By: Aaron
Posted: 26/06/2019

The Data Lab Innovation Week - from the eyes of an intern

1 intern. 3 days. 6 challenges. 11 universities. 132 students.

As a graduate of Marketing from Glasgow Caledonian University, I was on the hunt for experience within the industry to kick-start my career. The first opportunity I got was at a modelling agency in Melbourne, Australia – as a Marketing intern, not a model (as if I needed to clarify that). As I returned home, I was eager to learn more and this is when I came across the Snook Communications intern role. I had briefly heard Snook’s name in the past and upon further digging, it became obvious that it would be a perfect place to learn some new skills and develop the ones I already had. I joined the Glasgow studio almost 3 months ago and haven’t looked back since.

The foundation

As well as marketing skills, I was looking to hone my ability in photography, social media coverage and facilitation during a live event. I had previously worked at DOTI North but with the scale of The Data Lab Innovation Week, it provided me with the ideal opportunity to take on a bigger challenge.

The Data Lab are a company who maximise the value of data by giving Scottish individuals and organisations skills and experiences which they can apply to the real world.

Over the course of 3 days, we were working with The Data Lab and 5 challenge owners – Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, SEPA/Scottish Water/SoXSA, Wood Mackenzie, Sustrans and RBS – on a collaborative event. Our aim was to develop a new skill set for the 132 data science students, that they would be able to carry with them into their careers. At first, it seemed daunting – how can we flip a data mindset into one that uses design thinking? How might they develop their team working and user-research skills to be able to fully achieve the main aim of being exceptional data scientists?

One step at a time

Before the event, we reflected on the previous year’s Innovation Week and made necessary changes. We also met with challenge owners with the aim of fully immersing ourselves in their intentions to better understand the task at hand for the students. Each challenge was a real-life problem and was assigned to a specific facilitator to support the students. This worked really well. The briefing I received seemed a tad daunting at first as the scale of the event became apparent. It was exciting to see the difference we planned on making and I couldn’t wait to get started.

Background bonanza

This was my first experience of organising and facilitating a major event. It was mind-blowing to see just how many small details go into such a large scale operation. I was impressed with how well everyone took to their responsibilities and worked as one team: from The Data Lab whose enthusiasm and dedication to their students made the event so special; to the Snook team who put in a lot of hard work behind the scenes for months; and the Marriott who responded quickly to any requests and kept everyone fed and watered throughout. A personal culinary highlight was the Indian buffet that we received on the third day.

Safety. Fun. Learning…

… was our lead facilitator’s hierarchy of needs. It’s simple, each of these stages leads directly to the next. We need to ensure that participants and colleagues are safe; legally, physically, and emotionally. This was done by following our strict code of conduct. Next, the fun part. If you’re not having fun, then you’re not doing it right. We certainly did it right. The ‘Team Awkward’ game which  highlighted the need of a simple and effective prototype; and the lemon squeezing idea generation game where everyone in the room thinks of different ways to squeeze a lemon. The target? 100 ideas. Finally, comes learning. When participants are safe and having fun, they can learn in the most effective way. We did this through guiding them along the Double Diamond design process; challenging their assumptions; and asking questions.

From the perspective of someone who had never been a part of an event with such scale, this method was refreshing and worked a treat – I’ll definitely take it on board and use it in the future. (Especially the lemon squeezing game!)

A run down

It was interesting to watch the participants flow through the journey set out for them – especially from my inexperienced eyes. To be honest, I had my doubts as to how well this would work with so many participants. Having said that, to see them form teams and explore their challenges before taking on a brand new challenge of user research; was exciting. This led to idea generation followed by developing prototypes and testing. I was surprised at how well each student took to the task. You could even say I was proud. The week was rounded off with an afternoon of presenting and feedback which both the challenge owners and participants responded exceptionally well to. What a result!

Stacks on stacks – reflecting

As with everything we do, we took the time to fully reflect on what went right and what could have been done better. This is important so we can make future events as successful as possible. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop us having stacks upon stacks of notes in the debrief to carry forward to the next one. The overarching positive note from this event was the implementation of a facilitator to each specific challenge as mentioned above. This enabled the lead facilitators to deal with any urgent matters and for each team to have a dedicated Snook member on hand to help. It made the event flow. It was a pleasure to hear from the students who were so positive in their responses. For me, the best part was appreciating the effort, energy and general vibes we brought. It made it all worthwhile.

  • ‘Once again, I will reiterate this in writing: I admire the energy you put during the 3 days and the way you ran the show, all to your credit. The Data Lab Innovation Week was intense, challenging but also fun!’
    student participant