I spent Saturday at Ravensbourne College in North Greenwich as one of the judges at Interactivism - a hack event organised by Google, FutureGov, Livity and the RSA looking at innovative ways of using the web to help young people get into the job they want, or onto the training or education that will help them get there in the future.
What made the event particularly powerful is that participants had self-organized into teams which included developers, social innovators and young people. Putting users at the heart of the process is one of the things that makes hack events so powerful.
I was hugely impressed by the concepts and the applications which the teams had developed.
My personal favourites included MeetMarket - using market stalls as a way for young entrepreneurs to gain practical experience of running a business; Mesh - taster days in businesses so that young people can see what the world of (particular) work is like; and InspireTree - which used the metaphor of leaves and trees as a way for people to capture and share skills and experience.
MeetMarket in particular resonated with me as I started out running a shop and the lessons I learnt around cash flow, stock control and user engagement are ones I still use daily.
The overall winner (and winner of the technical prize) was FutureBuilder - a way for young people to build a route to a career, helping them identify skills and goals and then track progress. The site had a number of functions, such as skills matching, being able to request a mentor, print a CV, feature testimonials from teachers and employer opportunity profiles.
I found the day hugely interesting and rewarding. When was the last time you spent a day with a combined user and delivery community who were energetic, engaged and continually iterating ideas? And that's not a rhetorical question.
Such events always make me look at how I work and consider how I can do it better - how I can better engage users; how I can get that energy, that excitement into our world.
What was also fascinating about the event was that the approaches that many of the teams took to the problem were similar but very different to how we usually approach challenges.
Many of the solutions broke the problem down into components that used social networking, gaming and a combination of mentoring and online tools to build something that put the user in control of the process, rather than the user being simply pushed along the process.
The day has made me think about how we build services and solutions, I do not have any definite answers at the moment but I suspect that I may have had an insight into what the world of services and user experience might look like in the next 5 to 10 years.
Mark O'Neill leads the Innovation team at GDS