Hackathon and the key elements of its organization

Over the past decade, hackathon has taken a special place as a competitive form that generates innovation but also fosters learning. Simply put, it is a time-constrained event, organized with the aim of solving a particular problem or addressing a challenge. Hackathons are often organized by entrepreneurs and corporations, but are equally applicable in higher education and among civil society organizations.

Purpose of the event

Not all hackathons are the same, and depending on the purpose their characteristics differ. When it comes to the business sector, the purpose is most often to attract innovators and generate a number of start-ups with the growth potential. In higher education, hackathons are used as a problem based learning method. Also, hackathons are often organized to gather an interdisciplinary community of students, researchers, and professionals, around a common interest. Before starting the preparations for a hackathon, it is extremely important to understand the purpose of its implementation.

Hackathon theme

The purpose of a hackathon is most often reflected in the theme. Hackathons are frequently organized with a focus on socially important topics (e.g. environmental and climate protection), but may be related to a particular market niche and the need for innovative solutions within it.

Number of participants

Hackathons can be smaller events attended by less than fifty people, but there are also those with several hundred participants. It should be noted that it is always a collaborative form: the work is carried out in smaller teams. Such organization is common regardless of whether it is a global or local event.

Defining the challenge

During the first steps of preparation, it is necessary to define the problem, i.e. the challenge that will be set for the participants. Challenges are extremely important for the success of the event. Research has shown that very simple challenges can be insufficiently motivating for the participants. On the other hand, challenges of great complexity result in modest or incomplete solutions whose development is difficult to continue afterwards. The challenges must be specific and clear, and it is desirable to elaborate them to the participants before the competition.

Duration and outcomes

What is expected of the hackathon participants? Teams must not be uncertain about the expected result of their joint efforts. It can be a prototype, a Proof of Concept or something else. Accordingly, it is necessary to realistically define the duration of the event. Typically, hackathons last from 1 to 3 days, work being organized in dense blocks of several hours.

Hackathon preparation is a time consuming task that requires intensive communication with the participants, but provides them with excellent opportunities to learn and network.


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