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Hackathons: from challenges to solutions

1 October 2022
Zvia Hen
Dr. Moria Levy

It's September again, autumn has arrived, and with the new year right around the corner comes a general sense of excitement for change and an opportunity for something new. Personally, we enjoy this time of year. The end of the Israeli summer, with its pleasant air, fills us with ideas and plans for the coming year and motivation to execute them all.

 

In recent years, while appreciating the enthusiasm and ability to dream big, we have realized that to increase the chances of implementing what is most important, it is best to contemplate the nature of our needs, focus on it, and each ask:

 

  • What is my problem/need?

  • What is my goal?

  • Do we really need a new solution?

  • How will a new solution advance me?

  • What to choose? What will suit me and my needs?


In the professional field, many organizations choose to make use of hackathons throughout the year as a means for handling challenges, finding optimal solutions and attaining a change for the better in terms of work with customers as well as intra-organizational and inter-organizational issues.

 

What is a hackathon?

 

An event intended to suggest, during a quick session, creative solutions for challenges that are far from trivial.

 

What does it entail?

  1. The involvement of the following parties:

    • An organizational patron: a senior executive involved in preparing the day and choosing the participants, responsible for setting objectives, making decisions regarding the suggested solutions, and promoting its implementation, including allocating the necessary resources.

    • Professional director (Knowledge Management/innovation): directing the process, ensuring its advancement, and ensuring everyone's opinion is heard and considered.

    • Workers and professional personnel of the content field related to the challenges at hand: including content experts, technology, customers, finances, etc., in accordance with the issues discussed.

      1. Choosing one or more challenges that are important and actually affect the organization and customers.

      2. Choosing a suitable team: people that can promote critical and creative thinking; a variety of personnel and functionaries.

      3. Setting up a pleasant environment that inspires creativity, including various accessories that assist in developing creative thinking and a sense of playfulness.


Principles and methodology

 

The work methodology at hackathons can be open (chaos having no methodology). However, it may be structured. The most widely accepted methodology for structuring such an event is “Design Thinking”. There are different implementation models, some concise and some very detailed, and they all contain the following components:


1.INSPIRATION- Studying the challenge's details by:

  •  Contemplating the need and its importance

  • Understanding the parties involved and the processes they are going through as well as the mood they are in (emphatic understanding)

  • Providing a clear and focused definition of the unaddressed need and the desired outcome

  • Considering how might we make this challenge an opportunity.


2. IDEATION- Suggesting possible ideas and solutions by:

  • Relying on "borrowed" solutions from other organizations and content fields

  • Allowing participants to suggest "crazy" ideas

  • Reducing criticism and being open to others.


3. IMPLEMENTATION- Implementing prototypes for solutions:

  • Implementing the MVP (Minimal Value Product) approach

  • Running tests simultaneously, each testing a different type of solution

  • Striving for agility, abruptly stopping any activity that doesn't provide the desired value

  • Lessons learned and learning from experience


Hackathons can be a one-day event or take several days, and can initially include only some of the stages (for example, up to the implementation stage) and need not be competitive. Hackathon events feature an implementation of 21st Century skills: sharing, creative thinking, critical thinking, learning, technology, and agility.

 

In any case, a hackathon must be custom-made to suit each specific organization, unit, or team's state, as well as the nature of the challenges they are facing, their actual needs, and the time allocated for the event.


The value added of hackathons

Hackathons have several advantages, including, among others:

  • Concentrating effort

  • Involving various professional parties that wouldn't have necessarily been part of the process

  • Intense positive energy throughout the process

  • Reaching innovative solutions that are more difficult to reach through linear development processes.

In short, it is highly worthwhile.


References:

 What’s a Design Sprint and why is it important?

Gamification: it's the small stuff that makes the big difference

 

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