This weekend we saw the start of the Lean Startup Weekend, an initiative set into motion by FutureEverything and the Greater Manchester Data Synchronisation Programme (GMDSP). In partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University, the weekend was hosted by The Shed, a new digital innovation space.

Over the course of two days, thirty participants came together to work on new, user-centric ideas that worked with civic data. Shuffled into groups, this mixture of digital entrepreneurs, designers, programmers and business professionals rapidly conceived an idea according to lean startup methods, adapted by FutureEverything for the weekend, which focuses on identifying problems first, then validating the need.

Using a range of design methodologies, the weekend asked that ideas be centred around the user, validated through experiments and fieldwork, and must be prototyped in order to start conversations around their design. Participants were mentored by design and innovation experts from FutureEverything, Future Cities Catapult, Digital Catapult, and LeanFWD.

As part of the lean startup process, the mentors used brainstorming sessions, pushed ideas to their extremes and found where their ideas would be applied in the mainstream in order to think differently about the needs of the potential end users.

One of the overwhelming narratives running through the participant’s proposals was using open data for social good, pulling in the data generated by the workings of our cities to better serve those living in them. These concepts, with the majority centred around civic and social projects, embraced problems in connecting volunteers to causes, increasing communication between marginal groups, and allowing new experiences for the visually impaired in the city.

Between coffee and cake consumption, conversations throughout the day questioned the ethics of personal data, working with charities on new initiatives and how to get people working together through technology. Teams also ran through the potential problems and implications of their potential products, talking through the current landscape of technology use, fielding examples from products that had both succeeded or failed spectacularly in order to learn from them.

Over the course of Saturday afternoon, teams went out into Manchester to talk to the city’s residents, businesses and communities find out whether the problems they identified chimed with those of the public. Through a series of short interviews, surveys and research the participants pieced together what their needs, challenges, and audiences were.

At the end of the first day ideas were starting to develop, with the groups working towards their first attempts at prototyping. We Learn & Do aimed to connect communities with students looking for first time work experience, CitizenX looked at creating a service to mediate help between homeless people and charities, Textocracy created a low-tech SMS service to let citizens get in touch with their local authorities, and Volunteering Squad worked to link up elderly residents with suitable volunteers. Our UK wanted to give the public the ability to report problems in their area and see their results take place, Team Collaborate looked at using keyword search and GPS to match up causes with volunteers, Shaping Cloud used beacon technology to show what was happening in a neighbourhood. We are Chartshare created a simple interface to visualise open data and Explaudio conceived an app that allowed those with visual impairments to ‘drop’ sounds around the city, eventually creating a collective soundscape to make them feel less isolated from each other. All were encouraged to use a range of prototyping techniques to communicate their message clearly, from paper prototyping to wireframes, storyboards to live demonstrations.

On the final day, the participants got down to business. Our mentors worked with them to find viable, sustainable business models for their ideas, discussing corporate social responsibility and sponsorship, potential investment and government grants. The presentations to the judges wove all of the thinking from the last two days together, looking at where their problems lay and where they might solve them in the future. We were really impressed by the way that each team worked through their problems, and hope that they’ll take away this critical thinking into their next steps.

Winning prizes including 6 months desk space at SpaceportX, 6 months cloud hosting with DataCentred and exhibiting space at FutureEverything’s conference were We Learn & Do, Our UK, Citizen X and Chart Share, with the £5,000 development funding grand prize awarded to SMS community service Textocracy.

To see the full list of prizes, visit the GMDSP website.

We’ve also collected together some of the tweets from the event by participants, mentors and contributors over on Storify.