The promise and limits of civic hacking

Here at Impact48 we believe in the power of hack weekends.  Our events (as well as being fun and rewarding in themselves) empower us to have a real, positive, useful impact on the work of those wonderful people making our world better via their charities.

This guest post from Justin Reynolds puts our approach eloquently into the big picture.


The hack weekends organised by impact48 exemplify one of the most interesting emerging uses of web technology: the design of innovative new channels for the delivery of public and charitable services.

During the weekends – sometimes called ‘hackathons’ – engineers, designers, developers and strategists volunteer their time and skills to create online applications that seek to improve the accessibility of public services and provide useful new tools for the day-to-day work of doctors, the police and other public servants.

Continue reading

Impact48 Has A Venue For The Edinburgh Cyrenians Weekend.. Attacat Internet Marketing!

Impact48 is beyond delighted to announce that we have a venue for the Edinburgh Cyrenians Weekend in October! The fine and generous people at Attacat Internet Marketing have offered their lovely and perfectly placed George Street office as the location for all of the weekend’s events!



Without the help of generous organisations and the people who work within them, the Impact48 weekends could not take place, simple as that! So we would like to take a moment to say a massive thank you to Tim Barlow and all of the Attacat team!

With the venue sorted and just over two weeks to go, things are shaping up nicely! I managed to catch up with Phil Reilly, Adminstration Coordinator at Cyrenians, to ask him what he hopes the Impact48 Weekend can achieve for Edinburgh Cyrenians.

Phil: “We hope that the Impact48 weekend will help us progress some of our current ideas around marketing, communication and fundraising (areas where we don’t have as many resources available to us as we would like); as well as help us make some progress in the initial stages of what we hope will turn out to be an innovative recycling service. We look forward to meeting and working alongside all the volunteers, and are delighted to have been offered such an exciting and creative opportunity.”

Here at Impact48 we are equally excited, we just can’t wait to see what the hard work of our volunteers over the weekend will achieve for Edinburgh Cyrenians. We are so pleased to be working alongside Edinburgh Cyrenians and to have the chance to contribute to the truly inspiring work that they do.

There is still time to get involved!

We are still welcoming volunteers for the next Edinburgh Cyrenians Impact48 weekend in October. We are looking for all sorts of volunteers, so you don’t need to fit into the techie, creative, designer or developer “type.” If you would like to find out more or volunteer for our next weekend please get in touch with us! Email at

We are also looking for other kinds of assistance for the weekend such as sponsors or perhaps fuel for the volunteers! Could you or your business help? Find out more about sponsoring or get in touch with us at

You can also sign up to our newsletter, like our Impact48 page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @RealImpact48, use the Twitter hashtag #impact48.

Thanks again Attacats! We’ll get the kettle on.

The Real And Lasting Post Weekend Impact – Music In Hospitals

The very first Impact48 weekend took place in April this year. The charity chosen was Music In Hospitals Scotland and what a worthy cause it was to choose.

Music in Hospitals aims to improve the quality of life for people of all ages in care across the whole of Scotland through the provision of professional live music. Concerts take place in hospitals, hospices, care homes, day centers and special needs schools, bringing the benefits of live music to people who need it most.”

The aim of the Impact48 weekend was to provide the charity, lacking resource, with ideas, knowledge and new technologies to further their cause. To do this Impact48 brought together sponsors and a skilled team willing to volunteer their time, knowledge and enthusiasm to develop something in 48 hours. Through idea generation, collaboration and development the primary objective for the team was to create something that was complete and immediately actionable for the charity. This meant that the ideas and strategies developed could not half-baked, instead the weekend had to deliver something which was fully planned, fully developed and would have a real impact.

The primary aims and challenges for the weekend were:

  • To seek a means of raising MiH’s online profile to a younger demographic
  • To devise a means of prompting small, even tiny, donations on a large scale

So five months on, you may presume the dust to have settled and the energy and enthusiasm generated from the weekend to have waned but the weekend’s impact has been real and it lives on. Sarah Bax (Sponsorship and Marketing) and Laura Dancer (Fundraising Coordinator) at Music In Hospitals explain the real and lasting impact of the weekend.


