Author is a design thinking enthusiast and a service designer, who has designed, organised or taken part in three different types of innovation events: Hackathons, Service Jams, and Design Sprints. These topics are covered in the subsequent parts of this series, they can be read in any order. Find the introduction post on Tikissä.
So, you may have wondered what is the difference between a Hackathon, a Jam, and a Design Sprint? These words swirl around with an assumption that people know what they are and what the difference is. All three of these events are what I would call innovative learning by doing events. They all require a new way of thinking and working and they will all have the participants learning at an intense rate.
Service Jams were the very first of this type of event that I was introduced to back in 2014 and it was mind-expanding. The very fact that we could go from no team, no idea (even less than a blank sheet of paper) to a whole service or product concept that we could demonstrate and explain within two days, was almost like magic. It introduced me to the concept of “serious play”.
With this in mind, let’s look at what service jams as an intensive learning by doing events can offer to participants.
When a hackathon is really a Jam
There are many events that people end up calling hackathons. Lots of times this is done for a few reasons:
- Hackathon is a very trendy word and it makes their event sound cool and edgy
- or, the person has only heard of hackathons.
But not all of these events are Hackathons. In this article we explore an event that would be called a Jam or a Service Jam.
A Jam, in this context, like the Global Service Jam, is an event that is based on service design methodology to encourage collaborative service development/co-creation. The goal is to learn the service design methodology while participating in a hands-on, less talking and more doing process. Therefore, a Jam is not a competition as such, it is more of a community-building event. Often these are 2-3-day events run over a weekend so that anyone can participate. These can also have a competitive element to them but it is more about the process than the outcome.
One of the founders of the Global Service Jam, Adam St. Lawrence, has stated that the desired outcome of a Jam is “more innovators rather than more innovations”.
When I think of a Jam, I am thinking of a bunch of people coming together to create something that they could not have created on their own. Jams are not as well known as Hackathons, and it is perfectly possible that someone who is using a Jam approach is still calling what they are doing a Hackathon. In my mind, there is a difference but it isn’t one that is worth arguing over. Some people call events Hackathons because that name is recognisable or because it is cool. And to be honest, they are more similar than they are different. But here I want to explore the Jam as its own kind of event because they can be quite different in some fundamental ways.
So the most famous, and possibly the only, Jams come from the organisation Global Jams. Global Jams was initiated by Markus Hormess and Adam Lawrence of WorkPlayExperience back in 2011. There are now 3 Jams that are administered by Global Jams – Global Service Jam, Global Gov Jam, and Global Sustainability Jam. Each of these is held at different times of the year on an annual basis and may have slightly different formats.
How Jams work?
Jams are an intense, time-bound co-creation event based on design thinking and service design methodologies. This event is intended to be low on talking and high on doing and it is highly possible that you will see posters or badges or t-shirts that say “Doing Not Talking”.
You have just 48 hours to go from no idea to prototype with a team of people you just met (Global Gov Jams can take longer and be placed mid-week so that government employees can incorporate it into their workweek). During the event, the organisers will weave in short teaching moments that will guide you step-by-step in the service design process as you need them (not all at once). This is incremental knowledge through the 48 hours to keep you on pace and to keep you moving forward. It is this knowledge that will help you tackle the secret theme – a secret that is kept until the official unveiling.
What are the outcomes?
There are some fundamental outcomes
- to learn that you can move a project forward far faster than you ever imagined – by getting you to engage an entrepreneurial mindset
- to teach more people about the service design process
- to build something that you could not have built alone
- a willingness to experiment
- to meet and work new people
- almost the most important thing, is to have fun!
One way to sum this up is going back to the quote “the Jam is about making innovators and not innovations”.
How teams are created?
One of the few rules of the Jam is that you should only bring an open mind…not a team, not an idea, or even a plan. Teams are only created at the event after it starts. Once the theme has been revealed, teams can be organised around ideas presented by individual participants.
What skills are needed?
As you are not expected to bring anything with you, there are no specific skills needed to participate in a Jam. The only ‘skills’ you need to have is an open mind along with a willingness to learn, experiment, and co-create.
What makes the best Jam teams?
“The best teams” are quite subjective. As mentioned above, a Jam is not necessarily a competition, it is more of a community-building event. It is suggested by the organisers that if you are going to have prizes that they can be for things not related to ‘hard outcomes’ such as the actual solution. They will be more along the line of “best team spirit” or funny ones such as “most wall space used” or “most props used”.
What connections are made?
There are so many people to connect with at a Jam. There are your new teammates that you will intensively work with, there also might be fun breaks worked into the schedule where you interact with others at the event, and then there will be the mentors and the organisers.
Where would you find a Service Jam?
A Service Jam is really handy for teaching the service design process or design thinking methodology. It is a learning-by-doing experience where that is the main objective. This can also be used as an approach to try out a design challenge. This can be used as a standalone event. The Global Service Jam (globaljams.org) and the sister events GovJam and Sustainability Jam are usually held over 3 or 4 days, depending on who the target audience is.
Pamela Spokes works as a Service Designer in Metropolia’s RDI team. Originally from Canada, Pamela has years of experience in university admin focusing on international recruitment, marketing, and the international student/staff experience. With a Bachelor’s from Canada, a Master’s degree from Sweden, an MBA in Service Innovation & Design from Laurea, and her AmO from Haaga-Helia, she is interested in purposefully designed experiences that are centred around the user. Don’t be surprised if she knocks on your door to talk about learning co-creation methods through intensive learning experiences.
- Are you wanting to teach or learn these skills? Could you use this in a project or a course that you are a part of? A service jam is a soft landing in the intense innovation learning-by-doing event. You can reach out and ask for advice. I am happy to hear from you!