A new kind of jam is coming to Philly U. Not strawberry, grape or even boysenberry — we’re talking Service Jam.
Lame jokes aside: Global Service Jam is a volunteer event taking place in dozens of cities across the world over one weekend. Participants form teams and create a project centered on a shared theme, aiming to better the world or solve some problem through service design — that’s “the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers.”
“I’d like to consider it a hackathon without [requiring] any technical expertise,” said Peter Tarrant, an organizer for Philadelphia Service Jam.
Global Service Jam began in March 2011 with 1,200 participants in 50 cities, but the Philadelphia iteration was held for the first time last year, when it was hosted by Independence Blue Cross in Center City. This year, it’s being organized by a group of local students, mostly from the strategic design MBA program at Philadelphia University, where the event will be held next weekend.
Service Jam is open to anyone, though its focus on service design naturally draws design-focused individuals. Even so, according to Tarrant, those involved just need “the ability to work with others to come up with a solution to a real-world problem. You don’t have to be a designer.” In fact, he said, it’s better to have diversity of skills on a team to further emphasize the creativity required of the weekend.
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Within the first hour of the weekend, on Friday evening, participants are divided into teams and learn the theme — some ambiguous topic, such as 2011’s “Super(HEROES).”
Over the weekend, there’s a lot of whiteboarding and Post-it noting, plus running around the neighborhood to observe or conduct interviews on the street, if a project demands it.
On Sunday, every international team uploads its project to the international website to be judged by Global Service Jam organizers and possibly receive awards.
Some of last year’s Philadelphia Service Jam projects included “Random Acts of Laughter,” a website where people can post and watch funny acts, and “Food Play,” a platform that selects restaurant menu items for users based on their preferences and health profile.
“The experience was exhilarating, knowing that people from all over the world were working on the same common goal,” said Tiffany Rolfing, who participated in the Jam last year, in an email. “This event is organized to get all ages together and be makers, not think and contemplate. … Essentially, we need more doers in the world, and this event is focused on allowing people to fail and feel okay with starting over.”
Participants’ short-term goal is to create the winning project, or at least a project that could possibly turn into a new business idea.
On a larger scale, though, Tarrant hopes the Philadelphia event can help put the city on the map for service design — “to build out not just the design community, but the design thinking in Philadelphia,” he said. “It’ll be another thing to add to the list of [successes] in the business and thought leader aspect in Philadelphia.”-30-
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