Laura and Sarah from Music in Hospitals explain how the Impact48 weekend was of huge benefit and value to Music in Hospitals in the following ways:

Laura:    Having technical experts volunteer their time and talents over the weekend boosted morale for MiH. I think I can speak for us all here at MiH that we felt privileged and grateful for their donation of time and knowledge. From the outset, it was clear that the volunteers were committed to the weekend, we felt very confident that the team would produce something in the complete interest of  and benefit to MiH. This reinforced our belief that MiH is a charity worthy of support. Receiving social media advice and training built our confidence to interact online more than before thereby gaining “new” supporters and raising awareness. The positive energy really created a rise in mood and benefited all involved.

Through increased online interaction and the use of the widgets and buttons more people will now have heard about MiH therefore the potential for more supporters, funding, and awareness has increased and ultimately more service users will be benefiting. Without the weekend we would not have the online presence we have now and perhaps we would not have raised awareness in a group of people otherwise unconnected to MiH (ie the volunteers). This weekend was definitely worthwhile and Impact48 gave MiH the opportunity to benefit from a variety of professional services which otherwise it would not have been able to access in this way.”

Sarah:    “I think that going through the experience on the Friday night, of laying ourselves a bit bare and having to reflect about how we operate, has made the prospect of collaborating and working with other external organisations in similar fields far less daunting and threatening than it might have seemed before hand. Since Impact48, we’ve been more open and had more meetings with other organisations than I can ever remember. I feel the weekend marked a shift in how we present ourselves, not just online, but in general. I think we’re a bit braver and more open to change.We know that benefits have already been felt from our involvement in the scheme, and we also know there are many more to come.”

Here at Impact48, we need to gather helping hands, extra brainpower, fresh ideas and energy from volunteers for the next Edinburgh Cyrenians Impact48 weekend in October. We are looking for all sorts of volunteers, so you don’t necessarily need to fit into the techie, creative, designer or developer box. If you would like to find out more or volunteer for our next weekend please get in touch with us! Email at

We are also looking for financial support for the weekend in the shape of a sponsor. Could your business help? Find out more and get in touch with us at

You can also sign up to our newsletter, like our Impact48 page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @RealImpact48, use the Twitter hashtag #impact48.

Cyrenians Homelessness Prevention Service – Saving Misery And Despair

Bill’s StoryBill is a 56 year old professional; he wears a suit Monday to Friday and lives on his own and has always paid his rent early. Last month Bill lost his job of 17 years through redundancy. Bill lacks confidence, he has spent almost 20 years in the same job and doesn’t know where to begin to look for a new one. The weeks pass and Bill remains in denial about his situation, he doesn’t know who to approach for support or even if he has the ability to ask for it. As the bills pile up and the phone keeps ringing Bill’s mental health is suffering, he sees no way out for him and becomes increasingly withdrawn.

Lynn’s Story: Lynn is 42 and lives with her two almost teenage children. For the past 8 years she has worked in her local supermarket and was contracted to work 20 hours a week but made up a full time wage through overtime. This overtime, which her employer was not obliged to give, was suddenly stopped. She had little money saved and usually lived one day to the next on her low but steady salary. Lynn knew she had to look for a second job but had no immediate success. In debt and in arrears with her rent, Lynn and her two confused children were alone and under threat of eviction.

Craig’s Story: Craig is an only child living with his mother and has recently started to become a young man. Craig had always struggled at school, with the distractions from his life at home he always found it difficult to concentrate. With little qualifications Craig left school and worked hard to secure and hold down a job in a local fast food restaurant. It was after a particularly exhausting day that Craig arrived home to the news that his mother had found herself a new boyfriend and they had both decided to make a new life abroad, without him. Craig was told that he now had to fend for himself. The day before his 17th birthday he found himself homeless, vulnerable and so stressed that he lost his job.

