The two most valuable things we do as HealthHack organisers

This article is one in a series about what I have learned from organising HealthHack. The others are:

My hope is to show you that giving up your time to events like HealthHack can be fun, rewarding for the community, and incredibly beneficial to your professional career.

I won’t be an organiser forever, and in order for HealthHack to continue we need to constantly recruit to renew the team. If you find yourself catching the HealthHack bug at any stage, please contact us at We’d love to hear from you.

What is HealthHack?

HealthHack is a hackathon weekend event that brings medical researchers, students and healthcare professionals together with other scientists, software developers, educators, engineers and designers to create innovative solutions to interesting problems in health.

HealthHack is strictly not for profit, run by volunteers, and everything created at the event is released open source for others to use.

How I became an organiser

In 2015, I attended HealthHack as a hacker with some work colleagues from Halfbrick Studios.

PainPal hacking away in 2015 —

In 2016, I attended as a hacker but this time by myself. I formed a team on the Saturday with a researcher who had not had their problem picked up on the Friday night. It was after this event that the organisers suggested I join the organising team.

Pitch practice in 2016 —

I became a lead organiser for the 2017 and 2018 events.

Organising in 2018 —

I’m a lead organiser again for 2019. HealthHack 2019 is running 20–22 September at ThoughtWorks Brisbane.

Why I am an organiser of HealthHack

Pre event planning in 2019 –

First and foremost being an organiser for HealthHack is about giving back. It does require a significant time commitment however we really enjoy working together as a team and we derive a lot of satisfaction from what HealthHack delivers each year. That satisfaction is largely driven by the effect the event has on those who come in contact with it.

As well from being rich in “the feels” HealthHack has also given me the chance to build out a set of skills that I have taken into my work career.

The two most valuable things we do as HealthHack organisers

There’s two things we do as an organisers that offer outsized results for effort. If we get these right, it sets us up to deliver a great event each year.

Building on the year before

A big part of what I wanted to do as an organiser of HealthHack was build upon what had been done before. I wanted to get the event to a state where it could be easily handed over to the next generation of organisers. Our Google Drive was already setup for easy handover, but other parts of the event needed work.

Website: We had been through two complete rebuilds of the website. We moved to a managed service (Squarespace) three years ago and since then we’ve been able to iterate and update with zero developer help. Previously we had needed someone with web development skills as an organiser.

Squarespace for the HealthHack website

Email: Previously, to get around paying for the email functionality we wanted, we had an open source solution that sat on top of our free gmail account. The result was painful to say the least. After some effort we unwound all this and:

  • set up a proper paid Gmail account
  • moved all the HealthHack Google Drive files into a paid account and off the personal account they were previously on
  • set up Slack notifications so no one had to keep logging into another email just to check it
  • gave access to a few key people and delegate access to everyone else.

Something (email) that was once a huge pain, was now easy to use, and has been a key driver for our productivity.

robot emails channel on the HealthHack organiser Slack

Planning: We used Trello well to plan the day of the event, but the planning for everything else (social media, sponsors, problems, hackers) largely happened elsewhere (spreadsheets, Slack conversations, email chains, text messages). We set up multiple Trello boards to track each aspect of the event. This meant we could focus on that area while we were in that Trello board. We could easily move from year to year by cloning the cards from the year before. We’ve seen a positive impact across the event, but the biggest impacts have been on our management of social media and sponsorship.

Social media Trello
Main Trello board
Sponsorship Trello board

Slide decks: We have now had two years of all problem owners using a common Google Slides template and those slide decks being in a publicly accessible Google Drive folder. This has meant:

  • problem owners can work on their slides right up until they present
  • we can use any computer to run the presentations
  • we can easily share these slide decks with our larger HealthHack audience
the HealthHack slide deck template for 2018

My Learnings

  1. Start everything with the question: “Could I hand this over to someone tomorrow?” You’re going to build something repeatable and productive that way.

Reinvesting your social capital

We don’t make money from HealthHack each year but we still make a profit. Our profit is the social capital we produce from running a successful event. From problem owners to hackers to volunteers we all:

  • have fun
  • learn new things
  • make great new connections
  • achieve something meaningful together

That creates a feeling of gratitude towards HealthHack within each person and that gratitude (social capital) can be reinvested to help build the next event.

This reinvestment wasn’t something we were good at initially, and it’s taken time for us to identify what our social capital is and how to use it to help the event. Here’s some of the ways we reinvest that social capital:

Pre event sponsors contact: We produce a co-branded logo for every sponsor. We share this, and links to our thank you posts on Linkedin & Twitter with every sponsor with instructions on how to tag us on Twitter and Linkedin. Sponsors contribute money so your first reaction is often to not ask for anything more. In reality, sponsors give us money because they believe in the HealthHack cause and are all too happy to promote the event for us.

special sponsors logo 2018
special sponsors logo email
thank you post links email to sponsors

Pre event problem owner contact: When we upload a problem owner’s problem on the website, we do a post about it on Linkedin & Twitter. We sent these links to the problem owner and ask them to share. Problem owners are busy people who often don’t consider the value of promoting their own problem until you point it out to them. This helps recruit hackers from problem owner’s networks and raises awareness of our event amongst our target audience.

Post event hackers — survey: We send out a survey link to all our hackers immediately after the event to collect feedback and encourage them to share about the event through our social media channels. The post HealthHack feels are strong, and from them we get excellent quotes for our event review as well as a good bump to our social following.

2018 hackers post event survey

Post event problem owners- survey: We send out a survey link to all our problem owners a little time after the event to see how their project progressed, and what their experience was like at HealthHack. This content is vital for telling the story of what HealthHack delivers to others.

2018 post event problem owners survey

Post event problem owner videos: As we released each video from 2018 we contacted the problem owners with post links from Linkedin, Twitter and YouTube. We asked them to do us a few favours:

  • share contact/tag your team
  • recommend HealthHack to another problem owner

The problem owners were really proud of their work and loved the videos so they have been very responsive in helping us.

2018 pitch video post email to problem owners
2018 Sunday pitch video Linkedin post

Post event sponsors contact: We produce a review of each year’s event tailored specifically to sponsors as a way to show them value from their sponsorship, and create a perfect reason to contact them about sponsoring the next event. No one tires of being thanked, and if you put in the effort to show them exactly what their help enabled you to do, then they will be more pleased to hear from you.

Every sponsor we contacted for the previous year that didn’t sponsor: The HealthHack goodwill extends beyond those directly involved. We send a sponsor’s review to those we contacted previously who didn’t sponsor to say “hey, here’s what we delivered for our sponsors last year, get in contact if you want to take part this year.” It may only be a reflected glow but it works to convert some leads from the previous year to sponsors for that year’s event.

unsuccessful sponsor contact email

My Learnings

  1. If you’re creating something of value to others, but it’s free, you can still leverage that value to reinvest in the project. Be clear on what that value is, and find out what it’s worth to others. Once you have those two things, you’ll know how much you have to reinvest and what you can do with it.

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