I participated recently in two hackathons, Emotion Hack Day hosted by YLE and researcher Katri Saarikivi, and Climathon by Climate-KIC, hosted by Urban Academy. Hackathons are events that generate solutions to a challenge, and usually the solutions are technical in nature, like applications or programs. It seems though that the idea of hackathons has broadened somehow to include all kinds of idea contests, since both of the hackathons approved of all kinds of innovations. In both events I was especially interested in process design of the events.
The challenge in Emotion Hack was about solutions for an internet for more joy, and for Climathon about creating sustainable food solutions for food hub at Teurastamo area in Helsinki. At Emotion Hack I participated as a team member, and at Climathon as an organizer with minor responsibilities.
Observations on Hackathon Process Design
The hackathons followed loose design pattern as following:
- Presentation of challenge
- Inspiration talks related to the challenge
- Team formation
- Group work on idea
- Final presentations
- Choosing a winner
At Climathon there was also an excursion to the challenge location site, Teurastamo, arranged.
The order of the different phases was little bit different in both hackathons, as well as facilitation support offered for the teams. At Emotion Hack there an ideation process was conducted before team formation, and at Climathon the teams were formed first. At Climathon the excursion to the area seemed to be considered important by the organizers, and at Emotion Hack Day a lot of emphasis was put on personal support by mentors.
In both of the hackathons the facilitators did not explain a how an ideation process works or offer tools for participants to work with. Also the teams did not have much time to get to know each other or go through their individual interests or skills, which I as participant found to be a major obstacle when working with 2 complete strangers. Of course the time is a very limited resource at hackathons, but I still would have felt working together with the team would have been much more efficient if there would have been time for getting to know each other. Also I think it would have been great to get some help on creating common understanding on the whole process of concept creation, which can be very different for people from different backgrounds. What I also found quite surprising in both hackathons is that they did not include any kind of empathy phase with trying to understand a customer’s viewpoint on the product.
What I liked about the facilitation at Climathon was that there was a lot of time to define the problem that the team was trying to solve, before diving into creating a solution. At Emotion Hack I appreciated the atmosphere with games and laughter, and really putting effort into having a fun day together as well as offering technical assistance with producing a video on the final solution, which I thought was a great way of showcasing the solution.
The winner of Helsinki Climathon was called Winter Garden, you can read more about it here.
You can see all the solutions created at Emotion Hack at YLE Areena. Sadly, I was not in the winning team, which was defined by newsreporter Matti Rönkä’s reaction – the one that made him smile most was the winner!