The stories above are fictional but the problems are real.

“I thought it was my fault I was in trouble so who was going to bother? I was wrong.”

One of the most vital services that the Cyrenians provide is their Homelessness Prevention Service (HPS) in Edinburgh. Cyrenians are dedicated to providing services which endeavour to prevent people losing their home and slipping into longer term or repeat homelessness.

The HPS is a free service which works with people who have never before been homeless and who are often in education or employment. The HPS is available regardless of tenure and works with people who may not see themselves as having anything to do with homelessness, but who may have difficulties with:

  • bills and budgeting, rent/mortgage arrears – any kind of debt
  • problems with landlords, mortgage providers
  • problems with partner, family or neighbours
  • difficulties with health including drug or alcohol use
  • feeling lonely or isolated

The HPS takes two core approaches to effectiveness through prevention:

Prevention Through Mediation

Cyrenians HPS in Edinburgh offers a Mediation service to people who may be experiencing difficulties with their landlord, problems with debt or paying their rent or mortgage. The mediation service is also available to tenants who are being accused of anti-social behaviour or who have difficulties as a result of the physical condition of their home. The mediator’s role is to be impartial, supportive and to find a way forward with the interest of all parties considered.

Prevention Through Improving Relationships

Amber is a service offered by Cyrenians to offer support and mediation for young people and their families. Amber works with young people (age 14 – 24) and their families who have been having problems with the relationships at home. By supporting young people and their families in these situations Cyrenians hope to reduce the risk of a total breakdown in relationship and a young person becoming homeless as a result. The service offers Personal Advisers who individually support everyone involved and Mediators who facilitate communication within the family, together they aim to find a positive way forward for all.

The benefits of a preventative approach to homelessness go far beyond those being assisted directly and are felt within the wider communityEdinburgh Cyrenians have faith in that by pre-empting and preventing homelessness their services and support can help avoid a whole range of associated problems such as rough sleeping, health issues and increased financial difficulties.

Here at Impact48, we need to gather helping hands, extra brainpower, fresh ideas and energy from volunteers for the Edinburgh Cyrenians Impact48 weekend in October. If you would like to volunteer please get in touch with us! Email at

We are also looking for financial support for the weekend in the shape of a sponsor. Could your business help? Find out more and get in touch with us at

You can also sign up to our newsletter, like our Impact48 page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @RealImpact48, use the Twitter hashtag #impact48.

Videos courtesy of


Getting To Know Edinburgh Cyrenians

Our lives are busy and we must get on with them. With everything going on in our own lives, everyday pressures usually mean other people’s problems are, well they are just that. This often means that when we are confronted face to face with homelessness, poverty or a stranger in need it is easy to assume, judge, avoid and ignore. However, I have been recently getting to know a charity with the sole purpose to change this way of thinking and do just the opposite. I have been getting to know the Edinburgh Cyrenians and I think you should too.

Edinburgh Cyrenians is a charity working towards a society that values and includes all. Their focus is not only the homeless but also those who are isolated, impoverished, suffering from addiction or social exclusion. Over the past 40 years the charity has supported and empowered people to fulfill their potential. Help is offered with respect for the dignity of each individual and with the aim for finding real and lasting solutions to their problems. Edinburgh Cyrenians also encourage members of local communities to show compassion and open their hearts and minds to those who reject or have been rejected by community or society.

Cyrenian Farm 4

The independent charity provides innovative help to hundreds of people in need every year and has developed a range of inter-connected services. It didn’t take me long in my research to come across the dreams being sowed at Cyrenians Farm Community near Kirknewton.

