Do you want to plan and hold a hackathon? Find out what it is, what is the purpose hidden behind it and what are the best solutions for an organization to carry it out.

A hackathon (hack-a-thon) may be defined as a manner of work that is strongly connected with new technologies. “A programing sprint (also referred to as a hackathon) is a type of a workshop, where the participants co-design and put into practice internet and IT projects” – writes Michał Mach, an activist and computer programmer, in an article “Hackerski wolontariat” (“Hacking as a voluntary action”). The most important aspect of such a work is to focus on defining and executing the things (in this case understood as both tasks and specific results, e.g. creating an application) in a given space-time continuum.

The location of a hackathon should encourage cooperative work – the best one is a workshop space (joint tables, etc.) with an appropriate technical base, i.e. with access to electricity and stable Internet connection. As far as time is concerned – the date should favor intensive focus on one topic: without going in and out, and carrying out everyday work. It is also  important to clearly state the date when the event will start and end. Usually hackathons last 48 hours and take place on a weekend. The participants may also want to work at night, so it is good to be prepared for that too.

An exemplary plan of a social hackathon, i.e. the one where the social party (activists, nonprofits) meets with the people specializing in programing and creation of technological solutions, looks as follows:

Friday evening:

  • Opening ceremony, overview of objectives and plans regarding the hackathon, introduction of organizers, partners, and jury, defining the aims of the meeting and determining its results: (roughly 30 minutes).
  • Presenting the mentors (roughly 10 minutes).
  • Presenting ideas, how social problems may be dealt with using new technologies (roughly 5 minutes per presentation).
  • Establishing teams and an informal network.

Saturday:

  • Opening the day, coffee/tea, start of work (9:00/10:00 in the morning).
  • Work.
  • Lunch (preferably consumed during work, e.g. a pizza).
  • Mentors help teams during the whole hackathon (if they are asked for it), and additionally, in the middle of the first working day, check the projects’ progress.
  • Work.

Sunday:

  • Opening the day, coffee/tea, start of work (9:00/10:00 in the morning), once again stating the aims of the meeting and its results; if our hackathon is a competition we should also inform about its form and time of final presentations.
  • Work.
  • Lunch (preferably consumed during work, e.g. a pizza).
  • Collecting final presentations from the teams (at about 3 p.m.)
  • Work.
  • Final presentations, jury debating on a verdict, enouncement of results, celebration (this part usually takes 1,5 hour, so it is good to start it at 5 p.m.)

The above discussed version of a hackathon has a form of a competition – the best one when it comes to motivating people that previously did not work together, and whose ideas, and later on results, require financial and, above all, substantive support in order to move on. A substantive support – the possibility to consult with mentors on various fields of interest – is an additional stimulus to take part in a hackathon. For this reason it is a good idea to focus also on the educational side of the event and invite great guests to be mentors and members of the jury.

The most fundamental aspects of a hackathon are common work and open communication, as well as the possibility to prototype – and instantly test the ideas. The important thing is that during a hackathon something will be created – even though it will not be perfect. It is all about taking advantage of the potential that new technologies have – the potential that empowers us to take more and more things into our own hands, and to do them faster than ever. And later on – improve.

A hackathon is a great educational and crowdsourcing tool for innovative ideas and solutions, and proves to be useful also in the activities of an organization by facilitating and improving the work on a specific task in a team, where members know each other very well. The above list is naturally only a framework of the whole event and may differ depending on the objectives set by you (e.g. promoting ideas/testing a new manner of work/establishing a network/ performing a specific task), and the people you want to work with (e.g. your organization/programmers specializing in a specific programing language).

You already know , what you want, and when you think about a hackathon you still have the impression that “this is it!”?

In our next article we will describe the whole hackathon organization process from the backstage.

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