NHS Hack Day - Geeks who love the NHS

Organiser Notes

Each NHS Hack Day is unique, but these guidelines might help you run your event. This is a living document.

CC BY-NC Paul Clarke



NHS Hack Day values transparency, openness, collaboration, iteration, community, and the power of multi-disciplinary teams.

We deliberately seek out non-geek, non-white, non-male participants.

We don’t tell, we show.



Try to make sure that there are no clashes with other events that will/should have a significant attendee x-over.

A non-exhaustive list of such events is:

Experience tells us that bank holiday w/ends are bad && reduce attendance thanks to people having family fun times planned. Do avoid these wherever possible.


There are many things to consider when choosing a venue:


Needs a place where everyone can see a projector for pitches/presentations.

Also need freeform movable tables and chairs for hacktivity.


Some venues of a more conference-y nature will require you to use in-house catering. This generally makes things easier, but also tends to be fairly pricey. It’s also worth ensuring that they’re around for both days of the weekend.

If catering isn’t contractually constrained, the MVP for hackday catering is ordering from a local M&S or similar.


Inevitably there is not enough internet. Inevitably venues will underestimate how much you need in the way of internet. Make it clear to them that this is not “200ish people turning up to sit quietly as someone talks”, this is “200ish people each turning up with multiple devices making heavy use of the network”.

Ensure that you will have access to the wifi (in a previous NHSHD, “wifi” meant some BT-pay-five-pounds-to-use thing, which was fairly bad) and that you know what the terms are (often it’s “we will generate you disposable guest tokens” in which case get many, people will inevitably lose them between days / sometimes they’ll be tied to a day; it may also be “we need the names of everyone attending and will issue them individually a guest token”)

In the case of access codes/tokens, do try to allocate them and print them on name badges. People lose name badges less often than bits of paper with random hex strings on them.

Wired internet is preferable to no internet, but not ideal; it limits people’s movement and creates potential trip hazards - it’s better than no internet though.


Make sure the venue is accessible by people with extra mobility requirements.

At the very least ensure that someone using a mobility scooter / wheelchair / similar can get into the building, get to the hacking, get to the bathroom, and deliver a presentation.


Strong preference for venues with electrical power.

NHS Hack Day owns a collection of power cables. These were helpfully branded with London Python Dojo stickers by @ntoll so you can recognise them. Someone will have them in a box. Ask on the organizers list to find out who lugged them home last time.


TODO This is always fun; downside of many free venues (offices, random university rooms) is that getting access at weekends can be woeful.


NHS Hack Day has a healthy-eating policy. So none of the “traditional” hack day fare of pizza and redbull, or similar.

Basically you want a “healthy lunch” for both days (don’t forget about vegetarians, and it’s probably worth lobbing in some vegan provision if you can - consider asking at signup about dietary requirements), plus hydration - coffee and tea and water are pretty essential; you’ll want these constantly flowing throughout both days.

High-bandwidth coffee provision is rather useful, as is avoiding instant if possible.


NHSHD needs money to run. Nearly all of this comes from sponsorship.

Things we are willing to do for sponsors:

Things we are not willing to do for sponsors:

Basically while we couldn’t run the event without sponsors, and we’re very grateful for their sponsorship, we don’t want a “corporate” feel. Also from a sponsor perspective, it’s a highly heterogenous audience, so “blanket outreach” is unlikely to do them much good anyway.

We have also in the past actively refused sponsorship from organisations whose values we felt didn’t align with those of the hack day as a whole.

What this tends to mean is that the best sponsors tend to be NHS organisations and small to medium tech companies who work with open source. They tend to be very light-handed on the publicity desires, while being exactly the kinds of things we’d like to publicise through NHS Hack Day.

It is a good idea to discuss potential sponsors with the NHS Hack Day organising committee before accepting sponsorship.

[1] Within reason. It is not the Coca Cola NHS Hack Day.


It’s the people who really make the event, so it’s important to ensure that we get good people to come along.

Diversity is key. It is not just for “doctors and developers”. While the bulk of attendees tend to be either professional software developers or medical students / junior doctors, that’s more due to the ease of reaching those groups. Don’t forget about nurses, therapists, patients, statisticians, designers, mathematicians, et cetera. One of the best things about NHSHD is the amount that attendees learn from each other.

Essentially, if someone’s interested in helping make the NHS better, that’s all we need. Everyone is welcome.