Watch the Cyrenians Farm films here “Sowing Dreams”

The farm is a social enterprise with dual objectives. The first objective is to support homeless individuals with shelter and much needed work-based opportunities. The second is looking for opportunities to make an income so the farm does not have to be fully reliant on grants or donations. The farm provides accommodation for a number of homeless individuals aged from 16-25 and offers them a safe and enriching environment to settle for a period away from the pressures experienced in their lives.

Cyrenian Farm 8       Cyrenians 10

The farm is also home to sheep, chicken, bees and a thriving market garden. More than a place to live the farm offers a sense of belonging and involvement in an alternative community made up of individuals in a position similar to their own. The farm allows its inhabitants a place to review where they are as well as the ability to begin to see a pathway for progression. This is a place where  individuals can start to build real hopes and aspirations which simply didn’t and couldn’t exist three months prior. Combining real transferable skills with a new sense of hope and aspiration equips the individuals at the farm with the ability to look forward and take control of their own lives.

Cyrenian Farm 9        Cyrenians Farm 8

While Edinburgh Cyrenians is busy generating understanding, optimism and enthusiasm for change. Here at Impact48, we need to gather helping hands, extra brainpower, fresh ideas and energy from volunteers for the Edinburgh Cyrenians Impact48 weekend in October. If you would like to volunteer please get in touch with us! Email at

We are also looking for financial support for the weekend in the shape of a sponsor. Could your business help? Find out more and get in touch with us at

You can also sign up to our newsletter, like our Impact48 page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @RealImpact48, use the Twitter hashtag #impact48.

Images courtesy of

One Charity, One Weekend, One Team.. And One Blogger

After receiving an email about the upcoming Impact48 weekend from my colleague, Chelsey Fenn, who volunteered for the Music in Hospitals Scotland Impact48 weekend, I was inspired to volunteer my skills in any way they could be used. My name is Lara Fraser and I am an Account Executive and Advertising Strategist at Attacat Internet Marketing in Edinburgh. Impact48 have announced Edinburgh Cyrenians as the charity for the next Impact48 weekend in October and I am so happy to have the opportunity to be getting involved! I’ll be hoping to raise awareness by writing articles, posting and tweeting as Impact48 brings together a team of volunteers hoping to make a real impact to Edinburgh Cyrenians in a single weekend. In the lead up to the weekend I will be posting about the wonderful work Edinburgh Cyrenians are doing, telling their story by talking to the people who are making the difference.

So here is a little more information about the upcoming Impact48 weekend.

The Charity: Edinburgh Cyrenians
Edinburgh Cyrenians is an independent Scottish Charity with an outstanding track record in pioneering creative solutions to the contemporary problems faced by people on the margins of society, such as; homelessness, poverty, unemployment, isolation and recovery from addiction.

The Date: Friday 4th – Sunday 6th October
The weekend kicks off on the evening of Friday 4th October. All the action will happen over Saturday & Sunday and we’ll finish with the presentations and judging on the evening of Sunday 6 October.

The Aim?
The aim of an Impact48 weekend is to provide a charity, lacking resource, with ideas, knowledge and new technologies to further their cause. So how do they do this? Impact48 brings together a sponsor and a skilled team willing to volunteer their time, knowledge and enthusiasm to develop something in 48 hours. Through idea generation, collaboration and development the primary objective is for the team to create something that is complete and immediately actionable for the charity. This means that ideas or developments are not half-baked, instead what the charity gains is something which is fully planned, fully developed and will have a real impact.

If nothing else I hope to encourage, as Chelsey did, at least one other person to consider how their skills and a small amount of their time could be used to make a lasting impact on a good cause.

There are lots of ways to stay up to date with Impact48.

You can sign up to our newsletter, like our Impact48 page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @RealImpact48, use the Twitter hashtag #impact48.

Or better yet! Get involved via our website:

What they said: blogs from Impact48 alumni

Our first Impact48 weekend was a huge success entirely due to the amazing people who gave up their weekend, here is what some of them said:

Ruaraidh Menzies (Tick Tock Media) blogged at Impact48

Sarah Robertson (Creative State) blogged at one charity, one weekend, one team, real impact

Alex Robertson (Yard Digital) blogged at Impact48; A New Style of Hack Weekend

Chelsey Fenn (Attacat) blogged at Making a difference for one charity in 48 hours

The wonderful charity Music in Hospitals, Scotland blogged at What an Impact!

