Hack the Pain

Call for Innovations Call for Innovations
This case was submitted as part of the Call for Innovations, an annual partnership initiative between OPSI and the UAE Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Government Innovation (MBRCGI)

The Northern Ireland (NI) Public Sector Innovation Lab has organised a hackathon, “Hack the Pain,” to address these needs of an underserved group: people with persistent pain. These individuals need for better information services for self-management, and the projects that emerged from the hackathon include a virtual reality app for mindfulness, a pain tracking app and a website of information on pain management techniques.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

In 2014, a report was published by the Patient and Client Council (‘Painful Truth’) which told the stories of 2,500 people in Northern Ireland living with persistent pain. A recurring theme in these user stories was the lack of information they had to self-care and self-manage their condition. In Northern Ireland very little information is available on self-management techniques and having local information by trusted local people was cited as an important part of managing the condition.

With this in mind the Lab took the lead in the event management of a hackathon, branded #hackthepain. 45 developers, designers, service users, and service providers came to Queen’s University, Belfast on Saturday 3 June 2017 for 12 hours of information exchange, design and development of IT solutions, and judging. Judges included commercial, governmental, PHA, PCC and patient representatives and prizes were awarded for the winning solution.

Five teams pitched their digital prototypes to the judges at the end of the day. Three of the five prototypes pitched were deemed to be of real value to people with persistent pain in Northern Ireland. The winning proposition would enable people with pain to develop their own pain profile by tracking symptoms in a diary to share with healthcare professionals and contribute to data collection. A website of trusted Health and Social Care (HSC) information was also pitched and is currently in development with NI Government Digital Transformation Services (DTS). A third pitch came from a Virtual Reality (VR) team who developed a mindfulness app prototype. What was particularly innovative during this hackathon was involving service user and provider groups in all aspects of the process from early user insight workshops, one-to-one patient interviews, surveys, speed networking and involvement in the hackathon judging. All post hackathon projects have also involved development with service users. This process has ensured truly co-designed digital services.

Several digital self-management solutions were developed during the hackathon including a virtual reality app for mindfulness, a pain tracking app and a website of information on pain management techniques. Following the hack a website of information has been developed with Digital Transformation Services (Enterprise Shared Services), as part of a beta campaign on a new government communication website, MyNI. The MyNI platform gave us the opportunity to create content which was user friendly and interactive, which could be shared, liked and built upon by service users. Creating connections between users, support groups and other community & government organisations.

As this was a healthcare project it was also extremely important that all information published on the MyNI site was trusted. Working closely with physiotherapists, pain nurses, consultants and dietitians allowed us to create content which was ethically and clinically approved.

The Lab worked in partnership with over 20 internal and external stakeholders including the Patient and Client Council, Regional Pain Forum, Public Health Agency, Enterprise Shared Services and Navatalk to help create over 24 pieces of content.

Content includes hints and tips for managing pain, stories and experiences from people living with pain, information on exercise and activities and links to other resources from the NHS. The campaign has been active for 4 months with 24 pieces of content created and published. The campaign has received 18,000 unique page views with a well over industry standards click through rate of 10.2%.

Innovation Description

Innovation Development

Innovation Reflections

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Year: 2018
Level of government: Regional/State government


  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed

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