During signup, you’ll want to capture information about people’s backgrounds/abilities to make sure you have a balanced group. Kristian personally found that a text field labelled “Are you medical, technical, both or other?” managed to be quite inclusive and useful. It’s not quantitative, but was still very useful for working out groups to target.

Diversity along other axes is also important. Particularly among the technical participants, it’s very easy to end up with a disproportionate majority of straight white dudes. TODO Expand


Like attendees, a diverse panel of judges is good. Keeping the group small is good; aim for 3-6. Too few and you don’t get enough points of view; too many and it becomes unwieldy and slow.

The judging panel is a good way to get NHSHD exposed to various senior medical types, so these are probably who you want to focus on getting to volunteer. Make sure you give them enough notice; they tend to be quite busy people.

Make sure that you have technical representation on the panel. This is particularly useful in ensuring that material achievement of projects is correctly factored in.


It’s nice to have something to give to people recognised by the judges. That said, NHSHD is about doing good, not “winning”; if people are there for the prizes, something’s wrong.

NHSHD t-shirts are popular, as are books (a good avenue for sponsorship). Remember that groups will be diverse and varied in size, ensure you have enough stuff to make a plausible offering to whoever’s getting it. That doesn’t mean (in the case of books) turning up with a small library, but having a variety of medical and technical books targeted at various levels for winners to choose from.

General Format


0900ish - Arrival

Have people turn up. Some people will turn up very early, especially if they’ve travelled far. You may have access woe, you may have “X hasn’t turned out as planned” (e.g. “they said there’d be power for 200 people with multiple devices; the room has 4 sockets” - Cambridge) so it’s worth trying to get in and be there at least half an hour in advance.

People will mingle, people will ask questions. Classic questions:

It’s probably worth grabbing a friend to act as Answerer so you’re generally available.

Have a tinyurl or similar to somewhere people can submit pitches. Whack it up on a big screen so everyone can see it.

At some point “open the event”, with a short speech in which you’ll probably want to cover:

1000ish - Pitches and assembly

Keep pitches short. One minute is a good length; enough for “I’m $name, I’m a $role, this thing sucks / I want to do this thing, it’s important because $reason”. Someone will want to use slides; tell them no.

When all the pitches are done, have pitchers stand up and spread out, and tell people to go talk to people they’re interested in.

This works better than one might hope, and generally works out, but isn’t ideal. One plan is to buy a set of numbered flags / signs / similar, and give one to each pitcher as they pitch, and ask them to wave it around a bit during the “assembly” phase. This seems a plausible improvement.

1300ish - lunch

Not much to do, other than direct people to lunch and probably thank the sponsors again

1800ish - end of day 1

Give people 30 to 15 minute’s notice that they’ll need to leave. Tell them they probably shouldn’t leave anything (however secure the venue, it’s just not a good idea).

You may want to do a brief tidy-up depending on the venue and the practicality.

If there is an organised venue (pub or similar) then make sure people know where it is. Ideally have some people who have been before to lead groups.


0900ish - Arrival

Sunday’s nearly always more relaxed. Some people will turn up promptly, most will drift in throughout the day.

1300ish - Lunch

Always a good occasion to thank sponsors.

Now’s an ideal time to tell people about judging etc.

Things people generally want to know:

1400-1430-ish Presentation prep

Now is the time to find out what black magic is needed to make the AV kit work.

Ensure you have cables / adaptors needed if there is a projector (or have borrowed them from well-prepared attendees)

Encourage people to test their laptops with the projector.

Ensure the room in which you are doing presentations (probably also a room where people were working) is appropriately laid out - auditorium-style chairs with access lanes, plus a table close to the front for judges.

Judges will probably start turning up around now. Ensure they’re hydrated, talk them through the judging process etc. - you may wish to appoint someone to handle this.

If you’re filming presentations, tape out the area where they’re visible. Appoint some people to make obvious hand gestures when presenters step out of this area.

If you have a sound system, make it clear to everyone if they need to hold a microphone in a certain way. Appoint some people to make obvious hand gestures when presenters fail to do this (these may be the same people as before).

1500ish - Presentations

Appoint a time keeper, under some arrangement to notify people when they have 30s remaining and when they’re out of time.

Be brutal about timing. It’s Sunday, everyone’s probably quite tired.

1700ish - Judging


1715ish - Prizes


1730ish - Closing

Thank people. A list of potential thankees to consider:

Direct people to any kind of post-event gathering, then grab your stuff, do as much/little tidying as required for the venue, encourage people to leave, then go have a well-deserved chill-out!

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