Managing Hackathon Expectations

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Willow | Hackathons for Humanitarian Causes and Geeks without Bounds

Interesting to figure out how to balance out short term and long term contributions, and get volunteers to work ongoing

Geeks without Bounds - helps connect hackers/developers with humanitarian organizations

Random Hacks of Kindness,

She wrangles geeks

Worked with AT&T mobile developer hackathons to help get more mobile apps

What makes a humanitarian hackathon different? it has a focus on creating things to solve a specific problem, not just whatever people want to work on.

RHoK -

How you set expectations with everyone involved Myths people think:

People who attend think they’re getting free labor from the attendees Developers and Hackers have super powers and will understand what they want and solve it for them Think technology can solve problems that are actually human problems

Goal - People who will sit with the developers and designers during the entire process If it’s important enough for the org to see a prototype from the weekend, it is worth their time to sit there and participate

It’s a reciprocal - people who ask have to sit and accept

“I’m not going to give you a prize for creating something new and shiny, your brain already provides you with dopamine”

As an organizer/host - your role is to manage expectations and give developers tools to help them bring new contributors, build something worthwhile

Ideate new versus integration type hackathons -

Corporate space vs Humanitarian - corp do these internal types to clear their head, test and see what works and doesn’t Humanitarians don’t necessarily see it that way, but as a way to get a final product Final products really don’t come out of a hackathon - and it is more like an opportunity to

Twice a year /Geeks without Bounds can apply and get developer mentorship if they went through a hackathon

There for the weekend vs There to do something later people -

Tangible example: throw crisis camps, anytime anything bad happens - people want to regain some kind of control in their worlds.

People with technical skills mean doing something technical - and you have to create a safe space for these people to work on something. You also have to buffer them from the org people who want to get a final product or prototype and have all sorts of needs/requirements

The organization you’re hacking for wants to see the prototype become something - but the team that built it wants to stop working on it after the weekend.

Try to attract people who want to work on the project ongoing You want both the weekend-only and the ongoing developers at the hackathon, how do you manage the projects that only weekend-only people work on

Documentation is the key - document the ideas and the work during the weekend so that the organization can take the prototype and work to another developer/team and finish it

Crisis Mapping group - integrating with an existing community and adding data/minor integrations and tools

Occupy Sandy?

What do we need first, then come to the weekend with the tools they have, what they’re trying to incorporate, take the weekend to help them set that up and get the data into it.

Very pointed purpose, more focused going in - sometimes will be better results

Depends on the purpose: Crisis 1 - we need this now and us having this means we’ll be more effective and can help more people sooner

Humanitarian Hackathons - more forethought because these are usually to solve ongoing social problems

Tonight’s Save the Shore/Jersey Shore MTV -

Occupy Sandy set-up emerged organically, because it did this starting using Google Spreadsheets with locations and what/where things are needed plus distro (how and who people are getting things to help)

Google Fusion -

Came up with a great workflow and will continue

Sahana - anyone who knows how to use this (database specifically for disaster response) can help enormously

NYU hackathon coming up as another sprint - ongoing needs to be looked at more like “sprints” that are held frequently

What about managing organizations who need an app/tool that will hold and interact with very private data - how do you protect the data at the hackathon from random developers you don’t know?

Usually the project won’t get far enough for this issue Get lots of people looking at the code

One thing run into at Crisis Camp is wait until an official request comes in and people who understand the situation one request - how do you reunite a patient with their family and physician - people who can’t submit the info themselves

This is not a request you can host a hackathon around because the developers aren’t going to know about HIPA and other medical regulations around healthcare and software

The data layer in the humanitarian space - is there sensitivity when you try to de-identify your data

Gender Birthmonth and Zipcode - these 3 things pretty much guarantee you can find the person’s identity

How do we make this real and scale?

In startup world, put together $50,000 and go to a dev shop and they’ll produce a solid product

This isn’t a hackathon, and some investors go and do this until they get a hit and just product one product a month, and some will be successful

If you just do hacks - you just end up feeling like you’re spinning your wheels, unpredictable outcome, and ongoing attendance. If you have a set of API’s or tools you want people to use then you’ll organize hackathons to help people get experience using your app/learning how

This is very much considered marketing in the corporate world, but Google, NASA, and those who sponsor and attend as technical/developers tends to think of these as education

If you’re going to hold hackathons, follow-up with people Tell them how the thing they built has helped the world be a better place

Another thing - remove all barriers (or as many as you can) to keep people working ie prizes to work at local coworking space/hacker/makerspace where the project began Helps but not a perfect thing, because people will lose interest over time

Before and Afters throughout the weekend and after Research assignments Mentors on site who are available to share their real experiences on what works and doesn’t and who understand the process for this type of humanitarian project

Licensing/Patents/Legal stuff - resources? Don’t have to necessarily do all the legal stuff - code has to be on a public repository somewhere and if anyone owns it, that goes to the project and put an open source license/BSD on it .

Other countries outside of the U.S. have large and thriving/growing developer communities and can often be organized for lower costs.

List Challenges someplace - give the projects a place to live (ie RHok) repository of the projects, what they are trying to do/problem to solve, make it easy to find what’s been done, started, etc.

One idea to keep things going: after the hackathon, the organization can pick a team/project and hire them to finish it

You may need several thousands of dollars to pay to finish the project after the hackathon

Consider having an internal conversation with the organization about planning to have the budget and identify possible teams / developers/ projects that would be worth paying to finish after the event

Try to identify the frequent programmers who attend hackathons and find teams Prep teams about 6-8 weeks ahead of time on what they need, how the project requirements will work/look/go

Hackathons - kind of like an unconference where there’s an intense amount of work followed by ongoing action

Really great Worldbank whitepaper edward anderson water hackathons - try to find and link it in wiki

Open Data hackathon (global, not us) “developing america”

funding by the larger organizations (Google, etc.) and partner with local groups

Top 3 winners in each country are judged as an overall winner

Having multiple hackathon groups around the world at the same weekend (like global startup battle, Rhok) gives you an opportunity to find out how (the npo org participating, organizers/host, and teams) communications in a crisis might work, the tool might work, working together if there is a real crisis (if you can’t figure out some of these things at 10am on a Saturday at your hackathon, then you probably will struggle to figure out how to communicate if you weren’t expecting a real crisis)

no knock outs, djangodash, rails rumble, - 3 main virtual hackathon events to look into that produce very successful, high quality apps


Most models are most successful (even AT&T) when they have a local organizer for these multiple/remote events. This person helps with venue, sponsors, teams etc.

One idea - approach the “corporate/let’s build anything” kind of hackathons with a prize for the “best humanitarian” (customize your category) app to encourage developers to work on social good apps.