this realisation that loneliness was a shared experience which led to our team's insight.

After spending Saturday problem framing, we moved to ideation on Sunday.

This was a lot of fun as we were led through activities to help us think creatively about potential solutions. Of course, every team hopes that by the end of ideation your perfectly defined problem leads you to a targeted, innovative solution. For our team, that's not exactly what happened. An hour before we were due to pitch, we realised we were going to struggle with pitching a clearly formulated solution.

Mild panic had definitely set in! It was at this point our facilitator and spur: staff had some encouraging words that reminded us this Hack could be simply a learning experience.

So while our team didn't deliver a perfectly polished pitch, I gained some incredible friends in Oman, Hong Kong and Liberia. Individuals who are equally passionate about creating positive social change in their communities. I learnt a lot about the innovation process - the importance of failure, the iterative nature of problem framing and ideation, and the tools to look creatively at a problem and solutions.

Perhaps most importantly, I saw what can be achieved when you're working with like-minded people. I came away from the weekend with an amazing sense of belonging to the UNLEASH family and I'm excited to see where that will take me.