richOne of the most successful presentation at last Fall’s Doody’s Digital Workshop was delivered by Tristan Gorrindo, MD, Director of Education at American Psychiatric Association. He described APA’s development of a hackathon session for their Annual Meeting, which enabled APA to offer its members an intellectually stimulating exposure to points of view that aren’t typically part of their continuing education.

APA drew its inspiration from the idea of hackathons – think “white hat” hackers, not “black hats.” As APA defined the format, hackathons include the following attributes:

  • Tackling hard problems
  • Using multi-disciplinary teams
  • Providing an environment that encourages creativity
  • Permission to be aspirational
  • An opportunity for participants to network

How did it work in practice? First, APA put out a call via social media to potential innovators – not just members, not just mental health professionals, but pretty much anyone who might pick up a tweet or a Facebook post. Then, they kept the first step simple, asking innovators to provide only the following:

  • Tell us about yourself and why you’d like to participate in the Psychiatry Innovation Lab.
  • Describe the problem in mental health care delivery that you are trying to solve.
  • Pitch your idea.

A group of judges at APA evaluated the ideas that came in and narrowed the field down to six entries. Those six contestants were invited to the APA Annual Meeting, and they were also offered the chance to polish their presentations before going into the Innovation Lab session itself. The entrants included a high school student, psychiatrists from Africa and Korea, the mother of a child with autism, and so on.

Then things got really interesting: First, APA opened this Annual Meeting session to a wide group of potential participants – IT professional, academics, and students; local entrepreneurs; and local mental health professionals. At the Innovation Lab session, the six finalists each did a 3-minute presentation to the attendees overall, and to six judges, drawn from local business people, nonprofits, and the former CEO of Discovery Health. The judges offered comments on the pitches, then the attendees split into groups to further develop the ideas. Unlike some hackathons, this operated on a pretty civilized schedule, with just two hours devoted this phase. The six innovators re-pitched their ideas, and the judges then awarded prizes.

Not only was this a popular and successful Annual Meeting session, it’s had real-world benefits: A couple of the ideas have attracted support for further development, based at least partly on the fact they were prize-winners at the APA Innovation Lab.

  • Effective use of social media? Check.
  • A source of innovation for the specialty? Check.
  • Involvement of patients and advocates? Check.

That’s a nice package of accomplishments. How can you apply this kind of thinking to your own organization’s educational and programming needs?