And our very own Lucy Bates blogged at Impact 48 – a learning experience

Thank you all, again!

Impact 48 – a learning experience

Impact48 aims to help a charity by having a real impact in just 48 hours. Yet the impact last far longer than that. I’ve been volunteering with Impact48, helping out with social media. I originally got involved because the concept of doing something positive in a single weekend sounded difficult yet fun. I was right but I’ve got so much more out of this experience as well as a challenging and inspiring weekend!

I had a basic grasp of social media when I started out volunteering for Impact48. I used Facebook regularly, had dabbled in Twitter and knew about blogs, although had never written one myself. However, I wanted to do a good job both for our first charity, Music in Hospitals Scotland, and for Impact48. The main goals I was working towards were to promote our pilot weekend with MiHScotland and to help generate interest in Impact48 as an organisation, building a network of followers.

To help guide me through the social media world I was fortunate enough to meet some great people. Dug Campbell, a digital strategy consultant, talked me through the basic and finer points of Twitter. He offered pointers on how to raise awareness, gain more followers and manage various social media platforms under one banner.  His support during my early explorations into Twitter was invaluable. Dug helped me move from using Twitter in a casual, connect with your friends way, to using it in a professional context, network with interested parties to increase dedicated followers. The other key person in guiding me through social media promotion was Alex Robertson, working for Yard Digital. Alex helped me out with strategy and offered more useful tidbits to keep people interested in the build up to our first weekend. He helped me finding interesting articles that our followers might like and offered suggestions to improve my Tweeting. Meeting Dug and Alex opened my eyes to online marketing and strategy and helped push Impact48 forwards.


The weekend itself was a blast. It was great to meet and work alongside everyone on the team and see what they came up with. I had the odd position of almost being on the outside looking in. I was reporting on the weekend, writing the blog, tweeting, posting pictures and generally letting the outside world feel like part of our little team. Whilst I got to contribute ideas I was mainly observing others and reporting on it. Despite this outsider’s position I still felt like a valued team member and had a great time over the weekend.

One of the most important things I learnt from my experience with Impact48 was not to be afraid to make mistakes. Social media is about finding and expressing your voice and I have tried to do that for Impact48. All the experiences I had culminated in a promotional video I made to try and give a feel for how an Impact48 weekend might go. A mix of video, photos and quotes from the weekend, hopefully it sums up everything Impact48 is about.

Volunteering with Impact48 had given me a greater understanding of social media and a new love for the way you can share ideas across a wide audience. I am incredibly grateful to Barry, Impact48’s creator, for giving me the chance to be part of the team and the responsibility of guiding Impact48 online through their first challenge weekend. I have learnt a lot, meet some wonderful people and enjoyed the experience.

Our first weekend with Ezone Software and Music in Hospitals Scotland was a great success. The next step is another weekend, and to make it as successful as the first. Don’t lose interest – Imapct48 will be back; sign up to our newsletter to find out more and for chances to be involved.

MiH weekend: Sunday and Judging

Sunday opened with 7 hours to go until we had to get back to The Bonham for judging. Some very tired but raring to go team members arrived at Yard Digital ready to do battle.

Long into the night before our team had worked – especially trying to find a way to link JustGiving to the Music in Hospitals Scotland website so a ‘Gift a Concert’ counter could be developed, along with a Concert counter. Unfortunately Sunday morning saw the end to this idea. It was simply not possible to do this within 48 hours and it was a sad goodbye to one of the team’s key ideas for the challenge. Yet all was not lost! The team developed a backup idea that originated on Friday. A YouTube channel was created and linked to the MiHScotland site, where people could search for songs and upload them, saying why they meant something personal to them. With this idea being finished off just as we had to leave, and the button/ widget supporters badge developed as well as strategy worked on it was time for judging.

