Commit people to your hackathon. This phase will put any event organiser to the test. Lesson learned by FarmHack: choose quality over quantity. Learn more on how to curate for teams with a fine balance between problem owners, stakeholders, domain experts and free ‘tech savy’ agents that will spice up your event.
Get the people to your event
This stage is all about committing people to attend your event. This is the phase that demands most of the organizers energy (around 60%) as it is completely dependent on other people-who have different agendas, loyalties and priorities. These people often need a lot of personal guidance for them to develop the interest to go to the event. You will do a lot of hand holding especially when they don’t have experience with hackathons explaining basic principles and explaining what is in it for them.
A blended online/offline approach is used to commit sponsors, problem owners, hackers to the hackathon. This all starts around 3-4 months before the hackathon. We organize bilateral meetings, visits to farmers, one-on-ones, telcos, discussions in forums and pre-events in preparation for the hackathon. Given the nature of the farming community, around half of the mobilization is done through offline channels.
In summary our blended communications strategies entail:
Telcos (one-on-one or group)
Personal emailing campaigns (to partners and supporters-see pyramid of interest below)
Blog posts in website
Social media pushes
Pyramid of interest
At the bottom of the pyramid you encounter a wide number of people with a generic interest-but often impersonal-interest in the problem. In the later years, instead of mass participation and crowds, FarmHack has opted for focused attendance by the top pyramid tiers; the partners and true supporters of the problem as they will grant more involvement and more commitment.
Quality over quantity. We spend lots of time in orchestrating for quality of participants. This creates targeted events with less # of people but high caliber results with members willing to champion the solutions forward.
Tailoring to different ecosystems
The way we get this focused attendance is by scouting different ecosystems for the partners and problem supporters. These ecosystems include: NGO's, government, businesses, research, startups and hackers. And then tailor to their personal needs, interests and priorities.
For instance, software companies or departments (who by the way are highly valued participants as they know the field, the data and the technology!) are sensitive to the argument that they will have access to new talent. Also the involvement of high standing sponsors, business or government is an important motivation for this segment (networking opportunities).
For hackers the motivation lies most often in the topic of the hackathon (civic hackers want to work on meaningful problems), access to unique data, the opportunity to collaborate with peers and just some good fun with nice people. Prize money is a tricky one: in our experience the importance of the challenge trumps prize money as a key motivator. But we have seen many good prototypes go into hibernation, due to the lack of seed money. So, yeah, prize money doesn’t hurt either.
As an event organiser, you are up for a complex challenge getting the commitment and willingness of all different types of stakeholders, all with their own personal preference and interest. Although sometimes you will wonder whether it is all worth it, do remember that the people make the event, they are the true differentiator and will set your hackathon apart. So start early, ask a lot of questions to your intended audience, and build the event up around their wishes and preferences.