Category Archives: Rewired State

What I learnt from running an internal hack – or how to make the magic happen

Why run an internal hack?

The idea for an internal hack came partially from talking to a Director who mentioned in passing that it might be good to see what the NAO could do with its own data. Also an auditor had used the phrase data lab in relation to an internal learning event called Learnfest where she wanted to run a session of the Code Club. So I put one and one together and made eleven.

I had a vague feeling that I had heard of internal hacks so I looked on the Rewired State website to find that such things did indeed exist which made me feel a bit better. Though to be honest I was a bit floundering around in the dark. However having been to a fair number of external hack events and having hosted the London centre for Hack the government I was pretty sure what the benefits would be I just needed to convince others.

What were the objectives for the event?

I had a number of objectives.

I knew how great the work of developers can be and I wanted to show audit colleagues the kind of potential that existed to create new applications. This was partially as an eye opening event and also to help highlight were the dividing line might be between what we could create internally and where specialist external developer help might be needed.

I am convinced that the NAO should run an external hack event probably with a number of other organisations and call it an ‘accountability hack’. Running an internal event would help to highlight the potential of such an event.

We were hoping the applications might be created that would generate ideas for new products for the NAO, either internal or externally facing.

Also it might be interesting to see what data the NAO held internally that might either be overlooked or duplicated.

So with these objectives in mind I went off to get hold of the resources for the event and get some colleagues to agree to it being held as part of Learnfest. I think this is called doing paperwork.

How does the magic happen? 

This might be called conjuring something from nothing.

We commissioned Rewired State to provide some high calibre developers based on them knowing what we were trying to achieve. These were:

Stephen Reid @wordsandwriting

Max Shelley @maxshelley

Giuseppe Sollazzo @puntofisso

Anders Fischer @atleastimtrying

After that I was on my own as I was not given a manual saving ‘How to run an internal hack’. So I rather made it up and used my intuition.

It occurred to me that we definitely needed some challenges to aim at during the event. Therefore in the few weeks before the event I started talking to audit colleagues of a more geeky frame of mind to see if they had anything that we could help with. Bit by bit as I spoke to people I started to draw up a list of potential ideas and the associated data that we might need. One idea from a colleague was to look at NAO travel data and see if it showed anything useful, for example how often auditors do travel out to visit audit clients. This was such a genius idea that I really started to see how the event might work.

Things started to look even more promising as I was even approached the team running the new data warehouse and asked if we wanted to have access to that? Yes please.

What happened next?

That would be more paperwork. I had to get various security related issues sorted out and laptops available. On the Monday when the developers turned up we had to get them to do more paperwork and have some training. By the time they were all ready to get started it was 2pm and I was a bit worried. Blimey half a day gone already and not a button pressed.

So we started looking at the ideas we had already and what might be possible and worthwhile. I then started to contact more colleagues for the relevant data and chase up more ideas.

Slowly but surely we started to get going and feeling that we were on track. On the Tuesday we were quick off the mark and I started to see code flying across screens and there were more huddles to share ideas and tips.

By the end of Wednesday Stephen had built his Oscar Explorer tool.   By chance a Board member came past and Stephen was able to show him the tool with a great explanation as to what it did and how OSCAR data is presented. In the meantime Max had contributed to an internal presentation to a large group of auditors about some audit metrics data using the barometer tool that he had built.

Stephen left us on Wednesday night to be replaced by Anders who specialises in mapping.

We pushed on and by now there was a regular stream of auditors coming down to clarify what their ideas where and to check progress with the team. On Friday morning we had a get together to work out on what we would focus on so that we could have a nice range of varied items for the ‘shown and tell’ that I had quickly arranged.

The Magic – ba boom!

On the Friday there were a number of events going on in the auditorium (including a talk by Roger Black) behind us which started to generate even more interest. So we ended up showing what had been built to the head of the NAO the C&AG and another member of the leadership team responsible for Digital and Innovation.

At the show and tell there was a nice group of fascinated colleagues looking at the:

  • Oscar Explorer
  • A map of NAO travel data including trains and planes
  • A visualisation of emails that had been sent to local authorities
  • A quick build in Google Drive of a whizzy chart
  • A interactive timeline of audit QA milestones
  • A barometer of various key audit deadlines
  • An interactive expandable diagram of departmental expenditure.

What did we learn?

Its only hard work and preparation that makes the magic happen and great developers of course who worked as a team to create some fabulous  products

Data quality – not a surprise – we picked up some gaps and areas for improvement

That there is a real internal appetite for innovation and that colleagues have great ideas that blossom given the space.

Ideas for future actions such as how to improve the data warehouse; that travel data from clients might be worth analysing.


Despite my worries on the Monday by the Friday evening we had made some magic.

Closing credits

Thanks to everyone involved which included:

  • the Business Intelligence team – for access to the data warehouse
  • Finance team – for providing the travel data
  • HR – for the security checks
  • IT – for the laptops and related training; and the anonymised email data
  • Learnfest colleagues who promoted the show and tell
  • all the auditors who contributed ideas and turned up for the show and tell
  • Rewired State and Matthew Applegate
  • and of course the developers





Filed under Hack events, Rewired State