Jesus College hosts innovative Hackathon on inclusivity in the workplace
15% of the UK workforce is neurodivergent, yet workplaces often are not designed to accommodate diverse needs. How can working environments become more accessible? The first University of Cambridge ThinkLab Hackathon, which the Intellectual Forum was delighted to host at Jesus College on December 11 and 12, aimed to answer this question.
The Hackathon was organised by the ThinkLab, managed by IF SRA Tyler Shores, in collaboration with BBC CAPE and Google’s ADC (Accessibility Discovery Centre). The two-day event brought together students, researchers, and industry experts to consider how to promote inclusivity and accessibility in both physical and online workplaces.
Ahead of the event, the ThinkLab team, led by Tyler and Elifgül Doğan, the IF, and the Jesus College Conference and Catering team worked to ensure that the Hackathon itself was a model of inclusivity, accessibility, and understanding. Designated calm zones were set aside for quiet time during the two days, physical accessibility was possible to every type of space in use, and the ThinkLab produced a variety of guides, including a Sensory Guide and Social Story and a Neurodiversity Inclusion and Access Plan, for participants to familiarise themselves with the College and the programme ahead of the event.
When the participants arrived in West Court at Jesus College on the first morning, they were split into three multidisciplinary teams and asked to collaborate over the two-day Hackathon to come up with ideas and solutions for making hybrid workplaces more accessible to neurodiverse workers. Outputs could take any form of the team’s choosing, from a research report, an event proposal, specifications for software, or objects to make navigating the workplace easier.
Between group planning and discussion sessions, all participants reconvened for keynote sessions, including a talk on wellbeing intelligence in the workplace and perspectives from Google on creating an inclusive working environment. A particular highlight of the programme was a LEGO Serious Play session moderated by Monique Boddington, a professor at Judge Business School, which encouraged problem solving, creative thinking, and communication within teams.
At the end of the second day, all teams presented their projects. The winning team, commended for their innovative idea and exceptional teamwork, proposed Embodied, a digital platform that uses various smart features to cater to the specific needs of neurodiverse individuals in order to improve their remote working experiences. They received £5000 of funding from ThinkLab to pursue the project further. The second place team was also offered mentoring and support based on the strength of their idea: a board game based on neurodivergent scenarios and experiences.
“This was a bit of an experiment by ThinkLab in exploring possibilities, and the teamwork and next steps that everyone generated together have gone far beyond our biggest expectations”, Tyler said. “The future of work and inclusion and accessibility is exactly the kind of challenge that benefits from a multidisciplinary approach and combining areas of expertise. I’m already thinking about what we can do for the next time, and how we can aim for bigger and better things”.