At The Bonham there were three judges – Stuart from Ezone; Alison, Chief Executive of MiHScotland and an external judge, Peter Taylor of the Townhouse Group, owners of The Bonham. Every one sat down and Barry from Impact48 guided us through what the team had produced in 48 hours.


Strategy was covered first as this had been some ongoing advice the MiH team had received over the weekend. Some long term strategy was delivered by Ruaridh from TickTock Media about how to build and develop campaigns, using social media to be most effective and in particular a good system for launching the new changes the weekend was bringing about. Both representatives of MiH found this really useful and felt it would make a real difference to the way things were done in the office.

Some more tangible real impact was the work done on to the website to make it more accessible and drive more traffic towards it. The social media buttons were moved to make them more prominent, important for a younger demographic and there were navigational changes, including renaming headings, to make it easier to move around the site and incorporate the new concepts.  A lot of work was also carried out on content review, focussing on meta tags and secondary navigation, making these more prominent and adding them to the homepage to help Google optimise searches. This all means that people are more likely to come across MiH when searching for things like ‘music charity Scotland’ and also people will be directed to the part of the site they want if using a more specific search, rather than having to click through the site to find the right information. The final addition was a mailing list sign up button added to every page of the website, rather than just having it on one page, which will hopefully encourage more people to get involved. Feedback was very positive from the judges, saying how useful it sounds and that it would be easily supportable.

The second concept of the weekend, replacing the ‘Gift a Concert ‘ idea was ‘Dedicate a Song’, a page for people to share music that has some importance to them. This was done via MiH’s YouTube channel. The team liked this idea as they felt in engaged with supporters, especially a younger audience, without costing anything – it was something that anyone could be involved in. It also could provide marketing content for MiH without them having to sit and think of anything – every day a particular song or story could be selected to be Tweeted about (for example) – instant content that give people a reason to follow MiH and get involved. The YouTube channel would automatically create a playlist that people could listen to and it would be easy to add in information about MiH every so often to keep people engaged with the charity. It is important to note that this concept was developed in keeping with the restrictions of the challenge – MiH retains full control of the content, it would not appear on their site unless it has been authorised. However, the judges had reservations about this idea, not seeing how it directly links to what the charity actually does. Alison, Chief Executive of MiHScotland, said it felt like a “parallel thing” and that it “would need some thought”. The response to the reservations centred around using it as something to start conversations, to engage with a younger audience, but the result was nice idea, needs some thought before we can progress.

The final thing the team developed over the weekend, and the most successful in terms of REAL IMPACT, was the badge developed for supporters. This was a concept thought of on Friday night and was carried the whole way through. An “I support Music in Hospitals Scotland” button was created that people could put on their websites, as was a supporter’s widget that had quotes from people involved in MiH which changed every time the page was reloaded, making it a bit more interactive. Three different buttons/ widgets were developed to cover individual supporters, groups or business and musicians who worked for the charity. The final category had a restriction placed on it, where MiH had to authorise use of the coding needed for the button/widget so only those who had successfully auditioned could proudly declare themselves an MiH musician. A bonus of the button is that people have to supply a name and email when they want to get the button/widget so it adds to a supporters list. It also gets the brand name out there, helping increase awareness as well as providing more links to the site (thus improving search results in search engines). The judges loved this idea – it is easy to support and should have a real impact.


Overall, the weekend was a great success. Music in Hospitals Scotland where amazed at what the team had achieved in just 48 hours. The fresh eyes of the team had been “invaluable” and they had “learnt so much”. Thanks was given to, not only our wonderful supporters: The Bonham, Innis and Gunn and Yard Digital, but also to Impact48, Ezone and the entire team for all their efforts and hard work. Real impact had been achieved, all in exactly 48 hours (judging finished at 6:28pm)!