Photo Credit: Flickr user hackNY
Earlier this month as part of its Technology for Engagement Initiative, Knight Foundation gathered thought leaders to talk about the best ways to use new tools and platforms to bring communities together around important issues. During the summit, a group considered the future of hackathons. Three of the group's participants, Eric Gordon, diector of the Engagement Game Lab at Emerson College, and Nigel Jacob and Chris Osgood, co-founders and co-chairs of the Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, share their insights.
Perhaps no event in the young, Gov 2.0 movement has generated as much excitement, built as many connections, or led to as many alpha versions of apps as the hackathon. Often more sprint than marathon, these one day or one weekend development sessions have united developers around specific challenges, new data and the lure of pizza.
With a few years of hackathons in the rearview mirror, however, it is useful to reflect on how this platform for engagement and creation can be enhanced to better meet the challenges that cities and their citizens face today.
Too often, these hackathons have not led to solutions that address the biggest challenges of our day – issues such as the educational achievement gap, health disparities, and economic inequality. Too rarely have the good app ideas started through these sessions been taken across the finish line and sustained after the weekend has ended. And, too many of the leanings and too much of the code from these sessions is forgotten or not shared with a broader audience.
During the recent Knight Foundation summit on Technology for Engagement, a group of us considered how the hackathon could evolve to build off its success and address these concerns.
The conversation centered on the interest in shifting the hackathon away from developers building quick products in response to general guidance. Instead, hackathons could become opportunities for developers to learn about civic issues by engaging deeply with community groups and, in turn, enable community groups to learn about what’s possible in terms of technology by engaging with developers.
The group suggested four ways to advance that approach.