Digital technologies have changed innovation in organizations. Online communities, digital content providers, or online platforms are new formats that make collaboration between many innovators possible. Innovation nowadays can take many different forms; one is hackathons.
The fast-paced innovation format is based on the collaboration of a group of people, sometimes friends or colleagues, or strangers, that meet up to find solutions to specific problems.
Hackathons are usually two to three-day events at which many people come together to be creative and develop solutions to challenges. An event commonly lasts for about 48 hours, but the exact duration can vary.
The group of people that cooperate in a hackathon generally consists of around 2-6 individuals. They collaboratively analyze a problem and develop a solution for a challenge. Many hackathon participants regularly compete in hackathons. Participants work on their own laptops and communicate and collaborate in person or online through digital platforms. Inclusion is an important part of hackathons, and including colleagues is key, particularly those participants that have not attended an innovation competition before.
What participants like about hackathons and what makes an event interesting for them are:
- a positive atmosphere
- developing or learning new skills
- collaborating with nice people
Group communication among all hackathon participants and for each team is set up in a way that participants and team members can easily stay in touch with one another. Digital platforms are often used for this purpose, such as Slack, which offers various chat rooms for teams to collaborate.
Hackathon events often include some of the following aspects:
- Well-defined challenges with clearly identified problems
- Solvable challenges – the stated challenge(s) can be solved, and coming up with a solution is achievable
- The challenge can be accomplished in the limited time of the hackathon
- Registration deadline for participants – the organizer often defines a maximum number of participants that can join a hackathon
- Various skill levels can be integrated
In a broader sense, hackathons are nowadays also used as a creative format for problem-solving. The format can be centered around technology, but it does not necessarily have to be that way.
The organization of an interesting hackathon event is often built around:
- A welcoming session with a short welcome to everyone present (online or on-site)
- An introduction of the organizers
- Acknowledging the event sponsors
- Mentioning the hackathon purpose
- Practicalities such as the schedule of the hackathon, important steps along the way, and information regarding the sessions for workshops, lunches, and dinners
- Information about some basic rules or a code of conduct, to give a guideline and make the event enjoyable for everyone
- Information regarding mentoring for participants etc.
- Encouraging people to share information and communicate about the progress of their projects
At the end of a hackathon, after the award ceremony, applause is given to the winners. Yet the community celebrates not only the winners but all participants for having participated, as participation is seen as an achievement by itself.