Perform an in-depth analysis of the problem. Here we explore what the underlying questions behind a particular problem are and what feasible solutions stakeholders have considered or are considering. Read more on why we typically organize a pre-event for this stage.
Research deep dive
The exploration phase means that you dive into newspapers, blogs, university studies, wikipedia, connect with domain experts and follow up interesting leads! A simple conversation can go a long way in directing you towards issues that matter. The goal of this activity is to collect initial questions and points of interest, a first feel of relevant data and skills needed at the actual hackathon. The research deepdive is also the start of your community and communication activities and will start to bring traction to the hackathon.
Pre-event or not?
Pre-events are typically organized as a mechanism for getting deep insight and intel on a particular issue. Ideally they are hosted two months before the actual hackathon. There should be enough lead time to process the results and use that to finetune and target your follow up activities (data scouting, mobilisation, etc.). At such a pre event you invite several key stakeholders (domain experts, problem owners, end-users). You facilitate them to collectively explore the problem, identity needs and explore potential solutions.
A useful tool to facilitate such pre events is the Mini-Hack Canvas. It allows you to include an interactive part in the program. You invite participants to work on a particular idea or challenge in break-out groups. They will interact as peers while working on a compelling idea or challenge. The canvasses are useful for gathering needs, data, and possible solutions on the one hand, and making useful connections between stakeholders on the other.
The canvasses work best not as an individual exercise, but when multiple participants deep dive a particular tangible (sub)challenge as a team. The richness of multiple perspectives and insights is very valuable going forward in preparation. Mini hacks done right will empower and inspire participants to propose other possible challenges in a similar fashion, even after the pre event itself.
Note: Throughout our hackathons and pre events we create peer to peer settings. You can read more on the why and how of peer learning here, or check the peer learning guide here.
There comes a point in your exploration that as an organiser you should start acting as a curator. You need to actively weed out dead ends, or levels of complexity that are too big to handle. You and your team have a finite capacity, make sure you spend it well!
When selecting high potential challenges, make sure they meet the following requirements:
broad interest in the problem to allow for effective mobilisation
the problem is real, tangible and practical, and has a clear owner
relevant data and tooling is available to allow for carefree hacking
a solution is possible, and it is plausible that a team can hack the problem and come up with a rough first prototype within the timeframe of the hackathon
It is important to highlight that the curation process is an iterative activity, running from exploration and identification running all the way up until the hackathon. Focus on challenge owners to navigate your curation process. They act as filters, funneling you towards relevant issues, associated datasets and related initiatives.
Number and type of challenges
No hackathon is alike. We have done hackathons for 150 people with 10 challenges and hackathons for 25 people with only one. There software hackathons, hardware hackathons, and data science hackathons. There can be hackathons with teams of 2, or teams of 8 or 9 participants. Overall, we believe in quality over quantity, so we prefer to focus on a few well defined challenges (1-5), with well curated and balanced teams.
It is advisable to include some variety in the type of challenges you include in the hackathon. For instance when the event is heavy on the data science part, also include a challenge on business development. Or when the focus lies on precision agriculture, mix in a challenge on environmental performance. Your event will become interesting for a broader spectrum of participants, and you include the element of surprise and allow for random connections. These dynamics will turn out beneficial for your hackathon.
Once you are clear on the what, you can now focus on the who: what are all the different backgrounds, roles and disciplines that you need to make the perfect hackathon sauce? Read the next section on identification to find out how to determine who you need at the hackathon.