Law and society blog

Northumbria and Tallinn University students join forces to ‘hack’ complex wicked social issues

Hackathons are a well-known format in Estonia for creating ICT based products and prototypes over 48 hours. This model has been transferred and modified in the framework of a Horizon 2020 project “Cosie - Co-creation of Service Innovation in Europe” to create new public services and products through co-creation.

living lab

Northumbria and Tallinn University students jointly participated in a hackathon in Varstu, Võru county, Estonia during April 2019.

The cooperation between Northumbria and Tallinn Universities is in its 10th year and various student and staff exchanges have taken place over this time. Dr Katri-Liis Reimann invited Multi-Disciplinary Innovation MA students from Dr. Nick Spencer’s programme to the April hackathon event. Dr. Reimann has been a visiting fellow at Northumbria since 2018 and has given lectures in Northumbria on social innovation, entrepreneurship and management.  It was her idea to bring the MA level students from Northumbria and students from Tallinn’s LIFE course together. LIFE is a study programme focused on project-based and problem-based learning, where students from different disciplines collaborate with academics and partners from outside the university.

One of the projects the students jointly worked on in the hackathon was Signal/Foor. It is based on a methodology to enable households to assess their own level of poverty and to carry out personalised strategies to overcome their specific barriers. The methodology has been used in 30 countries including in the UK (based in Newcastle). The students had to find ways to adjust the model to fit the Estonian context in a meaningful way. Sigrit Kullang who is one of the Tallinn students commented, “The contribution of the UK students was important for identifying the background of the idea and provide the evidence base with the research carried out in the UK”. Laur Raudsoo, also from Tallinn University confirmed that the UK students helped them, "to ease pains and create gains". They helped to map how the platform creates value, the characteristics of the platform and services, users and their needs and what benefits the Signal platform could bring, based on the research carried out elsewhere.”
Some of the UK students also worked on the topic of pastoral counselling in Võru and how to turn it into a social service. Jessica Birchall from Northumbria reflected, "Due to the mix of languages it took us a little while to work out how to work together to have a completely shared group discussion but we were truly co-creative once we worked this out. I felt like I was valued and felt a part of the team. I feel this group dynamic worked really well! Especially as we had no prior knowledge of Estonian culture towards trust or mental health so we asked genuine questions to understand and this and helped the other people think about points that they would of otherwise thought was ‘normal’ and took it for granted.”

Northumbria students also helped the group of Tallinn Social Entrepreneurship MA students with their idea of developing clothing products with printed designs created by people with a mental disability. A member of that group Dilanka Mendis from Sri Lanka said, "This is a very good experience for start-ups. It helps social enterprises.”

Dr. Reimann believes that, “everyone was enriched by the whole experience and the hackathon gave all the students the opportunity to interact in a complex innovation-driven setting in Estonia over 2 days. It was a truly immersive 48 hours”. She hopes that this event will act as a catalyst for further cooperation and mutual exchanges in the future. It hopefully brings Northumbria and Tallinn Universities to each other’s map as mutually great locations for post-graduate study and further learning.

FB of Tallinn University MA Social Entrepreneurship students:

FB of the social hackathon in Varstu: