Civic Hackathon Guide

Question 1 : What is hacking?

What the heck is a hackathon? There are several definitions for “hacking” and we will check out three of them.

Definition One … hacking generally refers to “unauthorized access to and tampering with information in a computer or a network.” While this is true, we are definitely not game for committing any illegal activities…Next!

Definition Two … hacking is “a strategy or technique for managing one’s time or activities more efficiently.” Yes, we are getting warmer! Our events involve people coming up with strategies and techniques to solve problems for social good more efficiently.

Definition Three … hacking is done by “an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer.” Hmm, this definition is partially true. Yes, programming and computer experts do attend our events; however, not every issue can be … or needs to be … solved by lines of code or with a laptop. Hacking can be done by anybody … I repeat … a-ny-bo-dy … with simple materials, like pens and paper.

Question 2 : What is a hackathon?

When you type “hackathon” into Google, you will get flooded with results. For us, we define “hackathon” more broadly as simply “design sprints.” These design sprints can last for half a day or go as long as a week! I know … the image of people living, working, stressing, and brainstorming together for hours a day or days at a time sounds really intense, but people do it. It’s true! … and the reason why is, is because it’s FUN. But let’s just start with a few hours.

Question 3: How is a civic hackathon different?

Civic hackathons are focused on tackling social challenges, instead of just technical ones.

We use the same systems of thinking and approaches to see if we can “hack” forward these challenges. Some social challenges that we’ve hacked in the past include finding solutions to affordable housing; brainstorming new products for our waste; and designing a new transportation system. What about a whole new education system? Yes we can do that too!

Question 6: How can hackathons change our lives?

People + Ideas + Action = Change

We focus on developing people of all ages. We ask about their interests, their passions, their skills, their backgrounds, their wishes, their concerns … and then we brainstorm together on how we can improve lives.

During these group exercises, we use design thinking tools and resources to help us go deeper into their ideas … and into the detail of what their idea is. Sometimes, you need multiple workshops and brain-dumping sessions to gain clarity. Then, we hack. Civic hacking that is. We bring these ideas to life.

Question 7: What do people do at a hackathon?

Each hackathon event is unique, so we’re going to speak from the ones that we’ve run.

On the first day, you arrive and maybe bring some devices with you. It’s advisable in most cases to have a mobile phone or a laptop. Ideally, you know a little bit about the challenges ahead of you, either from the event’s theme or seeing promos and previews. Nevertheless, the first portion of the event should really be about understanding the projects. If the event is focused on serving a particular population, such as youth in a community, you may hear from a panel of end-users sharing how these challenges influence their life.

After project introductions, you are set free to choose a team under the challenge of your choice. Depending on space, size, or layout of the venue, some hackathons may have reserved rooms for each team. Maybe you can sign up ahead of time too, it all depends.

Ultimately, the goal is to form a group of like-minded and passionate humans who want to hack a specific challenge. You introduce yourselves, and share your skills and how you might be able to help. Maybe a team member is good at organizing. Maybe another is good at graphics who can build out designs. In some cases, somebody may already be dealing with your challenge personally and knows firsthand how to improve it.

Then everybody dives into the work of creating the problem statement. Basically, “Why are we all here?” and “What are we trying to do?” This ideation happens effectively with some fun design tools.

During the event, there maybe perks like prizes and free pizza! There may also be fun activities like a watermelon eating contest, gaming hour, or a post-lunch walk outdoors.

As you draw close to the finish line, you will have 5–15 minutes to describe your challenge and your solution. You can share your design and highlight what’s coming next. Whatever you do, tell your story!. People love seeing what happened in such a short, intense amount of time.

These events allow you to make new friends and progress on your project. By the way, it’s okay if projects aren’t completed by the deadline … they don’t have to be. We know there are hiccups! You will gain valuable experience, plus you just donated your skills to improve lives. Let me say that again, you just did something awesome for the world. Own it!

Videos

Codesign our city – 10 mins of 2 videos

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YV-QbkDlEPk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ng3X39lenvg

Dreamtank & COVID hackathon – 10 mins of 2 videos

https://youtu.be/NkBwr2W9emg

https://youtu.be/nkuspZIKTI8

& next go to The Checklist!

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