Update: As of May 2021 Home Debate Club is formally now know as Big Debate Club!

The Brief

To build a tool that supports children (and parents), especially from low income families, that are currently at home due to COVID-19. The tool allows families to practice their democratic debating skills by taking part and voting on topical subjects.

With coronavirus changing our ability to carry on life as normal, kids from vulnerable households are most at risk. Home Debate Club aims to make reduce the risk of these pupils’ missing out on an education during this pandemic.

The Client

We met Greg and Sam of Smart School Councils back in 2016 when we built a tool to help teachers carry out class meetings (read more) that teaches kids about democracy. Continuing SSC’s mission, Home Debate Club builds on what kids used to be able to do in the classroom from their living rooms.

Our Solution

We wanted to make sure that this tool was accessible to as many people as possible. For this we had to create a solution that was super simple to use, engaging and usable on as many devices and browsers as possible. So we started by wire-framing the pages and created a new, very simple brand that suited the site’s tone.

We built the website with WordPress. We created an admin interface so that Greg and Sam could move the journey along for everyone taking part live. The tool also provides real time results, counting all the vote submitted and presenting them back to every household in the country.

Our inspiration was Joe Wicks – how could we create a safe space that was fun and educational, that was re-active and gave live feedback to our audiences?

Using YouTube live to facilitate the debates meant we were able to simply embed the video straight from YouTube.

Creating an archive of previous debates allows users to come back to the site and

Giving the users a easy-to-read summary of the meeting too means users don’t have to watch the full video if they don’t have time.

The Challenging Bits

Hosting a site whose traffic goes through semi-regular peaks and troughs posed a particularly interesting problem. Most of the week the site will receive very little traffic compared to when the session debates are live. The debates (~30 minutes per session, 2-4 sessions per week) have a potentially large audience, and each viewer needs regular updates from the admin so that they are taken through the journey automatically.

We explored a few different options, including client polling, server-sent events and auto-scaling infrastructure, but in the end settled on the DynamoDB service from AWS. It is built for exactly this sort of use case and should scale well without costing too much.

Coronavirus is scary, but that doesn’t mean young people shouldn’t engage with it. Home Debate Club helps young people to play an active role by leading their own short, family debate each week. It supports them to consider their own views and hear from others in the home. Collaborating with Outlandish has been fantastic (again!) and we’re really pleased that they’ve been able to get this project live so quickly.  And with the availability of computers an issue for many, for it to be accessible as possible.

Greg Sanderson, Smart School Councils

What’s next?

The main thing we will be doing is promoting and watching the tool grow. This is the first of its kind and so looking at how students and families engage with it and trying to improve and iterate on their experience is really key.

SSCC are applying for further funding to make the tool even better and to look at how we could integrate the experience with their classroom tool. We really want to help the team develop the offering – could their be collaborations with educational partners? Could we have guest debaters? Its really exciting and has so much potential.

Overall we have absolutely loved working with SSCC again, and it’s been an amazing opportunity getting to create a tool that helps kids and families during this pandemic (and beyond).