10 Considerations When Planning A Hackathon

By Glenn Letham @gletham 
on 17.03.2016 22:33
Here are 10 considerations for the hackathon planner
Have you ever considered planning a Hackathon? There's a number of useful resources out there for you but to help get started. Yes indeed, Hackathons… all the cool kids are doing them! Yes indeed, with the topic of open data being hot on the minds of developers and a wealth of data being made available to the masses there’s no better way to get started than to hack. You know what we mean, a group of geeks gets together over pizza, beer and RedBull, downloads a ton of data, crack open their favorite SDKs, APIs and developer tools and hopefully finish the day with an app or at least the start of a fun project to continue on with. 

Hacker {Noun} “A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and stretching their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary.” – The Jargon File - Image credit: Medium, WTF is a hackathon? 

Here are 10 considerations for the hackathon planner.

The following are 10 things to keep in mind:

1.     What’s the purpose? Before you gather you should decide what the purpose of the event is. Are you meeting up simply to foster some community building or is the purpose to hopefully launch a couple of cool apps at the end of the day?

2.     Picking a Date – Always a challenge for event planners, hackathons are often held on the weekend, preferably Saturday so as to not interrupt people’s work week. Try picking a date where there’s no other big local events taking place and always shy away from holiday weekends.

3.     Find a venue that works – Find an environment conducive to productivity and innovation. An office or co-work space will likely also have all the required components like Internet, desks, chairs, coffee and a beer fridge!

4.     Set a Schedule – Plan a schedule, go over it and try to stick to it. I enjoy some social activities as well so be sure to start off with some form of introduction time and perhaps let people briefly describe what they want to do as this will likely encourage people to chat and team up

5.     Compete – there’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition to encourage people.

6.     Invite Local Business – The event can be 100% developer driven, however, to make it really fun I’d suggest getting local government and business involved. Invite some people from agencies and encourage them to bring or describe some opendata to work with

7.     Consider a Sponsor – you don’t have to have sponsors, however, I can guarantee that you could easily find a tech firm or two to sponsor the event and provide a venue, food and drink, and some form of support.

8.     Encourage Diversity – Hackathons are social and are essentially for hands-on brainstorming. If attendees are mostly all from the same circle then others will feel like outsiders. Get a nice mix of attendees from all walks of life and all ages.

9.     Have Experts on hand – A hackathon is also about learning. Encourage people to mingle and ask questions. Having a couple of experts on hand will help things to go smooth. If coding and hacking is to be a focus then having a coder, a Geotech guru, and an IT savvy person walking around to encourage and help people will help things to go smoothly

10.   Set a theme – Setting a focus and purpose will make things move along smoother. Having a set theme like “hacking for the cycling community” will provide focus. This way you can encourage attendees to create apps and project for the sole purpose of helping the cycling community. Provide several datasets that are specifically for this group (like bike trails data, transit data, coffee shop POIs etc…). businesses might also consider the idea of having their own, corporate hackathon. This is great for team building and you never know, you may just come up with your next great business plan!

Finally, have fun! At the end of the event be sure to plan a show and tell and consider a follow up event. Be sure to also share and promote the results of your event and thank all your attendees and sponsors repeatedly.

Co-mmunity Creative Space is not only a dedicated work space for busy professionals, technology geeks, artists, developers, and small business owners & startups, we also have a pretty awesome event space available to the community. We've hosted Meet-Ups, speed interviews, community group events and more. Did you know that Co-mmunity is also the perfect place to host a hackathon? Yes indeed, with plenty of open space, comfortable furnishing, electronic aids, kitchen facilities and even a HUGE touchscreen LCD, companies, organizations, professional groups and others are encouraged to consider Co-mmunity as the perfect venue for their next hackathon.

A few useful tips for hackathon planners:

Hackathon in a box http://hackathon-in-a-box.org/
Socrata community platform is available at https://communities.socrata.com/
Hack for change - http://hackforchange.org
How to run a hackathon (Socrata) http://www.socrata.com/open-data-field-guide/how-to-run-a-hackathon/

Author: Glenn Letham @gletham