Hack for Western Mass: Recap

This past weekend, I joined a hundred or so fellow hackers for the first annual Hack for Western Mass, part of the National Day of Civic Hacking. We focused on problems local to Western Massachusetts.

Hack for Western MA Banner
Photo by Molly McLeod

There were a handful of really interested challenges to address, but I ended up going with a challenge I have a personal connection to: local banking. I switched over from a big bank to a local co-op on the National Bank Transfer Day, and haven’t looked back since. Led by Pioneer Valley Local First founder Daniel Finn, the Benefits of Banking Locally challenge aimed to increase the number of people in the Pioneer Valley who bank locally.

My group was a small, but we had a great mix of people which really helped us focus on specific portions of our challenge. We started Saturday together, trying to identify key problems. What issues do local banks face when trying to gain new members? Why don’t more people bank locally? Daniel’s knowledge as a subject matter expert was exceptional, giving us key insights into the problems. Once we teased out some of these problems, we moved on to users: who already uses a local bank? Who doesn’t, and why don’t they? What triggers could motivate these users to make the switch from big bank to local bank?

Our group, brainstorming together about problems and users
Photo taken by Molly McLeod

Once we figured out our problem and our users, we split off into an individual sketching session, with each of us drawing various solutions we saw to increase the amount of people switching over to banking locally.

Different sketched out ideas to address our challenge's problem
Photo by Molly McLeod

After sketching, we regrouped to talk about all of our potential solutions, mixing and matching until we came up with a game plan: a story-based website that led you through the personal and community benefits to banking locally, culminating in a call-to-action prompting you to switch to a local bank.

Xin Xin and I worked together on the design of the website, while Julia Mattes and Sam Dana tackled the research and content creation (making Xin and my job much easier!). Daniel updated the current PV Local First website to include the new data about local banking he, Julia and Sam found. Kelly Dwan worked on developing the new story-based site, while Ron Martinez and Matt created an interactive map allowing people to find local banks near them in the Pioneer Valley.

Sam and Julia working on content while Daniel and Matt talk in the background
Photo by Steven Brewer

Sunday was a whirlwind of working — Xin and I finished up the design, and Kelly jumped over from setting up the back-end to working on the front-end for the site. Julia and Sam started entering content and local bank information to feed into the map, which Ron continued work on while Matt floated between sections to help everyone out.

By the end of the day, we weren’t quite finished, but had enough to show off during our presentation:

Presenting our challenge to the Hackathon
Photo by Molly McLeod

Kelly and Ron are working together after the hackathon to finish up our solution. The website portion is almost complete, and you can check it out here.

All of the presentations went really well. It was exciting to see what the other groups had worked on over the weekend! Everyone had something really cool to show. Overall, the weekend seemed to be a total success.

Thanks to the organizers for putting on what was the best organized hackathon I’ve attended (with hands-down, the. best. food), and to the sponsors for helping the event happen! Can’t wait to attend again next year.

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