Hosting a community hackathon can be a fantastic way to engage your technology-minded patrons while also building valuable connections with other local government agencies!
A hackathon is a 1-day event where interested members of the community, local businesses, and local government agencies are brought together to work on (usually) technology-related projects, such as building a prototype website, collecting or parsing community data, or creating user-friendly documentation for community services. Contrary to traditional hackathons, your event does not have to include a competition; in fact, a hackathon doesn’t even need to be about technology. (Things most hackathons do have in common: creative solutions, great conversations, and caffeine!)
The goal of a hackathon is not to end up with polished, functional applications that can be deployed to your community the following day. Instead, the goals include: building relationships between participants and the organizations they represent, providing technical skills and experience by skilled participants to learning participants, and identifying resources and challenges in the community that these relationships can address.
Libraries make great spaces for hackathons, especially if you have plenty of work spaces, breakout spaces, study rooms, or conference rooms available. Libraries are typically accessible spaces with adequate bathrooms, available WiFi, and public access computers for hackathon participants without their own laptops. You can choose to host the hackathon during library hours if it won’t disrupt other programming -- you may find that other patrons are intrigued by the hackathon and want to join in! A typical hackathon might involve a welcome/meetup of everyone in the morning, followed by breaking up into teams or task groups. At the end of the day, teams reconvene to share what they discussed, learned, and built.
Typically, hackathons have a theme, topic, or a focus on using a specific technology -- and that topic or focus will greatly influence the backgrounds and interests of your attendees. It’s also possible, with enough skilled volunteers, to host a “general technology” hackathon that provides training or exposure to a number of varied technology topics. A focus on a specific topic, such as “Improving Transportation in Our Community,” can bring together interested non-technical people (such as the local bicycling advocacy group) along with interested self-identified “techies.” To significantly increase the chances of success, we’d also want to invite -- or even co-host with -- members of the local city/county transit department or members of the local city/county technology or application development department. The result would hopefully include prototype applications, new resources, or new relationships among the members of this community, aligned toward a common goal of improving transit in the community.
The Galecia Group offers facilitated hackathon planning and managing services to libraries interested in producing a hackathon in their community. Weekend scheduling fills up quickly so contact us to discuss or learn about our pre-planned topical hackathons, including Civic Tech and Community Resource Mapping.